Forget the flu shot! Unless you are seriously debilitated, you are much better off using herbs, foods and simple lifestyle adjustments to nip that incipient cold or flu before it can even grab hold.
Last week I shared 5 natural tips for preventing colds and flus this winter. I could probably come up with at least 50 suggestions – and that’s without even getting into what to do once you are in the throes of a respiratory illness.
There’s nothing like a nasty cold – or worse the flu – to derail your plans for a week and make your life miserable. So, today I’ve got 7 more strategies for keeping your immune system strong and vigilant against those marauding viruses.
1) Enjoy Some Elderberry
This tasty berry has gotten lots of buzz in recent years for its ability to fight colds and flus naturally. The blue or black berries are rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants, as I mentioned here . Studies have shown that elderberry is not only anti-viral in its action but also anti-inflammatory.
A good way to use elderberry is as a syrup.You can take this daily to increase your resistance (about a teaspoon twice daily). Some companies also make a delicious elderberry glycerite – which is simply an herbal tincture where the herbs have been extracted into vegetable glycerin instead of alcohol.
Cold already got you? Elderberry syrup will still help to speed your recovery from either a cold or a flu. You’ll want to up the dose to 2 teaspoons of syrup 4 times a day (or one teaspoon of the tincture or glycerite four times a day).
2) Stock Up On Your Herbal Arsenal
The right herb and supplement combination can often stop a cold dead in its tracks. But the trick is to start pounding your herbs right at the very first onset of symptoms. That’s why I never let myself run out of echinacea tincture. That is my personal first line of defense, and it’s worked for me way more times than I can count.
I actually use one of a few different echinacea combination tinctures – meaning the herb is combined in a formula with some other immune-building and infection-fighting herbs. An herbalist once told me that echinacea works better in combination, and so I switched to that method. However – I know lots of people that take echinacea all by itself to nip a cold in the bud and have experienced great success.
My favorite echinacea combo is Immune Boost, formulated by my friend Christa Sinadinos at Alpine Meadow Botanicals. It adds herbs like usnea, osha, licorice and others to stimulate the immune enhancing effects of the echinacea.
This tip requires two things: That you stay in tune enough with your own body to recognize when something is out of whack; and that you keep a bottle of echinacea (or some combo thereof) close at hand. Just as soon as you notice those first “something’s not quite right” symptoms (for me it’s a slight sore throat or earache, maybe a tickle in the throat, a headache or excessive tiredness) take about three dropperfulls of your tincture.
I like to add a dose of Vitamin C to this therapy. My favorite way is with a powdered version mixed in water, it could be Emergen-C, or any other version of powdered VC. Some folks swear by taking 500 milligrams of Vitamin C per hour when they feel a cold coming on. I’m not so scientific since I’m using the powdered stuff – but I do add it to my water and sip on it all day.
But don’t stop there. Keep up with the echinacea and Vitamin C until all of your symptoms subside.
What if the symptoms don’t go away, or even get worse? You might be dealing with a particularly tenacious bug, or maybe you haven’t caught it soon enough. Keep up on this program anyway. It will still help shorten the duration of the cold.
If your cold or flu becomes entrenched, ideally you should supplement the echinacea and VC with some stronger herbs and supplements. More detailed suggestions to come in future posts.
3)Exercise – But Not Too Much
It’s another proven fact: People who exercise regularly contract fewer colds than those who don’t. One study showed that women who exercised for 45 minutes a day, five days a week got fewer colds than a control group of women who simply stretched for 45 minutes once a week.
But even without the scientific proof – it just makes sense. Engaging in activity that increases your heart rate will get your blood and lymph circulating more quickly throughout your body. Toxins are expelled more easily and your body becomes stronger and more resistant to disease.
But watch out for too much of a good thing! Listen to your body and adjust your exercise program accordingly if you are feeling under the weather. It’s still beneficial to partake in some moderate exercise, even if you feel like you’re getting sick, but you’ll want to dial it down just a bit.
Here’s an example to illustrate why it’s not such a great idea to just go all gung ho on the exercise when you’re starting to get sick:
A few years ago I was on a big weightlifting kick. I’d go running or do some cardio almost every day, and then hit the weight room at least three times a week. I was addicted!
So on this one day, I hauled myself out of bed at 5 a.m. and headed for the barbells – even though my throat felt scratchy and I was dead tired. Keeping up the exercise program will do me good, I reasoned. Then I followed this abbreviated night of sleep and aggro workout with a full day at work.
