Because, the shit you get from the pharmacy does not actually make you better. In fact, it probably make things worse. The good news: the performance of your immune system is in your (sanitised) hands.
I am proud to say that I have not been sick since somewhere in mid 2018. Here's my best tips to stay snot-free this winter (starting off with importance / obviousness):
It's no coincidence that 'sleep' lands the top spot. Without quality sleep, all other efforts will have your body fight a losing battle.
To sleep is FREE. Don't be part of the herd that thinks something that is free and takes little effort, can't make a significant impact.
Your body heals, renews, recovers and recuperates when you sleep. Lack of sleep is a serious destroyer of immunity. The very fact that you get tired and sleepy when you're sick, after a long day, or a heavy workout, should say something about the importance of sleep for recovery and recuperation. Stop trying to be hardcore and carry on working when you're sick. The world and everyone in it does not depend on you for survival. Get as much sleep and rest as possible.
Chronic inflammation (read more in the points to follow) is a well-known contributing factor to sleep disruption
Prevent: Have a regular schedule - and stick to it over weekends, too. The more hectic your lifestyle, the more sleep you need,
Cure: As much as possible - which means you need to leave your ego behind and take off work.
2. Manage Stress
Stress management could as well have been together with 'sleep' at the very top. Its link to physical illness really requires a book instead of a few sentences. Stress and suboptimal sleep go hand in hand, as sleep deprivation is a heavy source of stress on the body.
Stress and worry increase your primary stress hormone - cortisol. Chronically raised levels of cortisol suppresses the immune system, and seems to negatively affect every other system of the body. Stress is linked to many modern diseases from hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune conditions (like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis) to upper respiratory infections and even the common cold.
"Emotional stress is a major cause of physical illness, from cancer to autoimmune conditions and many other chronic diseases. The brain and body systems that process emotions are intimately connected with the hormonal apparatus, the nervous system, and in particular the immune system."
One of the most fascinating people alive - Gabor Maté - has spoken on the stress-physical illness topic extensively, also in his book: When the Body Says No. I HIGHLY recommend checking him out.
Chronic stress leads to low level inflammation. You should care, because “Chronic inflammation is an essential component of chronic diseases” (see more on inflammation in point 4 below).
To heal from illness however, it is needed to reduce stress in the first place. A study found that when you’re stressed out, the immune system cannot turn off the inflammatory response like it usually does, and that not only increases the likelihood of getting sick, but you’re more likely to stay sick for longer because that inflammatory process doesn’t get inhibited.
If you're a woman, be sure to make an effort to socialize (as if we need a reason to hang out with our bitches!), as a recent study found that social isolation tends to raise blood pressure in women.
While we're on this topic and this page is much about fitness: forget taking on a major physical feat such as training for an Ironman Triathlon, The Comrades or the CrossFit Games when you're under stress and/or you're not getting quality sleep - adding training stress on top of other daily stress will send you and your health into deep, dark places of despair.
Prevent: Become aware of your stress levels. Do deep breathing or meditation (YouTube is a nice, free resource) every morning or evening, when you sit in traffic, or feel stressed. Make time for socializing, laughing, playing, and spend time in nature as often as you can. Remove toxic people from your life, even if they are family.
Cure: Avoid stress by taking off work (and not giving a shit about it) or sitting in traffic, turning off notifications or tones on your phone, sleeping, watching something that makes you laugh, and listening to relaxing music.
3. Give Your Gut Some Love
Considering that 70% - 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, it is not surprising that a healthy gut is required for a healthy body (and mind!). The gut is linked to every aspect of health.
Without gut bacteria, the immune system will not develop properly.
Include at least one (or more, for a better variety of strains) of the following in your every day diet:
- raw, unfiltered sauerkraut
- grass-fed, plain kefir
- beet kvass
- bone broth made from grass-fed animals
If you have been diagnosed with gut related conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or even Crohns disease or Colitis - don't just believe that nature played a bad trick on you and you're stuck with it for life. There are two great gut healing programs (of course they are not permanent) to try: The GAPS diet and The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD Diet). I have done GAPS with FANTASTIC, long lasting results.
Prevent: Have one of the above three times per week, and alternate sources.
Cure: Kombucha and beet kvass are really good in the early stages of a virus - have some every day along with bone broth.
Note that if you have bacterial overgrowth in your gut, probiotic-rich foods will likely make things worse. You would need to reset your gut first by doing The GAPS diet. . ..
4. Nutrient-dense, Anti-Inflammatory Food
Include a variety of brightly colored vegetables and fruit, animal products from grass-fed animals (meat, poultry, eggs, whole, plain yoghurt) fish and seafood, soups made from grass-fed bone broth, liver (85g / week if you're taking cod liver oil) and dark chocolate (70%+).
Why these foods, specifically?
Your body needs nutrients to heal itself and fight a virus, so best you give it what it needs. Processed food, refined sugar, industrial seed oils, food you are sensitive/intolerant to, and excess alcohol are all compounds that either cause some sort of destruction in your body, deplete important nutrients, or both. Needless to say, not exactly immune boosting.
