Cold and flu season is officially here...and it’s awful! Being sick not only feels terrible - dry throat, coughing, sneezing, and fatigue - but it also means that we have to use up some of our vacation days, or end up being that person who comes to the office sick - who then gets everyone else sick. So, in an effort to not be that person, here are a few things you can start implementing today to help make sure you don’t get sick this autumn and winter season!
We all know we need it, yet most of us don’t get enough of it. On average, American’s get 6.8 hours of sleep per night , over an hour less than the recommended amount for optimal functioning. While asleep, your body repairs itself, cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine levels decrease, and your immune system is recharged. In contrast, hormones that encourage cell growth, differentiation and restoration such as prolactin, melatonin, and the pituitary growth hormone (GH) increase during sleep . Together, they help bolster the immune system to make sure that your body can ward off foreign invaders - such as viruses and bacteria. Essentially, sleep helps to regulate your hormone levels, which in turn optimizes your immune system.
Besides not getting enough sleep, most people fall asleep while watching TV, which we know emits blue light which interrupts our circadian rhythm. Some people also consume alcohol or marijuana prior to bedtime, both of which interrupt our natural sleep cycle.
Alcohol not only affects our quality of sleep, which affects the immune system, but it also decreases our immune system’s response as well – double whammy to your immune system!
Alcohol may help you fall asleep more quickly, but it’s very common to wake up throughout the night after drinking, therefore inhibiting your ability to experience REM sleep – which is the deepest, and most restorative sleep. REM sleep is typically when people dream, which allows them to also process their day and regulate their emotions. Having a nightcap also relaxes the muscles in the body, including the throat, which can lead to breathing problems while you sleep. This can lead to snoring and sleep apnea, which is not only problematic to you, but if you sleep next to someone, it affects their quality of sleep, too. Finally, depending on how much you drink, you may also find yourself making an extra trip – or two – to the bathroom. Although your bladder normally goes into hibernation mode while you sleep, alcohol acts as a diuretic on the body, causing you to have to go.
Alcohol use also affects every branch of the immune system response, from the skin, to the respiratory tract, to the GI tract, exponentially increasing your likelihood of getting sick. Even though you may not be an alcoholic, even just one drink a day – or several per week – can have negative effects on your immune system. Risk and severity of infection with alcoholic consumption is highest with the respiratory tract, especially with bacterial pneumonia and tuberculosis. “The GI tract is the organ exposed to the highest concentration of alcohol during acute or chronic ingestion...Several lines of evidence suggest that alcohol abuse significantly disrupts the GI and respiratory tract immune barriers” .
Marijuana and the Immune System
Since the legalization of medical marijuana in many states (and some recreational use), the use of marijuana has no doubt increased. Although there are many benefits to using marijuana, it also has some side effects, including decreasing immune system function.
It inhibits T-cell functioning, which helps the body to fight off infection, making it even harder for someone to fight off an infection with continued use. This is exasperated in individuals with already compromised immune systems such as those with HIV .
Just like with smoking cigarettes, or natural tobacco, the inhalation of marijuana can cause injury to the lining of the respiratory tract, allowing harmful pathogens into the lungs. “This smoke contains carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde, napthalene and carcinogens” . Carcinogens, no matter the source, are harmful to the respiratory tract.
So you might be wondering right now how to strengthen your immune system besides giving up alcohol, pot, and making sure you’re getting quality sleep.
Herbal Remedies + Tinctures
L-lysine is an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the body, so that means that you have to either consume it in food form or via supplements. Good sources of L-lysine include poultry, dairy, red meat, and cheese. Nuts also contain lysine but have a high content of arginine which isn’t good if you’re one of the unfortunate souls who also get cold sores.
“L-lysine plays a particularly important role in the immune system. It is involved in the development of antibodies and has important antiviral properties” . L-lysine helps with collagen formation, and a deficiency may lead to broken skin, therefore increasing your risk of being exposed to foreign pathogens. As with any supplementation, however, it’s always best to check with your doctor or Naturopathic doctor prior to starting a supplement.
Tinctures I Use:
I’m a huge fan of tinctures. In case you’re unfamiliar, tinctures are extremely easy to use, although they don’t taste that wonderful. They’re concentrated herbal extracts made most often through soaking the herbs in alcohol. The three that I use around the cold and flu season are:
If you don’t already, I highly recommend taking a multi-vitamin every day, since the average American diet is devoid of many of the fruits and vegetables that it should have; our soil is also depleted of many key minerals such as magnesium, which helps the immune system among its many vital functions.
Zinc is another immune boosting supplement that you should take during cold and flu season. I personally like the Blue Bonnet Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc supplement – those three supplements work synergistically together to help each absorb better into the body. I take 3 capsules 30 minutes before bedtime; the magnesium helps lull your body to sleep for a better night’s rest. If you still have trouble falling asleep, after checking with your doctor, you may want to take a melatonin tablet as well. If you’re not already aware, magnesium is a diuretic, and helps to stimulate the colon. So if you already have trouble with your morning BM, magnesium might just be what you’re missing! A deficiency in magnesium has also been linked to anxiety and depression as well as Restless Leg Syndrome and many other common neurological conditions.
Or, if you want to make your own immune boosting beverages at home, here are some recipes for elixirs. You can also drink these when you’re sick and they’ll help you recover faster, naturally. Although traditional cough syrups such as NyQuil “do the trick” they increase recovery time, keeping you sicker, longer. If you’re looking for a natural night time cough syrup, I recommend Black Elderyberry Syrup by Gaia. Or you can make your own!
1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar – with the “mother”
One half fresh lemon, squeezed or juiced
1 inch fresh ginger, juiced
1 tsp of honey, or as desired.
Half of a fresh lemon
Mix ingredients together – yes, it’s that simple. Lemon changes the PH of your body and makes it inhospitable to viruses and bacteria.
Mexican Onion Tea:
I got this recipe from a friend who is from Mexico, hence the name. I wasn’t brave enough to try this, but I’d love to hear how it works if you do!
½ red onion
2 gloves garlic, crushed
½ cup honey
Juice from 1 lemon
Boil the red onion for 5 minutes – once boiling, bring the heat down to a simmer. Add garlic and boil for another 2-3 minutes. Add honey and lemon – stir. Strain onion and garlic and pour into a drinking cup. ¡Buen provecho!
Bone Broth Noodle Soup:
2 Tbsp avocado or coconut oil
4 garlic cloves
2 large carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 cups bone broth (vegetable broth if vegetarian or vegan)
1 Cup 100% Spelt noodles (I use Nature’s Legacy)
1 Tsp Rosemary
Black pepper, as desired
Pink Himalayan salt, as desired
In a stock pot or other large pot, melt the oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions until they’re translucent – about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes. Add the carrots and cook for 1 – 2 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure the onions and garlic do not burn. Add the bone broth, celery, and spices and bring it to a simmer. Simmer on medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes until the carrots are moderately tender. Add the spelt noodles and simmer for another 6 minutes until noodles are soft – do not overcook!
Serve and enjoy!