Prevention is far better than cure when it comes to winter viruses. Modern pharmaceutical-based medicine tends to see us as victims to viruses but there is a lot we can do to both prevent exposure, and build our immunity to resist them.
Sometimes getting sick is the body’s way of telling us its time to take a break, to slow down, to rest. In winter, we need to take extra time to be still. If we have been busy looking after everyone but ourselves (sound familiar?), getting sick can be the body’s way of getting our attention. But with some extra attention, some regular self care routines, we can increase our awareness of our body’s needs, and meet them before we need to get sick.
Washing hands frequently has been shown to limit the spread of viruses, as does covering the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing. Nowadays this should be common courtesy- as it should be to stay home when you at the beginning of a cold or flu, because just before and after the symptoms start is when you are most likely to spread it. So do take that day or two off to self nurture, and protect your fellow humans.
Lifestyle balance can be hard to come by nowadays, as chronic busyness has become deeply embedded in our culture. Unfortunately, chronic stress has a powerful negative effect on our immune systems. Therefore we need to make sure we take time to:
- Sleep enough
- Connect with nature regularly, including regular grounding through walking barefoot, beach walking, and camping
- Reconnect with ourselves through meditation, yoga, or whatever we feel drawn to the nurtures us
- Stay in touch with our friends and community
- Laugh regularly
- Expose ourselves to sunshine when possible, for its uplifting and immune system benefits
Many people are not well connected with their own body, and do not notice when they get cold. When the body gets cold, its energy will be directed toward keeping core temperature regulated- and the immune system can be left with less energy to do its job. That’s why we can get a cold after getting chilled. So bring out the winter woolies, make sure your feet are warm, and stay aware and grounded in your body.
On the other hand....have you ever tried cold showers in winter, or jumping in the ocean on a sunny winter day? Most days I finish my hot morning shower with a cold blast for 10-20 seconds, with just cold water, especially over my head. Cold water therapy is excellent for building resilience and immune system strength, and you will have a warm glow for hours afterwards.
Food as Preventative Medicine
It is time to move away from cold foods and move towards warming and cooked foods and warming spices. Many people can tolerate some raw food throughout the year, but others can not. A Mediterranean diet has been shown over and again to be excellent for our immunity and to lower inflammation, and for longevity. Whole foods, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, both lean meat and vegetarian proteins especially seafood (carefully chosen), are well researched to give us a balanced diet. Seasonal fruits at this time of year include apples, which are wonderful for the liver, pears which are very soothing for our digestion, and citrus, which is excellent for our immune system with its high Vit C content.
Sugar is depressive for our immune system and produces the wrong type of inflammation. However honey is a natural and complex whole food and medicine that has many benefits for the immune system.
A healthy gut microbiome is also important for our immunity. We have 10X the number of microbes in our gut as we have cells in our body, and over 1000 species. It is important to keep our gut healthy, to minimise antibiotic use to essential only, and to eat lots of fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains to feed healthy gut flora. Fermented foods are coming back into popularity as people learn the importance of a healthy gut.
Superfoods and Herbs
Here is a list of immune system supportive superfoods:
Honey, lemon, turmeric, berries, papaya, mushrooms such as shitake, broccoli, parsley, coriander, local wild foods, local seafood, sprouts, olive oil, raw nuts, avocado, ginger, rosemary, sage, thyme, garlic, ginger.
As you can see, most are everyday foods available in our local stores. By making sure we get these foods in our day to day life, we are adding many valuable immune supportive properties to our diet.
In particular, adding culinary herbs to our daily diets helps adds many medical properties which act as preventative for many illnesses.
These include: parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, ginger, garlic, mint and basil. Most of these herbs grow very well in our climate.
Spices also have many benefits and have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years, to ward off illness and improve digestion. eg cinnamon, cloves, coriander seed, fennel, pepper, cardamon, nutmeg.
Making use of the wonderful array of herbal teas now available is very wise during the winter months. Some of my favourite immune enhancing herbs for teas are tulsi, peppermint, nettles and lemon balm.
Essential oils are another useful remedy for helping prevent, and heal, winter illnesses. That is a huge topic unto itself but there are a few basic oils which, when used sparingly, be of great benefit. These include lemon, eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender and peppermint. These are all readily available and inexpensive oils which can cover a lot of uses. They are always great to have in the natural medicine first aid kit.
Herbal Supplements and Vitamins
Adaptogens are herbs which strengthen our resilience to stress and to disease. Most can be taken long term and over winter is a particularly good time to take them. These include ginseng, tulsi, and astragalus, and medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, chaga, cordyceps, lion’s mane, maitake and shitake.
I make up wonderful cold and flu elixirs for sale with elderberries, echinancea, astragalus, many other respiratory and immune and adaptogenic herbs, with raw honey from our own bees. I also make herbal cough mixtures, tonics and tinctures.
Taking zinc and Vitamin C is highly recommended throughout winter, but especially at the first sign of a cold. Making sure your Vitamin D levels are good is also worthwhile, as here in Perth there is only a window of a couple of hours in the middle of the day where we can absorb Vit D from the sun, and our Vit D levels tend to drop over winter because of this.
Children and Winter Illnesses
A few simple tips can help head off recurrent winter illnesses in children. Sometimes if they are fussy eaters, a good multi vitamin and mineral supplement, probiotic and some regular herbs can help build their resistance.
- keep their sugar intake low,
- give them a good diet with lot of fruit and vegetables,
- look after their gut health with probiotics and prebiotics
- Help them calm their stress and anxiety
- Make sure they are getting enough sleep
- Remember that fever helps fight infection
Total Tonic Recipe
This is Nature's Antibiotic, Antifungal, Antiviral and Antiparasitical medicine.
It is also delicious!
Fill a glass jar with chopped garlic, onion, horseradish, ginger, turmeric, chillies (if tolerated), with the addition of citrus, rosemary, sage and thyme. Use any of these that you can find.
Then fill the jar with good quality apple cider vinegar, and put the lid on.
Allow to steep for 2-6 weeks. shaking ocasionally.
Strain and warm the vinegar slightly, and dissolve some honey to taste. Do not heat the honey beyond just enough to let it dissolve in the vinegar. Store in the fridge.
Take 1 dessertspoonful of this every day throughout winter as a preventative, and more if you get sick.