Preventing illness, and the downtime it brings, is always preferable to simply treating it after the fact. By planning ahead and taking a holistic approach – treating the body, mind and spirit – one can successfully prevent illnesses of all kinds. It is especially easy to successfully prevent germ and viral born illnesses, such as cold and flu. Step by step, I will explain how you can help prevent falling prey to cold and flu infections this, and every, season.
Step One: Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep. It doesn’t have to be a straight shot through the night. It’s actually healthy to wake in the night and then return to sleep. The important thing is to get in those seven plus hours of sleep.
“Sleep loss not only plays a role in whether we come down with a cold or flu. It also influences how we fight illnesses once we come down with them,” according to Denise Mann, health writer for WebMD. Multiple studies have shown that even vaccines are less effective in sleep deprived individuals. Something to think about the next time you consider staying up all night watching a House of Cards marathon.
Step Two: Reduce stress. Sometimes reducing stress is as simple as leaving for work fifteen minutes earlier, so that one needn’t worry about being late, and taking a bit of time out each day to engage in self-care activities, or as complicated as ditching emotional vampires – be they family, friends or lovers – and finding a new job with a reasonable, non-abusive boss. While one works on relieving or removing the big and small stressors in their life, starting a meditation practice is an excellent way to naturally treat anxiety and stress. Certain types of meditation, such as Transcendental Meditation, can offer significant relaxation to one’s physiology. Transcendental meditation has been scientifically proven to not only deeply relax the body but improve brain wave coherence. If you don’t know what that is, here’s a link to an article about brain wave coherence and the research collected when electroencephalographic (EEG) monitoring devices were used on subjects engaged in transcendental meditation.
Step Three: Exercise regularly. Exercise helps the body fight off bacterial and viral infections, but scientists are still not certain of the exact mechanism employed to make this so, only that it is so. One theory postulates that exercise helps to flush bacteria from the lungs, another supposes that exercise helps antibodies and white blood cells move through the body faster, thus preventing infections from taking root. Whatever the reason, exercise has been shown to help prevent cold and flu infections and even fight off such infections, after they have taken root.
Step Four: Eat a high nutrient diet. This means lots of fresh whole foods – fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Our first line of defense is the body’s immune system, and good nutrition will help insure that it mobilizes an adequate response to germs, viruses and other foreign pathogens.
Immunity Boosting Foods:
- Cruciferous vegetables:
- Sweet potatoes
- Berries (all kinds)
These are just a handful of foods that boost immunity by providing one with the nutrients that the immune system and filtration organs need, but all foods that are richly pigmented will improve your immunity and help keep you well. Even cauliflower – which is protected from sunlight during its last stage of growth – will strengthen your immune response. Every food I’ve listed above is known to be rich in immune system enhancing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anthocyanins and anti-viral agents. So, eating a diet composed largely of whole foods will keep one’s immune system on high alert and prevent invading germs, bacteria and viruses from gaining a foothold in the body’s ecology.
Step Five: At the first sign of a cold or flu infection, use one or more of the following herbs to bolster immunity.
Immunity Boosting Herbs
Amla – This Ayurvedic herb has a long list of accomplishments, but for cold and flu prevention, there are only a hand-full of remedies that rival it. Bursting with Vitamin C, Amla increases the body’s production of white blood cells and the antibodies needed to defend against invading pathogens and infections. Click here and here to learn more about Amla.
Astragalus – Used in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) for over 2,000 years to strengthen immunity and it still works. One study, completed in 1981, showed that Astragalus, when taken orally, “induced greater quantities of interferon and leukocytes in the blood stream.” Interferons are proteins manufactured and released by host cells in response to the presence of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites and tumor cells; and leukocytes is an umbrella term for the three types of White Blood Cells (WBCs) – Granulocytes, Lymphocytes and Monocytes, which are functionaries of the immune system. They defend the body against infectious diseases as well as foreign invaders.
Golden Seal – It’s bitter as hell, but highly effective in fighting off cold and flu. Most of the research conducted on Golden Seal herb has actually been conducted on one of its alkaloid components – berberine, which has been found to have antibiotic, anti-cancer and immune-system stimulating properties. Golden Seal has even been given to cancer patients, whose immune systems have been impaired by chemotherapy. A good herb to keep on hand during cold and flu season and throughout the year.
Echinacea – The one cold and flu herb everyone has heard of by now, Echinacea is an excellent cold and flu fighter. Research has shown that Echinacea has the ability to make our immune cells more effective in mounting an offense against bacteria and abnormal cells, which shortens the duration of colds and flu as well as helping to prevent the onset of both conditions. This is why Echinacea is one of the main ingredients in a large number of over-the-counter cold and flu remedies, particularly for the natural health market.
Garlic (an immunity boosting food), deserves a second mention here, as it can also be used as an herbal immunity booster and remedy. Directions: Every morning, 30-minutes before breakfast, and every night, just before bed, swallow two coarsely cut cloves of garlic with water, as if they were tablets. Do this every day until you feel certain that you are infection-free. I’ve used this simple treatment as a last resort, and sometimes as a first, for years. Whether one is trying to keep cold and flu at bay or eliminate an infection after the fact, garlic works!
By taking a holistic approach to cold and flu prevention one can not only remain healthy, but improve their overall sense of well-being. But if you do fall ill, getting sufficient rest, eating well, getting regular exercise, reducing stress and employing herbal remedies (when necessary) can drastically shorten one’s convalescence.
For more information on natural cold and flu remedies, check out my aptly named articles ‘Cold & Flu Remedies‘ and ‘More Cold & Flu Remedies‘. If you have any questions or tips you would like to share, don’t hesitate to post a comment below.