Getting a cold or the flu in the winter has become an accepted occurrence in families across North America. It doesn’t have to be inevitable.
This article is a simple guide to some of the basics for natural cold and flu prevention in the winter. It is our go to basics for how to stay healthy all winter naturally – meaning using only holistic, all-natural, non-pharmaceutical methods.
Have you every considered why people tend to get sick more frequently in the winter? I know I have.
Researchers have been trying to figure out if cold weather has anything to do with increased occurrence of colds and the flu in the winter for many years and up until recently they have only blamed changing behavioural patters for the increase in illness. We spend more time inside around other people, kids are back in school trading viruses and bacteria and subsequently bringing them home, we get less vitamin D and around the holidays our diets fall to delicious sweet treats.
They have now discovered that the cold weather does potentially reduce our immune system’s first line of defence for viruses – the nasal mucosa. In a recent rodent study researchers found that the immune system response to a virus in a nasal passageway was reduced in colder temperatures leading to a higher risk of infection.
More research needs to be done to include human cellular assessment but for now we can assume what was thought all along. You can get sick easier if you don’t bundle up.
It is important to know that adapting to these behavioural changes and keeping warm in the winter isn’t all you can do to prevent colds and the flu. There are other options!
Lets go over them today.
How to Stay Healthy All Winter Naturally
Eating a Healthy Whole Food Diet
The absolute key to a healthy body and mind is a healthy diet. When it comes to the immune system the rule stays the same. Eat healthy, digest well and you will notice the benefits.
This concept can be even more important during those long dark winter months.
Eating clean throughout the winter means your body gets the proper amount of vitamins and minerals to help the immune system prevent infection.
The immune system needs a series of nutrients to maintain its function. Some of the key ones include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
These do not all need to be supplemented. They can be obtained via diet. The question we have to ask ourselves is:
- Are we getting enough?
- Are we absorbing?
To know if you are getting enough is pretty easy. Eat 6-12 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, consume whole grains, lean meats and healthy sources of fat and you will reach your required daily levels.
To know if you are absorbing is more difficult. You have to ask yourself some difficult questions.
Start with your stomach – do you suffer from cramping, bloating or heartburn?
Then assess your stool – Do you go everyday? Is it too loose or too hard? Is there undigested food, blood or mucous? Does it float or sink?
How to analyze the responses to these questions is another article but if you are experiencing anything other than ideal stool your absorption could be lower than necessary.
Consult a Naturopathic Doctor to help with your symptoms.
To top up any of the levels of the vitamins and minerals above you can easily supplement. Consult a healthcare provider before you do to make sure you are getting the correct amount and if is indicated for you.
Low doses of zinc, moderate doses of vitamin C and vitamin D are where I normally start with cold and flu prevention.
I have found these three as a combination are extremely effective and can usually be all you need in prevention.
The key in this category is vitamin D. Health Canada has raised its recommendation for Canadians from 800IU per day to 1000IU for the entire winter and many believe the recommendation will increase to 2000IU next year.
Vitamin D is easy to take (D3 comes in a liquid dropper), adequate levels have been associated with improved cold and flu prevention and is beneficial in depression, anxiety and many other ailments. Taking 1000IU per day is safe and testing can now be done inexpensively at Naturopathic Offices all across North America.
Finally, this conversation wouldn’t be complete without mentioning probiotics. Our digestive tract is our first line of immune defense, houses a major portion of the immune system and is the home to our beneficial bacteria. Keeping this bacteria balanced has been shown to have a positive effect in prevention of the common cold.
Taking a small dose of probiotics is an effective, easy and relatively inexpensive way to contribute to overall cold and flu prevention.
In the lifestyle category there are many actions that constitute to a healthy immune system and it is important to not forget them during the winter months. They include:
- Avoiding cigarette smoke
- Maintaining your exercise routine
- Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight
- Keeping blood pressure within normal limits
- Only consuming alcohol in minimal amounts
- Getting adequate sleep.
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
This list is to say one thing – live a healthy lifestyle.
If we had to add one more item it would be to watch stress levels, avoid burnout and maintain a healthy mind-body connection/spiritual practice. High cortisol caused by high stress depresses the immune system and makes it more difficult to prevent infection. Watch your stress levels. Do things to actively reduce them. See some of our methods here.
Our Secret Trick for Cold and Flu Prevention
In our household we have one rule when the feeling of a cold or flu might be coming on – take two sprays of Echinacea Throat Spray.
You most likely have heard of the herb Echinacea. It has been promoted as an immune boosting herb for many years (it is an ancient remedy) and people swear by it for treating the common cold.
I have had the most success with this herb in prevention. There is a very specific time to take this herb to see the same benefit we have. That is – as soon as the back of the throat feels sore, if a stuffy nose is coming on, a mild cough has developed – right at the beginning of anything different in the upper respiratory tract.
Two sprays then watch and wait. This has been incredibly successful for Amy and I and we always keep a bottle in the refrigerator.
Some people have a noted allergy to Echinacea and reactions have been documented so please consult a healthcare provider before using.
Getting sick every winter isn’t mandatory. It doesn’t have to happen. Prevention is possible and the tips outlined above are the basics.
Follow these and the likelihood of cold and flu prevention in your home will be greatly increased.
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