Note: This is a collaboration with the wonderful people at Blackmores Australia, who have totally got your cold and flu season covered.
As we head deep into winter here in Australia, there’s been plenty of discussion about the best ways to avoid colds and flues. Sadly we can’t live in an antibacterial bubble, or check out to a private island until flu season is over (how amazing would that be??). But the next best thing we can do is to boost our own immune systems. Not only can supporting immunity help to ward off illness, but if you DO catch a cold, it will most likely ensure that you recover sooner, and prevent the bug going to your chest or developing into something that drags on and on.
Because it’s not just about whether you catch a cold – it’s also about how you bounce back.
Sound like a good plan? Then read on… The following are the tips that I recommend for my clients, and it’s also what I also do for myself throughout the chilly months (and any time I feel run down). Yep, you can guarantee that all of these immune boosting remedies have been personally road tested and approved by yours truly!
Let food be your medicine
Nature gives us loads of powerful immune tonics… cleverly masked as food. Traditionally, the Chinese didn’t always differentiate between food and medicine, and I think they were definitely onto something! There are so many foods that we can utilise to ward off bacteria and viruses, boost immunity, and bolster our defences against winter nasties, so they can act as both food AND also remedies for healing… win/win!
Let’s look at the stuff that boosts immunity first.
A vast majority of our immune system cells are made in the gut. And you know what this means? A healthier gut will lead to a healthier immune system and better defences against the bugs that might come your way.
When it comes to gut healing, it’s hard to go past bone broth. It provides powerful ingredients like glucosamine, minerals, collagen and glutamine which are all used to protect and heal the digestion. It’s proof that chicken soup is not just good for the soul – it’s also good for your overall health! And who doesn’t like a warm, nourishing broth in winter?
Most of us also have access to a delicious array of mushrooms in winter. Shiitake, reishi, cordyceps and chaga are all revered for their health-giving properties, and also their ability to help to reduce fatigue after illness. I personally take medicinal mushrooms in tablet form, and I also soak dried shiitake mushrooms and add them to my soups. But don’t write off regular ol’ button mushrooms either (especially if you’re on a budget and the fancy mushrooms seem too expensive). Recent studies have shown that your supermarket mushies contain immune boosting properties too.
When talking about boosting the immune system, we can’t leave out my favourite – the herbal medicines. I love tailoring liquid herb mixes to my clients’ needs, and will often throw in ingredients like astragalus, echinacea, cat’s claw and andrographis as the weather gets colder. If liquid herbs aren’t your thing, speak to your local health food shop about a tablet alternative.
But what if you get sick?
Sometimes you can’t help bad luck, and getting one cold every year is kind of expected (most of us would say that it’s perfectly healthy!). But at the first sign of a sniffle or cough, it’s important to swing into action with your arsenal of bug-busting remedies!
Turmeric is a wonder-spice with potent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant properties. You can take it in higher doses in curcumin tablets, you can buy tonics made with turmeric, honey, cayenne and apple cider vinegar, you can pop it in juices, or just add the powder to your cooking wherever you can.
Garlic is one of my favourite remedies for cold and flues, with powerful antimicrobial/antibacterial properties. It should be one of the first go-tos at the sign of a cold, it’s easily added to cooking and you can sneak it into a multitude of dishes (my favourite is garlic soup!). But if you can’t deal with the garlic breath, or if you just need some extra bug-killing power, grab some garlic tablets at your local pharmacy or health food shop.
Manuka honey and other medicinal honeys are another staple in any naturopath’s pantry – they not only taste amazing, they have proven antibacterial/antimicrobial actions. Don’t add the honey to a very hot cup of tea though, as boiling water may kill some of the healthy enzymes. Instead, wait a few minutes for the tea to cool slightly, and then stir the honey in. If you have a sore throat, a teaspoon of honey eaten straight can be just the thing you need to kill the bacteria on contact. And did I mention it tastes good?
If there is an acute cold or flu present, I’ll usually reach again for the immune boosting herbs mentioned earlier on this page. But if the cold is affecting the sinuses, ears, or going to your chest… there are other herbs for that! I love love love elder and licorice for coughs, or if the cough is turning into bronchitis or a chest infection, I might include thyme, pelargonium, marrubrium or elecampane (each herb is prescribed depending on the type of cough). If the cold is turning into an infection in the throat, I sometimes also include potent antibacterials like golden seal, baptisia or calendula. Again, herb mixes can be tailored to each individual’s needs, so speak to your naturopath or visit your local health food shop to find the blend that’s right for you.
Other things you can do to fight off colds this winter
Reduce gluten, dairy and processed foods – this helps your body to produce less mucus, which may make the difference between a cold going to your chest or sinuses, or resolving quickly.
Exercise regularly. This gets your lymphatic system moving, which will help keep infection at bay. If you’re sick with an acute bug, you may need to lay off the workouts for a few days, but to keep your immune system strong, running, jumping, walking or yoga are all good ways to keep that lymph moving.
Rest! Take something off your plate. For many of us, this is the hardest one of all to implement! How often have you felt run down from constantly being on the go, only to end up with a cold? Scheduling in some downtime, adding mindfulness or meditation to your day, or simply saying “no” to people when they ask too much of you can all be effective additions to any health plan.
For more ways to fight off colds and flues this winter, visit the Blackmores cold and flu hub – they have heaps of cool resources to help you stay healthy throughout the cooler months of the year. Or check out their guide to the common cold here.
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