So you’ve done everything you can to boost your immune system and avoid getting sick, but you caught something anyway. Now what?
No reason to sit back and suffer; now’s the time to reach into your arsenal of tools that will shorten the duration and severity of your illness, as well as prevent complications such as pneumonia. But where should you look?
Most of the over-the-counter remedies for colds and flu take the wrong approach to care. Syrups and tablets claiming to make you more comfortable are really just hindering your body’s own attempts to deal with infection. All of that congestion is a good sign! It means you have a functioning immune system that recognizes an invader and is taking action to remove it. Synthetic meds, however, are full of chemicals that your liver ultimately must process back out of the body, and the last thing you want at this time is an additional burden. Antibiotics are even more useless. Colds and flus are caused by viruses; antibiotics only affect bacteria. By filling your antibiotic prescription, you are only killing off the “good bacteria” in your gut that helps keep you well.
Fortunately, there are many simple, natural, and helpful solutions for getting over your cold or flu, and getting on with your life.
At the first sign of a cold, that little ticklish scratch at the back of your throat, take some zinc. It is thought that zinc blocks a virus’s ability to enter body cells and start an infection. Immediately supplementing with zinc can substantially reduce the severity and length of an illness. Look for zinc gluconate or zinc picolinate. Some blends come in the form of a lozenge and contain other helpful ingredients, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and/or Echinacea. Taking up to 100mg per day at the onset of a cold is usually quite helpful. If you experience an upset stomach from the zinc, you can take it with food.
It might be tempting to soothe your discomfort with a Snickers or a bag of chips, but resist that urge! Like the synthetic medications mentioned above, these processed comfort foods will just add additional burden to your already taxed system, potentially making you feel even worse. During the time you are sick, it’s important to prioritize your nutrition. Really focus on eating nutrient-dense, high-quality foods. Minimize or remove processed foods, as well as congesting foods like dairy, bread, and sugars. Even reducing your meat consumption can help. While meats are very nutrient dense and typically a great option, they are also energetically expensive to digest. Opt for lighter meals of fresh salads and, you guessed it, soups. There are real reasons we connect soup to being sick: the steam from the hot broth is soothing to irritated sinuses and airways, and the soft, cooked veggies are easier to chew and digest, leaving more energy for your immune system to do its work.
Keeping hydrated is important every day, but particularly when you are sick. On a regular day, you should really be drinking 2-3 quarts of good water (spring or filtered, but not distilled). On a sick day, that number goes up to 3-4 quarts. That may sound like an impossible task, but if you keep a bottle or glass nearby and sip all day, it can easily be done. Other sources of liquids can count towards that daily quota, but some certainly don’t. Coffee, soda, and alcohol actually cause dehydration, meaning that you must drink even more water to stay hydrated. You may, however, drink herbal teas, water with lemon, or broths, all of which are soothing to a sore throat and stuffy nose. Adequate hydration allows mucus to thin and flow more freely, preventing deep congestion and the need for expectorants.
The components of the immune system travel through the body via lymph. The lymph system is similar to the circulatory system with one big difference: the heart pumps blood. Lymph is typically “pumped” by movement of the muscles. When you aren’t well, a lot of movement generally doesn’t hold much appeal, but just staying in bed prevents good immune movement. An easy way to increase the flow is to alternate hot and cold water in the shower. This can also help to break up chest congestion. “Wet Socks” are also a great way to encourage healing. Before bed, wet a pair of cotton socks in cold water, wring them out, and put them on. Layer a pair of dry wool socks over them, and go to bed. You’ll usually notice an improvement in the morning.
Most Americans are deficient in magnesium, but illness depletes this important mineral even more. You’ll get a little out of those vegetable soups you’re eating, but a supplement is highly recommended. Natural Calm is a powdered magnesium supplement that dissolves in warm water and there are several stevia-sweetened flavors. In addition to supporting immune health, a dose before bed promotes the biochemical process of relaxation and is helpful for more restful sleep.
And speaking of restful sleep, that may be the most important component of cold and flu recovery! Our hard-charging culture typically looks down on taking a break, but your best bet for avoiding a long illness is to take a day early on. If you have sick days, use them! High stress is extremely detrimental to immune health and function. Give your body the sleep it’s asking for, enlist some help from family or friends to lighten your load for a day or two, and you’ll be well sooner than if you just push through.
Prevention through maintaining good health is the most important step during cold and flu season, but sick happens. Many of these may seem like old ideas, but, the fact is, they are time-tested strategies that work.
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