We are not powerless over colds and flu, we have an innate ability to protect ourselves against illness due to the incredible feature of the human body that is the immune system. But in order for it to be able to do its job properly, we need to support it through proper food and lifestyle practices, and take away the things that hinder its functionality. Here are some of the most potent ways you can help your immune system today:
This seems obvious, but warming yourself internally as well as externally is key to supporting your immunity. Consuming vast amounts of cold food and drink is very draining to the body as it needs to expend energy on heating it up to the right temperature – so ditch the water with ice, the cold salads, the ice cream – save them for summer. Warm your body from the inside out using warming soups, casseroles and warming spices such as turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and chilli.
Keep your neck and kidney areas covered with sufficient clothing to prevent the biting wind from getting to your bare skin. From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, the kidneys store our ‘Jing’ or ‘vital essence’ so must be carefully protected when it is cold. Hence why you won’t see anyone in China wearing a cropped jacket in winter – they keep their kidneys covered with a proper mid to long winter coat!
Get rid of sugar
Sugar is hugely depleting to the immune system – in fact studies have shown that consuming 1 can of fizzy drink can suppress your immune system for up to 5 hours! Not only this but it depletes your body of vital nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium. So say goodbye to sugar laden drinks, cakes and confectionary if you want to ward off the colds this winter. And don’t forget, alcohol plays havoc with your blood sugar levels in a similar way to refined sugar, and simple carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and crisps break down to sugar very quickly once consumed.
Get your lymph moving
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that runs across the entire body, collecting toxins and waste from the cells and delivering it into the blood in order to be eliminated by the body. Keeping the lymph moving and is a key aspect to boosting your immunity. Unlike the circulatory system (which has the heart), the lymphatic system has no pump, so it relies on contractions of muscles adjacent to the vessels in order for the fluid to move. This is why you get that glow after a run, a sauna or a massage – you have moved your lymph! You don’t want the lymph to sit still and stagnate, so encourage proper lymphatic drainage through exercise, sauna/steam, massage, dry skin brushing and taking hot baths.
Keep stress in check
The fight or flight response that is initiated when we experience something stressful, was a mechanism developed through evolution to protect us from acute dangerous situations, such as being confronted by a lion, or getting away from falling rocks. Nowadays, the stress response has moved from acute to chronic, and for many it is being triggered multiple times throughout the day. It is impossible to avoid stress, but we can significantly improve the way we respond to it using mindfulness based practices. Meditation and breath work is a scientifically proven method to switch our nervous system from sympathetic mode (fight or flight) into the calm and peaceful parasympathetic mode (rest and digest). Studies show that even a 10 minute round of deep abdominal breathing is enough to switch off the stress response.
The magic of chicken soup
Chicken soup has been named ‘Jewish penicillin’ and for good reason! It is absolutely one of the best things to have when you feel run down. It warms you up from the inside out, is very soothing and easy to digest, and provides a whole host of wonderful nutrients that your body is crying out for when you are under the weather. Use fresh chicken stock (not cubes) and incorporate liberal amounts of sulphur-containing garlic and onions and antioxidant rich fresh herbs.
Immune boosting supplements
This my favourite cold and flu busting trio to take over the winter months. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant which gets gobbled up in the winter months, zinc is like armouring your immune system with a hefty battle axe, and vitamin D is essential in the winter due to the lack of exposure to sunlight.
The power of Omega 3
Consuming omega 3 fatty acids is an excellent way to boost your immune system and reduce inflammation. The best sources are from consuming at least 2 portions of oily fish a week (think SMASH – sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon or herring) or taking a fish oil supplement. For vegans/ vegetarians, flaxseed oil contains good levels of omega 3, although it is not as bioavailable as fish oil.
If you are repeatedly falling prey to colds and flu, nutritional therapy is an excellent way to support your body’s natural defences. If you would like to take advantage of a free 20 minute Health and Vitality Review to discuss your health concerns, click here.