Wow, September absolutely flew by! It’s officially fall, and you know what that means — the leaves are falling, pumpkin-flavored-everythings are out and the sniffles begin.
As many of us know all too well, once the sniffles begins, a cold quickly ensues. I’m pretty sure i’m not alone in saying this: I hate getting sick. But does the cold weather cause us to get sick or is it something else? While cold weather plays a part, it is not the reason we get sick.
We get sick because of these factors:
- We spend more time inside our stuffy houses with no ventilation.
- We exercise less. If it’s not bikini season, why kill yourself over the cardio machine, right?…
- We indulge during the holidays. Hello, office parties and comfort foods, goodby salads!
- Our moods change, which affects how our body feels.
So as we breathe in stale air, eat poorly and become less active, our immune systems weaken. And if you’re like me with an autoimmune disease, the odds are already against us. That’s why I’ve always hated fall and winter. Without fault, every single year before and after Christmas, I would get sick. And not just a runny nose that lasts a week, but a full-blown, knock-you-off-your-feet, my-whole-body-hurts, I-don’t-remember-what-it-feels-like-to-smell, I-have-no-appetite cold that would last weeks, if not months. I’m not kidding. My body simply had no way to combat even the common cold, and to make matters worse, I wasn’t doing much of anything to help it!
But the winter of 2014 was the worst yet. I was working in a crowded startup office, feeling more stressed out than I ever had in my career, and my ulcerative colitis was at its peak of flaring up. Coincidence?
I was sick for an entire month before and after Christmas. The kind of sick where I had to cancel my holiday travel plans altogether. I even fainted in the mall trying to do some Christmas shopping! Not to mention I was hospitalized earlier that year for the worst ulcerative colitis flare up I had had yet. I hated that year.
The New Year came and went (I was in bed by 8pm on New Years Eve…I was a joy to be with). Just two weeks after I finally got better, a full blown cold came on again — and for another month! I wanted to cry, so i did. A lot.
I had a lot of downtime that year sitting in bed thinking about what was wrong with me. My friends and family got colds but were able to bounce back in days, not weeks. Not me. I knew my autoimmune disease was doing me no favors, but this couldn’t be what my winters would look like every year, right?
So that year (2015) I did a ton of research.
And you know what?
2015 was the first year in my life that I didn’t get sick. Not even the sniffles. It was that miserable winter + learning practical ways to boost my immune health (by doing more than just getting the flu shot and washing my hands obsessively) that kicked me into action. In fact, last year I didn’t even get the flu shot.
(Disclaimer: I am not recommending you do the same. It’s a highly contested debate right now, and everyone’s risk and exposure to the flu is different, so consult your physician as well before deciding what’s right for you).
So what did I do that was so successful? A combination of fresh foods, supplements and a positive attitude! Sounds pretty simple, right? And it was affordable, easy, and enjoyable, something I also didn’t think was possible. I loved last winter!
If you resonate with even a portion of my story, I want to help you this year! I’ve included all of my immune boosting strategies below. If you want to dig even deeper into this with dedicated one-on-one-support, I’d love talk, because, as my experience taught me, often there are underlying issues going on we have to uncover first to know what will work on an individual basis. (You can schedule a time to talk with me here.)
Here are the strategies and tools I employed that kept me cold-free all year long:
Immune boosting foods
I was sick of pumping my body with cold medicine and cough drops in the hopes they would make me recover faster. So I did a lot of digging around to find out the foods that were richest in vitamin C and other antioxidant, antiviral and decongestant properties.
Here’s what I stocked my fridge and pantry with:
- Citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, lemons)
- Garlic (it’s an antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal!)
- Ginger (a warming food, it can prevent a cold from coming on in the first place)
- Blueberries (a huge antioxidant)
- Red bell peppers (ounce for ounce, these peppers have twice as much vitamin C as any other source!)
- Broccoli (not only has vitamin C, but A and E plus antioxidants, vitamins and minerals)
- Probiotic-rich foods (organic yogurt, fermented veggies, kefir)
- Honey (reduces mucus secretions and coughs as effectively as over-the-counter cough medicines)
In general, focus first on filling your kitchen with fresh fruits and veggies. That alone will go a long way. Then, to fine tune your approach, focus on the fruits and veggies in the list list.
My own variation of the flu shot
Taking a lot of what I learned above, and coupled with my decision to not get the flu shot (my reason: shots can be particularly damaging to those with a chronic illness, plus they add to heavy metal toxicity) I found a way to boost my immune system the natural way: nature’s flu shot!
Found on The Whole Journey, here is the recipe I used:
- Juice of 3 lemons
- 1 minced garlic clove
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- ½ tsp ginger powder
- ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 ½ cups organic pineapple juice
- 1 tbsp raw honey
Blend it all together and store in a sealable jar. Drink ½ cup a day during flu season or if you’re already getting sick, have it up to 3 times a day.