Umm, talk about a recipe for being completely knocked out with ‘The Crud.’
Not only were my muscles absolutely screaming at me the next day (even though I’d executed the exact same lifting routine that I did every week), but my scratchy throat was now raw, my head full of mucous, and my entire body felt like I’d been hit with a sledgehammer. I couldn’t even get out of bed. And once I did I couldn’t sit back down without feeling like my quads were going to break.
In my case, my muscles were not able to process the vigorous exercise the same way they do when my health is up to par. I have no scientific proof, but my guess is this might happen to other people too.
Since then I’ve “exercised” slightly better judgment about how much to exercise when I’m under the weather. This is definitely one of those cases of ‘less is more.’
4) Watch those Stress levels
If you have a super-stressful job, or other issues that are raising your blood pressure, consider taking up yoga, beginning a meditation practice, investing in regular massage or partaking in some other stress-reducing therapy.
It’s another sad-but-true reality: In addition to making you feel like crap emotionally, excessive levels of stress stimulate your adrenals, which in turn suppresses white blood cell activity. So – the adrenaline might be flowing but the immune system is struggling.
The result? Your body is quick to succumb to that wandering flu bug looking to take up residence.
There are so many different methods for keeping your anxiety radar at manageable levels. Enough to make a whole post in and of itself – or several. Maybe you have a favorite you could share in the comments?
Herbally speaking, you can consume teas or tinctures made with anxiety relieving herbs such as skullcap, wild oat and kava kava. One of my favorites is Chill Out, another Alpine Meadows formulation.
Exercise is also of course a well-documented stress reducer – just bear in mind the moderation advice above.
5) Eat some mushrooms.
No, I’m not talking about those kind of mushrooms! And the little white button mushrooms in the produce aisle of supermarkets are okay, but their wellness benefits are limited. No, I’m talking about the amazing immune-building qualities of certain varieties of medicinal mushrooms.
Three types of mushrooms that are fairly easy to find – and that pack a load of healing into every dose – are maitake, shitake and reishi. The first two lend themselves readily to becoming ingredients in your supper, but reishi has a less-than-delicious woody consistency, and is usually consumed as a supplement.
You can actually take all three in supplement form, a handy way to do it especially if you don’t much care for the taste of mushrooms.
The polysaccarides in these mushrooms work to beef up your immune system by encouraging the production of white blood cells that kill off germs and other infectious microscopic critters that might be circulating around in your system.
Healers in China have for centuries valued these mushrooms for their healing benefits and their reputation as longevity tonics.
Because different varieties of medicinal mushrooms contain different immune-enhancing compounds, it’s a good idea to eat an assortment to get the maximum benefits.
Shitake and maitake mushrooms can be purchased fresh or dried at most health food stores, while reishi is available in capsules or tablets either by itself or in combination with other mushrooms and immune-enhancing herbs.
6) Ditch the Toxic Cleaners.
Huh? What’s that? You thought we were talking about building immunity against colds and flus? Well, it may seem off-topic, but the more you rid your life of unnecessary toxins, the stronger your immune system will be.
So – get rid of those stinky bathroom scrubs and floor cleaners and opt for the natural alternatives in the health food store – or make your own. Way easier to do that you may have thought – all you need are some simple household ingredients like baking soda and white vinegar and perhaps some essential oils.
Ditto for the chemical perfumes cluttering up your dresser and pesticide-laden foods – switch to organic and nontoxic alternatives and your immune system will let you know you’ve made a good decision.
While it’s impossible to avoid all immune-suppressing toxins in this modern world – you can definitely make choices to minimize them in your personal space.
7) Use Essential Oils To Bust Those Bugs
Pure and unadulterated essential oils are natural anti-microbials – some stronger than others – and they can be used in many ways to prevent colds and flus from taking hold.
Add a one or two drops to a hot bath, after you have filled the tub with water, or mix with some almond or jojoba oil and rub a little on your body (I like to rub a bit on the side of my neck especially if I’m experiencing swollen glands. The bottom of the feet is also a great way to absorb the protective action of essential oils.)
It’s a great idea place a few drops of essential oil in a simple diffuser to naturally disinfect a room that has been populated with sick people.
Some good oils for this purpose include eucalyptus, lavender and ravensara. I’ll dig into the topic of essential oils more deeply in my next cold and flu post later this month.
Have you tried any of these preventative therapies? What do you do if you feel a cold coming on? Tell us in the comments!
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