Prevent an inflammatory response:
Consuming foods that you may be allergic, intolerant or sensitive to (such as gluten, lactose, FODMAPs or milk proteins), is apart from the unpleasant symptoms, NOT a great idea for health and immunity. Why? The body responds to these 'foreign invaders' by producing an inflammatory response through the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
While acute inflammation is a favourable thing that occurs to help us heal, chronic inflammation is strongly linked to chronic disease, as mentioned in point 2 above. The other very notable thing chronic inflammation leads to, is chronically raised cortisol (supposed to contain the inflammatory response), which as noted, reduces immunity.
Prevent: 80% your meals.
Cure: In as many of your meals as possible.
Ginger is antibacterial, has antioxidant and anticancer biological activities, and very importantly, is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
You want to obliterate this virus, which means a ginger tea bag, or a few slices of ginger in hot water is not going to cut it.
I have this lovely mixture first thing most mornings:
- the juice of half a lemon
- freshly peeled and grated ginger - about the size of a golf ball
- a bit of water
(I sometimes add liquid iodine, as I eat Himalayan Salt which does not contain iodine - beware that liquid iodine could be the most horrible thing you ever taste in your life - hence I mix it with the lemon and ginger )
optional add ons:
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- a shot of raw, unfiltered, organic apple cider vinegar (good for upset tummy)
- chlorella, spirulina or other greens powder
If you are accustomed to taking tequila shots, this will be a breeze.
Prevent: A few times a week, especially after too much alcohol or processed foods.
Cure: Twice or three times per day.
6. Oil of Oregano
Oil of Oregano is an all-natural antiviral, anti-fungal, antioxidant, antibacterial substance that is so formidable, it can make many a synthetic drug blush.
Here are just some benefits listed by Ben Greenfield, derived from the findings of different studies:
- effective against viruses and funguses, unlike synthetic antibiotics
- asthma, bronchitis, colds, flu, sore throat, and even whooping cough respond well to Oregano Oil’s ability to fight bacterial and viral infections
- fight bacterial and viral infections, relieve congestion, loosen and release phlegm, and soothe coughs
- beneficial for viral conditions, bacterial and fungal problems and can be used both preventatively and during an infection to help clear up the problem
- may be an effective treatment against dangerous, and sometimes drug-resistant bacteria
- reduce infection as effectively as traditional antibiotics
- inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus bacteria in the test tubes as effectively as the standard antibiotics did
- over 100 times more potent than Caprylic Acid against Candida
- a potent antioxidant - 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries"
I use it in oil form that I got in the UK - I am not sure that it is available as an oil in South Africa, but you get them in softgels at Wellness Warehouse and Faithful to Nature.
Prevent: One drop per day, or none. If you are taking a flight, or have something else like an event that you definitely need to be free of a virus for, I would take 4 drops, three times per day, or: 5 gel tablets, three times per day. Make sure you check if it needs to be diluted in a carrier oil, or your experience will be extremely unpleasant (4 drops Oregano Oil must be diluted in a teaspoon of olive oil or another carrier oil).
Cure: I'd take 10 drops (if already diluted in a carrier oil), three times per day, or up to 10 gel tablets, three times per day when I can't get hold of the oil. I dilute 4 drops in a teaspoon of olive oil and add it to the ginger mix in the previous point when I think something unwanted may be brewing.
Garlic is another potent virus and bacteria killer. A study found that a daily garlic supplement over the course of 12 weeks not only reduced the number of colds by 63%, but also shortened their duration from 5 days in the placebo group to just 1.5 days in the garlic group.
Now again, as with ginger, I prefer to go big.
If you love a roast as much as I do, have one (or just roast potatoes) and add whole garlic cloves to it - don't peel them, just cut open one or both sides of each clove. Now, be generous with them cloves! I could easily eat about 10 of them (in roasted form) in one sitting (you obviously take off the shells before eating them). In fact, I would aim for at least that many. Make extra to keep for other meals!
You will receive bonus points for social distancing if you stink of garlic the days following your roasted garlic feast.
Prevent: Have more roasts. Add garlic to meals when possible.
Cure: Roast a few bulbs, and have 10 (or more) cloves with meals for a few days.
Although focusing on nutrient-dense foods will supply much needed vitamins, minerals and more, a little extra help is needed in time of an immune system under pressure.
- Vitamin C - 1g a day - try a liposomal Vitamin C which delivers more Vitamin C into your body
- Vitamin A&D (in the form of cod liver oil)
- Zinc (start early, and don't exceed about 40mg per day if you're an adult)
Prevent: If you eat a diet rich in Vitamin C (lemons, red bell peppers, kiwi, steamed broccoli, strawberries, guava), it may only be needed when you're having an event coming that you need to be healthy for, or before, during and after taking a long flight (not sure this happens too much these days). Zinc can be taken in a lower dose, but is generally good for women's hormones as well. Cod Liver Oil and eating fermented foods mentioned in point 5, are recommended in general.
Cure: As specified in the bullet points.
There you have it. By just attending to the first two points, you will be a long way there, and not only in terms of flus and colds.
Add in some of the other points, and you could stay healthy and carry on working, exercising, playing, socialising, and not waste money on doctors and symptomatic treatment this winter. All because you read this post.
Food intolerance in patients with manifest autoimmunity. Observational study
Gluten sensitivity in multiple sclerosis: experimental myth or clinical truth?
Immune response to dietary proteins, gliadin and cerebellar peptides in children with autism
Headache and CNS white matter abnormalities associated with gluten sensitivity
Inhibitory effect of Allium sativum and Zingiber officinale extracts on clinically important drug resistant pathogenic bacteria