Beating The Flu Blues (Guest Post by Jennifer Winter, NTP)
‘Tis the season….for flu, or is it? Is there even an actual season?
I mean, there are definitely months in which colds and flu seem to be more prevalent, but my friend’s daughter came home from her first week at college with the flu…in August…in a southern state where the thought of winter is only a faint glimmer of hope in our hearts. I thought the ‘season’ wasn’t for another month, or even two?? Either way, it’s time we start thinking about it and how to keep it as far away from us as the cold weather is here in Texas (did I mention it’s still a scorcher down here?).
But first, know that I’m not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on TV. I am a mom as well as a Nutritional Therapist who just wants options other than the flu shot or an antiviral medicine, should one of us come down with the flu or even those pesky colds that seem to linger forever. Now, before you gear up for a big debate, know that this is not a post intended to persuade you to take a position on those things; this is just meant to give you other options should you be in the market for some.
Stop The Flu Before It Starts
When it comes to the flu—or any illness for that matter—it’s a lot easier to prevent it than to try to cure it. I must say that Benjamin Franklin was on to something - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Supporting our immune system so that it can do its job is essential to overall health. This cannot be overstated!! First and foremost, in order to set ourselves up for health, we must make sure we get adequate sleep, proper hydration and have a nutrient-dense diet that is void of inflammatory foods. By inflammatory foods, I mean processed & fast foods, refined & hydrogenated oils (vegetable, corn, canola or soybean to name a few) and refined sugar. These foods, if consumed in excess, block the body’s ability to counteract inflammation.
“What’s the big deal?” you might ask. Well, inflammation is at the root of almost ALL disease, including but not limited to diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disease, allergies and so many more. There are even studies linking depression to inflammation! So avoiding inflammation means avoiding disease!
In the place of these foods, we need to adopt a nutrient-dense diet. A nutrient-dense diet is basically a diet that has a high concentration of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) per calorie of food. We can find so many specifics about diet throughout The Christian Nutritionist website, but, for now, we’ll touch on a few select nutrients that are essential for immune health.
Vitamin D is crucial for disease prevention, from the common cold to cancer, as one of its many functions is to decrease inflammation. Our body makes Vitamin D in response to sun exposure; but, as our time outdoors becomes less and less, dietary Vitamin D is more important than ever. Vitamin D is also obtained from organ meats, fatty fish, mushrooms and egg yolks from pastured hens. If you are deficient, food sources often aren’t enough to reach optimal levels; therefore, supplementation may be necessary. Making sure you aren’t deficient is easy! You can order a blood test with your family doctor, or there are even great at-home kits, such as EverlyWell’s Vitamin D test kit.
Vitamin A plays a big role in immune function in that it is partially responsible for building up our mucosal lining, one of our first lines of defense against pathogens. The lining of our nose, respiratory and gastrointestinal system are all part of this, and, when invaders try to make their way into our body, these systems go to work to fight them off. If our mucosal lining is able to do its job, we often never know there even was a potential invader. Vitamin A is also important for several different immune cells to do their job, and it even aids in detoxification, which comes in super handy when we are sick. Not to be confused with its precursor, Beta Carotene (the vitamin found in orange-colored fruits and vegetables), Vitamin A is only obtained from animal sources like fatty fish, liver, eggs and raw or grass-fed, full-fat dairy products. (Chelsea’s note: check out Rosita Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil or Green Pastures Cod Liver Oil for a great source of natural vitamin A!).
Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants we can get. It is a key player in fighting off free radicals, which, simply put, damage our cells. It is a necessary nutrient to support functions of both our innate and our adaptive immune systems, our second and third lines of defense. Our best sources include dark leafy greens, citrus and bell peppers. (Chelsea’s note: for a supplement source, try Pure Synergy’s Pure Radiance Vitamin C.)
B Vitamins are responsible for making antibodies, what our bodies make to neutralize pathogens. Deficiency in certain B vitamins (specifically B6, B9 and B12) has been linked to higher risk of infection. Red meat, liver and shellfish are the best sources of B vitamins.
IAG (we refer to this as “I Ain’t Gettin’ it”) is available in supplement form (linked here) and provides arabinogalactans, which can enhance the effectiveness of your body’s Natural Killer cells, and those bad boys do exactly what their name implies: they kill off intruders. IAG is also considered a prebiotic, as it feeds the good bacteria that reside in your body. We want to feed those good little guys so that the bad ones don’t take over our guts, where about 80% of our immune system lives. OK, I’m losing you, I’ll move on.
Elderberry syrup seems to be all the craze these days, but for good reason. These tiny but mighty berries have proven qualities that are anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. What’s more, there are validated scientific studies that show that they help prevent colds and flu. Honey, an ingredient in Elderberry syrup, also has incredible antibacterial properties. It has been shown to be an effective weapon against over 60 species of bacteria and is also effective as a cough suppressant. Elderberry syrup is good stuff, but, sadly, your local health food store knows it and it is, therefore, often not a cost-effective solution, especially for large families. But the good news is, you can easily make it yourself with this recipe. As a preventative, take one teaspoon a day throughout cold and flu season.
