(Originally published on the November 29th, 2011 issue of El Consejo.)
It’s usually around Christmas that my phone starts ringing off the hook, with congested, sneezing, coughing clients on the other end of the line asking for herbal help! Winter colds and flus are preventable, and as with all health conditions, prevention is better than cure. Natural medicine offers both prevention and treatment.
- Avoid sugar – At this time of year it’s tempting to indulge in all your favorite Christmas treats, often along with more alcohol than usual. Sugar has been shown to decrease basic immune function by up to 75% – so less is definitely more.
- Increase immune supportive nutrients Luckily many of our local, seasonal, organic vegetables this time of year are naturally full of Vitamin C. Zinc and selenium rich foods require a bit more attention, as you can see below. Supplementation may be advisable, do check with your natural health practitioner or doctor for advice.
Selenium: Alfalfa, barley, broccoli, Brazil nuts, butter, cashews, celery, eggs, fish, garlic, liver, mackerel, oysters, tuna, whole grain cereals, onions, and turnip.
Zinc: Oysters, ginger root, pumpkin seeds, pecans, almonds, walnuts, and whole grains.
Vitamin C: Dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, blackcurrant, Brussels sprouts, citrus fruit, guava, parsley, papaya, peppers, pineapple, potatoes, rose hips, strawberries, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
- Exercise regularly There is very little which a healthy amount of weekly exercise does not improve! Regular exercise improves immune function by oxygenating the system and generally improving the body’s defenses.
- Keep stress and anxiety levels down Long-term chronic stress depletes immune function dramatically, as it does all systems in the body. Find ways to manage your stress, which will improve not only your immune system but also your health overall.
- Assure healthy gut function, especially good bacteria Healthy gut flora (also known as ‘good bacteria’) play an important and complex role in immunity. Include a variety of prebiotic foods in your diet (E.g. artichoke, berries, asparagus, garlic, onions, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes) and take a probiotic supplement as necessary.
If you do end up with a cold or flu
There are plenty of natural remedies, which support the body’s natural healing processes and also address uncomfortable symptoms. Please note: Check with your doctor or natural health care practitioner before taking any herbal remedies if you are regularly taking any medications, as interactions are not uncommon.
- Eat nourishing, warming foods, with lots of vegetables, spices and easily digestible protein I recommend soups made with lots of vegetables, beans/legumes and/or organic chicken/turkey to meet your nutrient needs. Add spices such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, chilies, etc that break up mucous congestion and provide antioxidant support. Fruit and vegetable smoothies are filled with antioxidants, and are soothing to drink for a sore throat. Avoid dairy, soy and wheat products, as well as oranges, when you are ill, as these all produce excess mucous.
- Try herbal remedies
- Medicinal mushrooms are powerful immune modulators. Try a blend of Reishi and Shiitake in capsules, and/or increase fresh mushrooms in your diet.
- Echinacea and Goldenseal tincture or capsules: Anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.
- Gordolobo (‘Mexican Mullein) tea, supports respiratory function; and Tila (Limeflower/Linden) for reducing fever, are easily available at most supermarkets, local markets, or dried at La Victoriana. Tea of fresh thyme (Tomillo) and limejuice is effective for stagnant congestion, particularly encouraging productive coughs.
(These products and other helpful remedies can be found at La Victoriana, Hernandez Macías 72).