Also based on my food findings above, I started drinking this smoothie a few times a week:
- 1 ½ cups almond or coconut milk
- 1 cup organic kale
- ½ cup fresh parsley
- ½ red pepper
- 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger root
- 1 teaspoon raw honey
- 1 scoop maca powder (optional, but gives an extra immune boost!)
Vitamin C and probiotic supplements are good additives to a nutrient-rich diet, and can give the immune system an extra boost when it needs it most. As Hippocrates said, “all disease begins in the gut,” so we need to always address the gut when addressing any other illness. Probiotics address beneficial bacterial in our gut lining, and 80 percent of our immune system lies in the gut, so you can see how these two supplements tie in perfectly with immune health.
Here are the two supplements I take regularly (even in warm weather) for immune health:
- Dr. Mercola’s Liposomal Vitamin C. This is the best vitamin C i’ve ever taken, I can’t recommend it higher.
- VSL #3 probiotic. A highly potent, live probiotic that is especially good in healing gut health while supporting immune function
Ahh! Fresh air
As cold weather hits, people spend a lot more time inside. Without proper ventilation, we end up sitting in stale air, breathing in bacteria, dead skin cells (gross, I know) and other allergens that have accumulated. With no way to freshen up the air, this can be an easy way to come down with a cold.
Here’s what to do:
- Open the windows periodically. I open the windows (just a crack) every few days for an hour or two. I also have the fan running to help force stale air out and encourage fresh air in. What a change this made!
- Air filter. I also bought a HEPA air filter (this one). They are designed to get rid of airborne bacteria, viruses, germs and mold. And I don’t just use it during the winter, I keep it out year-round as it helps to keep the air as clean and pure as possible.
- Go outside. Last, I make a point to step outside to take in the fresh crisp air at least once a day. When I lived right in the city (Boston), this was easy, because to go anywhere, I had to go outside. Now that I live a bit outside the city in a neighborhood with a car, I don’t have to do that, but I still do. All it takes is a short, brisk walk around the block, taking in a few deep breaths, to feel a world of difference.
Exercise: it matters year-round
Between wanting to avoid the cold and being busy as the holidays kick in, it’s easy to make up excuses for why you can’t get to the gym. Trust me, I used to do that a lot. But exercise helps our bodies flush out the bad and increase resilience to injury, stress and sickness.
Find some indoor group classes you enjoy (cycling, kickboxing, bootcamp, barre, yoga, etc.) and commit to a regular schedule. I find that the accountability of a class setting goes a long way in ensuring I keep up a routine and stick to my goals.
But of course if you are or do get sick, back off on the exercise a bit to give your body time to rest.
More water, please!
Water, like exercise, helps to flush the body of toxins. Also, if you’re sitting inside more with the heat on, you’ll need more hydration from the drying forced hot air.
A trick I use year round to increase my daily water intake is to have a glass water bottle on hand at all times (I love this one). Getting in the habit of always having this bottle with me ensures that no matter where I am — my desk, driving, shopping or visiting a friend — I have water.
Stress can do a number on our bodies, including making us more susceptible to sickness. Stress puts our bodies in a fight or flight response mode, focused on protecting vital organs and less on non-vital ones, including the gut (hence why we need to feed the gut to fix ailments).
Now I know the holidays in particular can be stressful, so this may seem impossible to do. Here are a few strategies I employ:
- Workout in the morning (if you’re a morning person). Start your day off centered around you, blow off some steam and kick your endorphins into action!
- Meditate. Even 5 minutes a day can be a great way to clear your mind and relax. It can be done first thing in the morning, mid-day if you can find some quiet time, or at the end of the day, whichever you prefer.
- Start a gratitude journal. I start and end my day writing down 3 things i’m grateful for. This frames my mind for positivity and lessens the negativity I focus on.
- Breathe! Shallow breathing commonly occurs when we’re breathing. Breath alone is an incredible calming aid, so do this:
- Breath in for 4 counts
- Hold for 7 counts
- Breathe out for 8 counts
Repeat this 3 times and see how you feel. Try this anytime you’re feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. Getting into a habit of doing this now will help you employ it as a stress relieving strategy year-round.
A smile on my face
Last but not least, smile! Smiling is a great stress reducer and positivity enhancer, all things that can help fend off colds! Maybe it’s as simple as smiling while writing in your gratitude journal or after yoga or during your favorite workout class.
Your cold-busting plan
Okay, so that was a lot of ideas! Start by picking one or two you like most and build from there. The key is not to overwhelm yourself, because, as dieting as also taught us, making too many drastic changes at once just doesn’t work.
Which of the above strategies will you try first? Have any others that work well for you that you want to share? Leave it all in the comments below!