Supporting Your Bod When sick
Even IF we do all of those things, and more, we are still sure to get the occasional bug. But before you start beating yourself up and wondering what you did wrong, you should know that it is not only normal for us to get sick every now and then, it is important! Our immune system needs to remember how to work and also which pathogens it needs to fight off. When pathogens enter the body, we have these cool cells, called memory B and T cells that actually make a note of those pathogens so that, later, when they try to invade again, they can quickly attack before we even know they’ve tried to make their way in. So, the occasional bug is helpful to keep your immune system on top of its game And, while it’s true that we were created and equipped to fight infections naturally, we often don’t have time or energy to let an infection run its full course, which could sometimes take weeks. So what do we do? The good news is that there are additional steps we can take to alleviate symptoms and shorten illnesses when they do show up on our doorstep! Let me repeat, I am not a doctor, but, over the years of being a mom and researching alternative ways to help my family, I have discovered some helpful tips.. Nothing here is a promise of a cure, but, again, just some things that have helped us in our home.
At the first sign of symptoms, we start to incorporate some, or all, of the following:
Oscillococcinum (linked here) is particularly helpful for flu-like symptoms, and, especially, upon a flu diagnosis. It is homeopathic medicine readily available over-the-counter at almost any local supermarket or drugstore. (As a quick side note, homeopathy is a method of alternative medicine that is based on the belief that “like cures like,” meaning that the same substance that can cause a healthy person to get sick would cause a sick person to get better. So back to Oscillococcinum: it is made from the heart and liver of ducks. While that sounds strange at first, if you consider that studies have shown that influenza can make its way around the world through birds, including ducks, and you understand what homeopathy is, then it begins to make sense why it might help. At any rate, I love the idea of a safer alternative to help alleviate the symptoms of something like the flu. At the first sign of symptoms, every 15 minutes for the first hour, empty a vial onto the tongue and let the granules dissolve, then repeat this 3 times/day until symptoms subside. In case you’re worried about your little ones resisting taking this, don’t fret; it pretty much tastes like straight sugar...they may even ask for it!
Hydrogen peroxide has worked wonders in our home. From swollen lymph nodes, sore throats, and earaches, to an actual flu diagnosis, it’s the simplest tactic that often is the only thing we need to do to escort pathogens right back out of the body. Simply tilt the head and place a couple of drops into one ear, allow it to fully bubble (this can take a few minutes), and then tilt your head to empty the ear out and repeat this on the other ear. If no bubbling occurs, just drain it out and move on. You don’t need any fancy solution; the bottle at your local drugstore is just perfect.
Essential oils—or snake oils, unicorn tears, or voodoo drops as my family lovingly refers to them—have been a game-changer for us. Now, there are differing views on whether or not you should ingest even the ones that are deemed safe for dietary use, and to each her own. However, the more I study the gut microbiome (the vast, immensely important, colony of bacteria and other organisms that live in your digestive tract) the more I get on board with leaving oils to do their job transdermally, or through the skin. In case you’re skeptical about this method, you only need to look at the variety of medications administered transdermally that have made their way onto the scene: nicotine, pain medicine, hormones, and blood pressure medication, to name a few. The oils are absorbed through the skin, our largest organ, and delivered, via your blood vessels, throughout the body. The other benefit to applying oils to the skin is there is no worrying about little ones being able to swallow a pill or no issue with upsetting the stomach.
My tried-and-true combination, which I have in my medicine cabinet at all times, is 30 drops each of: frankincense, oregano, Thieves/On Guard, melaleuca (or tea tree) and lemon, along with fractionated coconut oil or another carrier oil, in a roller bottle (link for roller and/or oils). The carrier does two things: first, it helps the oils to go further, and second, it dilutes those hotter oils, like oregano, so that they don’t irritate or burn the skin. On the first day of symptoms, I actually set an alarm and apply the oils to the bottoms of the feet every hour, or as often as I can. I also apply 3-4 drops of Frankincense straight onto the spine and massage that up and down the spine.
Elderberry syrup now comes into play a little more than when we were talking about it for prevention. Upon diagnosis, or when symptoms first occur, take one teaspoon three times a day until symptoms subside.
Detoxification is important when we are sick and want to get those toxins out of the body. The best and most important way to do this is through hydration. Water, NOT sports drinks, is the priority. The more we drink, the faster and better we are able to flush toxins out of our body. To restore electrolytes, put a simple pinch of high-quality sea salt (linked here) in your water glass. It’s virtually undetectable, but if you’re worried about the taste, squeeze a half of a lemon, which is a great source of Vitamin C. Another great way to detoxify is with a nice, hot, detox bath. This is incredibly helpful to not only flush toxins, but to restore minerals and promote healing and help you rest. You can follow this recipe to make a batch to have on hand.
Back To Basics
Finally, remember the basics: sleep, nutrition and hydration.
I could spend another three pages talking about the importance of sleep, but you cannot restore and rebuild your cells without adequate sleep…it is essential, so give in to your body and sleep when it is asking you to.
And don’t forego eating well when you are sick; nourishment is even more important during this time. When your grandma wanted to make chicken soup when you were sick, she wasn’t just trying to warm you up. A homemade broth from a high quality chicken is incredibly hydrating, healing and high in vitamins, minerals and collagen (great for those mucosal linings we talked about earlier. Bonus: it’s great for your skin!).
And for crying out loud, I’ll be the same broken record here that I am in my own home, DRINK YOUR WATER!!