Infection Prevention For The Colder Months Ahead

With back to school and the coming cooler weather, infection prevention is usually always on a parent's mind. We know all too well children pick up viruses from their classmates and bring them home to share with the rest of the family. A parent's already stressed immune system is not always up to the task of fending off these bugs, and combined with the autumn temperature shifts these illnesses can feel like they are of epic proportions. Thankfully, there are reliable natural strategies to help boost immune systems to prepare for the onslaught of colds and flus.

Lets look first at two basic but fundamental nutritional supplements for the immune system: Vitamin D and a probiotic.

Probiotics hold the key not just for better health and a stronger immune system, but also for healing digestive issues, mental health illness, and neurological disorders. The first and most overlooked reason that our digestive tract is critical to our health is because 80 percent of your entire immune system is located in your gut! In addition to the impact on our immune system, our digestive system is the second largest part of our neurological system. This is why it is called our second brain. Probiotics interact with immune cells present in the gut, creating a cascade effect on the rest of the immune system throughout the body. Probiotics have been found to decrease the incidence of the common cold, as well as decrease the severity of the symptoms in those who do get sick.

There has been a lot of research on the subject of vitamin D and it is emerging as a highly important component of natural disease prevention. A fat soluble vitamin, D attaches directly to cellular DNA and is involved in prevention of various auto-immune diseases, MS, heart disease and cancer. Vitamin D is vital for the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus, which we need for the preservation of healthy bones. Vitamin D is also found to help our immune system fight off viral illnesses like the flu, as well as prevent and treat a common cold. Consider (strongly) adding vitamin D to your diet as part of your disease prevention strategy. An estimated 90% of Canadians are vitamin D deficient. Getting out the sunshine isn't always a viable option for us in the True North and so we need that boost with a supplement, especially through the winter months. Supplementation with vitamin D has been shown to reduce the incidence of flu in school aged kids by upwards of 42% when given at dosages of 1200IU per day.

In addition to these foundational nutrients, a number of herbal agents can also improve the body's ability to fight invaders.

Oregano oil is high in phenols, which are natural phytochemical compounds with beneficial antioxidant effects. The two most abundant phenols in it are:

Thymol - a natural fungicide with antiseptic properties. It helps boost your immune system, works as a shield against toxins, and even helps prevent tissue damage and encourages healing.

Carvacrol - which has antibacterial and antiviral activity against several bugs including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, Salmonella and others.

There are many herbs available that are immune-enhancing, but my hands down favourites are elderberries and echinacea. When you take these together they will increase immune function and are defenders against colds and flu. The beneficial qualities of both these herbs are enhanced when you take them in the form of a syrup or tea.

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) is a flowering herb used to gently energize the immune system when you are fighting off a cold, upper respiratory infection or the flu. The root of this herb is the most potent part but you can use the entire plant for its immune-enhancing qualities. Echinacea can increase our body's production of white blood cells as well as encourages production of interferon, which our body uses to defeat viruses.

Elderberry (Sambucas nigras) has been used traditionally for centuries to treat colds and flu, respiratory infections, and fever. It is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants - namely two flavonoids, quercetin and rutin. These flavanoids prompt the immune system to step-up its production of cytokines, which are a category of small proteins that are important for cell signalling and immune response against inflammation and infection. The berries also contain water-soluble compounds called anthocyanins that produce an anti-inflammatory effect, which may explain why elderberry is effective in reducing fever.

If you do end up coming down with a cold or flu, remember the following for reducing the duration and severity of the illness and getting your family back on track.

Wash your hands, yep a pretty common sense tip but a necessary one!

Stay hydrated. Taking plenty of fluids when you are sick may not necessarily impact much on symptom relief, but it's still vital to stay hydrated and many of us are already depleted before we end up sick.

Listen to your body. Do you lie on the couch or get moving? There are arguments for both sides of this coin. I know there are experts out there who say activity will help treat coughs and colds since moving gets your lymphatic system working and helps clear congestion and mucous in the body. BUT... illness can be a message to you that you need to slow down and rest so that healing can occur naturally. So when you start to feel run down, recognize your need for some TLC. Get extra sleep. Go to bed early for a couple of nights (that is prime time used by your body to heal and recharge your batteries). Manage your stress. Take more frequent hot showers or baths. And try to get outside for some fresh air at least once a day. Sometimes the support your immune system needs is to submit to the process and let yourself have some guilt free R&R.

When I do find myself or the kids fighting something off this is my favourite for warming the body and soothing any symptoms we may be experiencing: Ginger-Lemon infusion with raw honey. Ginger is a fantastic herb to use when fighting off a cold, flu or fever, a sore throat, or those especially fun gastrointestinal bugs. It is one of the very best choices of herbs for assisting your digestion and has been extensively shown to relax the stomach while soothing those feelings of nausea. Ginger is a warming herb, which opens up the throat and steps up circulation throughout your body. Brewed as a tea, ginger will induce sweating which will also help any fever run its course.

Lemons are a great healing food that help promote immunity. One large lemon contains about 45mg of Vitamin C (that's 75% of the recommended daily requirement), and vitamin C helps to neutralize and lessen the effect of free radicals that contribute to illness. Raw honey can be used both as a tasty food and as a soothing and potent medicine. It contains impressive antibacterial and antiseptic properties, as well as antioxidants, and can be used to treat coughs and sore throat, or used as a general tonic for the immune system. And it just tastes good :) Make sure it's locally sourced raw honey and not the processed stuff you'll find in many grocery stores.

*To make a pot of fresh ginger-lemon honey tea, add about 1 to 1.5 inches of thin sliced fresh ginger root, 2 teaspoons of raw honey, and the juice of one fresh organic lemon. Add boiling water and steep for about 12mins, then enjoy the immediate effects :)

For dose specific recommendations, research links or more information, feel free to drop me an email or call and let's chat :) I'd love to work together on a nutrition and preventive medicine plan for you and your family this winter :)

(c) 2016 Carlisle Integrative Wellness

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