With current conversations completely focused on colds and flu and what we can do to help avoid them. Indeed the term ‘survival of the fittest’ can take on a whole new meaning once the temperature drops, as those susceptible to bugs and flu’s drop like flies. So, why is it that some people get sick and some do not? Is it as simple as eating some different types of food, or not getting caught out in the cold without a jumper? When it comes to keeping the common cold and flu symptoms at bay, eating nutrient rich food is of crucial importance. Then there is also the numerous herbal remedies and supplements that claim to hold the power to fend off all the Winter nasties – so what actually works?
What you eat
The immune system, like the other major systems in the body is complex. For optimal functioning in which the body naturally fights off infection, flus and bugs, it is not a matter of eating one or two specific types of food but rather making sure that you eat a number of nutrient dense foods on a daily basis to ensure that the key nutrients are available for the immune response to work optimally. It is the body’s inability to generate bug-fighting cells, from an insufficiency of energy or key nutrients that hampers this process. This can result from both a poor diet lacking key nutrients such as Vitamin C, A and E, zinc, iron and essential fats and/or a diet that is particularly low in energy; such is the case when kilojoule intake is low. For this reason, avoiding diets that are especially restrictive, while focusing your diet around key foods which offer these nutrients in high volumes is the first step towards taking control of your immune health this Winter. Key foods including lean red meat, brightly coloured fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, grains, seeds and nuts in particular may offer specific benefits thanks to their high nutrient contents.
A common mistake people make with their diets that results in a poorly functioning immune system is eating very well some of the time, while letting it go others times. This is the reason that people often get sick not long after they change their diets; go partying for a few days, over exercise or when they lose weight. It is during these times that you are not eating the range of foods needed to give the body all of the key nutrients it needs to repair and regenerate damaged cells in the body. Of course you still have to have a life during Winter but simply being aware of the heightened nutrient needs of the body during these busy, potentially stressful times and focusing on including key nutrient rich foods in your diet most of the time will help to prevent this immune depleted state.
Beetroot – packed with antioxidants, the powerful molecules which help to fight against free radicals, the molecules which cause damage and aging within the cell
Lean red meat – rich source of iron and zinc
Kiwi fruit – rich source of Vitamin C
Berries – packed with Vitamin C and antioxidants
Kale – antioxidant and Vitamin C rich
Chicken soup – if made with bones may increase immune function
Green tea – antioxidant rich source of hydration
Broccoli – another vegetable choice packed with antioxidants
Seaweed – a natural source of iodine, the nutrient which helps the thyroid to function optimally
Chilli – slightly increases metabolic rate and can help to clear airways
Watch your fluids
Dehydration is one of the most common reasons we can feel tired, run down and lethargic and when it comes to dealing with colds and flus and dehydration means that bugs are more likely to stick around and continue to make you feel sick. Congestion, runny noses along with a reduced fluid intake of fluid can make headaches and fevers worse, prolonging the effects of a cold. Even if you do not feel like it, if you are suffering from any cold like symptoms, or feel as if you are about to ‘come down’ with something you need to increase your intake of fluids.
While adults require at least 1.5-2 litres of fluid each day, if you have been hit with a bug increase this to 2-3 litres of fluid a day. Vitamin C rich fruit and vegetable juices and herbal tea along with plain water are all good choices. If you do choose to juice to get a concentrated hit of nutrition, do not forget the nutritional benefits of juicing vegetables. Not only are vegetables including carrots, beetroot and celery packed full of vitamins and minerals but they also contain far less sugar than fruits. And don’t forget your skins – the skins of fruits and veges contain high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.
Now eating well and increasing your intake of fluid can be considered pretty standard treatments to help the body fight infection but what about the myriad of supplements and herbal remedies out there? As research findings grow, there are more and more proven natural remedies out there which are definitely worth a try.
A link between probiotics, the natural bacteria found in the small intestine and immune health has been known for some time and research published in The University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey found probiotics helped reduce the duration of a cold as well as the severity of symptoms. Probiotics can be found in some yoghurts and fermented drinks as well as in supplement form from the chemist.
Garlic has been used to treat bacteria, high blood pressure and infection for thousands of years and it is believed that the organosulfides (naturally occurring chemicals found in garlic and onions), along with Vitamin D help to stimulate the production of the immune cells, macrophages. Garlic can be taken as capsules or raw and get some sunlight each day if you can to enhance its potential benefits.
Chicken soup has been a favourite remedy for colds, flus, coughs and colds for hundreds of years, with many families owning a traditional soup recipe passed through the generations. And it seems that our elders had it right as there is evidence to show that chicken soup with broth made using actual chicken bones may improve immune function. Research published in the American Journal of Therapeutics found that a molecule found in chicken soup, carnosine, helped the body’s immune system to fight the early stages of flu by inhibiting the migration of infected cells around the body.
One the most commonly recommended herbal remedies for colds and flu, the antiviral and antibacterial herb that originates from America actually has strong research that supports its use for reducing the likeliness and duration of the common cold. The recommended dose is currently 3g per day.
Olive leaf extract
Olive leaf extract boasts both natural anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial benefits and contains double the antioxidant content than that of green tea. While research supporting its use as a specific flu fighter is only in early cellular stages, it remains a powerful antioxidant supplement.
This one may surprise you but Chinese and Japanese healers have used the powers of mushrooms for centuries to treat numerous ailments. With shiitake, reishi and maitake mushrooms most frequently referred to, cooked varieties of these mushrooms are known to increase immune system activity.