Balanced Living

Feed a Cold, Starve a Flu?

Posted by Arja on January 23 in Nutrition

Is this damp, dreary winter getting to you yet?  We are still in the midst of cold and flu season and if you haven’t been sick already you’re probably hoping you can make it through until spring unscathed.  The good news is that with good hygiene, proper nutrition and a healthy attitude you probably can!

First off, we all know that good, basic hygiene is a major line of defence against colds, flus and other infectious illnesses.  You don’t need anything fancy either, just soap and water.  In fact, you might want to consider staying away from many of those products marketed as being antibacterial as the active ingredient, Triclosan, may do more harm than good.  Studies are starting to come out suggesting that Triclosan may, in fact, be helping to create some of these super bugs .

Washing your hands probably won’t be enough to keep most illnesses at bay, however, so here are my 7 favourite ways of supporting a healthy immune system:

1.  Avoid sugar. Consuming sugar in any form (glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, even orange juice) can suppress your immune system for hours afterwards by reducing the ability of white blood cells to do their job.  Sugar also robs your body of minerals to use for its own assimilation and will even steal from your personal stores if your nutritional intake isn’t enough.

2.  Ensure adequate protein intake.  This does not mean eating an 8oz steak every night at dinner, but the importance of adequate protein intake to a healthy immune system has been detailed in many studies.  Protein is the building block for the antibodies that fight infection.  Aim to eat the highest quality protein you can afford.  Good sources include eggs (the whole egg, please!), chicken, fish, beans, nuts (and butters), seeds, greek yoghurt, high quality protein powders and tempeh.

3.  A healthy lifestyle.  Did you know that your immune system can be supported by more than just healthy food?  The activity of natural killer cells is positively or negatively affected by how we live.  Higher NK cell activity is associated with not smoking, increased intake of green vegetables, sleeping more than 7 hours per night, regular exercise and healthy body weight amongst other things.  Of all these, however, getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do to keep your body in top fighting form.  Haven’t you ever noticed that as soon as you start to feel run down you suddenly seem to have a cold on top of it all? 

4.  Eat more garlic.  Garlic gets its trademark smell from a phytochemical called allicin which has been shown to be effective in fighting colds, flus, stomach viruses and Candida yeast.  It has a natural antibacterial property that makes it a powerful part of your natural medicine cabinet.  When you crush or shop fresh garlic you activate the enzymatic process that activates the beneficial properties of allicin.  Don’t bother with the pre-minced stuff as it won’t have the same effect as fresh.

5.  Eat more mushrooms.  Don’t just pick the white button kind.  Aim for variety – shiitake, cremini, dried varieties – so that you reap the real nutritional benefits that mushrooms offer.  Apart from being a high source of selenium and one of the few nutritional sources of Vitamin D, mushrooms are also an excellent source of zinc.  Zinc and selenium are powerful supporters of the immune system.  Mushrooms are also a source of beta glucan, a polysaccharide that can help prevent infections by regulating white blood cells activity.

6.  Check out some herbal remedies.  There are many herbs that have antibacterial, antiviral and immune stimulating effects.  So many, in fact, that it’s more than I can possibly share here.  The two most popular immune enhancing botanicals would have to be Echinacea and astragalus.  Both of these herbs exert broad-spectrum effects on the immune system, making them excellent choices for the herbal medicine cabinet.  Echinacea (coneflower) is available as either angustifolia or purpurea as a root extract and both varieties have been shown to exert immune-enhancing effects.  Astragalus root is a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat and prevent viral infections and the common cold.  Check out your local health food store or herbal dispensary to find teas and tinctures using these powerful herbs.

7.  Eat a wide variety of whole foods.  Vitamin C, B Vitamins, Vitamin E, Carotenes, Zinc and Selenium are all important nutrients in supporting a healthy immune system.  By eating a wide variety of whole, unprocessed foods you will help your body obtain the widest variety of nutrients possible which is the foundation of good health.  A marginal deficiency of any single nutrient may be enough to significantly impair the immune system.

Even if you get sick, you can lessen the severity and duration of your illness by maintaining good nutrition, getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated.

If you suffer from frequent colds or other illnesses it might be time to assess your current health and nutritional status to see where the weak link in your immune system may lie.

arja pennanen lytle c.n.p. n.n.c.p certified nutritional practitioner

Arja is a Holistic Nutritionist with a passion for balanced living. She loves to help people sleep better, think better, feel sexier, and just generally feel better by putting the focus on eating foods that make you feel good. Arja uses whole foods, lifestyle adjustments, herbs, and some supplements to help people feel their best and achieve their health and wellness goals.