Winter is coming, and with it more people sniffling and sneezing.
Though getting sick is not always 100% avoidable, we can do many things to increase our body's resiliency and lessen the severity and duration of symptoms associated with the common cold.
During the colder months it is much more common to get sick and thus important to focus on prevention and not just treatment.
Next time you start to get that familiar tickle of the throat, it's time to take action right away with some simple, natural, yet powerful strategies.
What to do when you feel a cold coming on
We all know by now that sugar isn't the healthiest food on the planet, and now science shows that it can temporarily suppress the immune system.
Sugar can deplete certain nutrients like vitamin C, which is essential for healing any infection (1).
What's more, chronically high blood glucose levels is linked to dysfunction of the immune response, increasing susceptibility to infections and pathogens (2).
Sugar is one of the last things you want to indulge in if you feel a cold coming and want to boost your immunity, and should always be consumed with moderation to support your chronic health.
Boost your vitamin C
Not only is vitamin C a vital nutrient to keep your immune system healthy and strong, but it's used up quickly by the body and can be easily depleted (3).
A deficiency in vitamin C can result in impaired immunity and a higher susceptibility to infections (5).
Studies indicate that vitamin C intake may slightly reduce the duration of the common cold in otherwise healthy individuals (6).
For these reasons, it's a good idea to include plenty of vitamin C rich foods on a daily basis such as bell peppers, citrus fruit, kiwi, broccoli, leafy greens, cherries, and strawberries.
If you are under high stress or have trouble meeting your needs dietarily, you can also boost your vitamin C by supplementing.
Supplementation of vitamin C is said to be effective in the prevention and treatment of respiratory and systemic infections (7)
Check your vitamin D
Vitamin D plays an essential role in immune health.
Despite this vitamin's importance, vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent among adults around the world (8)(9)(10).
Though vitamin D is obtainable from some foods like egg yolks, mushrooms, salmon, tuna, and beef liver, dietary intake is rarely enough to meet adequate levels. Sun exposure is our main and most effective source of vitamin D however during the winter months supplementation is often required to maintain an optimal status.
The best way to check your vitamin D status and ensure you are meeting your specific nutrient needs is to ask your doctor to test your blood levels.
Science confirms that acute stress can actually benefit the immune system while the effects of chronic stress over time can inhibit the immune response (11).
Stress has even been found to accelerate aging of the immune system by prematurely weakening immune cells (12).
Nowadays, many of us are continually under stress from all directions which can increase inflammation in the body and decrease our resiliency in the face of pathogens and infections.
While it's not realistic to completely eliminate stress, we can reduce our stressors by asking for more support, setting boundaries, and minimizing the effects that stress has on our system by adopting practices that reduce stress levels. These may include yoga, breathing, walking, massage, and of course getting enough rest.
Choose warm over cold
It's important to keep your body nice and warm during the colder months not just with appropriate clothing but also with the foods and drinks you consume.
Cold foods can lower your body temperature and cause constriction, weakening the digestive system and even causing irritation of the throat.
Keep your iced drinks and treats like ice cream to the summer months and opt for teas, soups, stews, broths, and cooked vegetables instead. This is especially nourishing and supportive if you feel like you don't have much of an appetite but still want to support your nutrition.
Sip on room temperature or hot teas during the day instead of refrigerated water.
Include protein at each meal
Protein is an essential macronutrient that provides amino acids needed to make immune cells, build antibodies, create antioxidants and support enzymes involved in the healing process (13).
A deficiency of dietary protein or amino acids can impair immune function and increase susceptibility to infections (12).
If your appetite is diminished during times of sickness, you can opt for easier to digest protein sources such as broths, stews, and soups.
Protein is important to consume while sick in order to help you speed up recovery and prevent muscle wasting.
This might be an obvious one but statistics show that a large portion of the population nowadays is not sleeping enough. This is concerning because rest is the most important factor when it comes to healing from any illness and fighting off a cold.
If you have trouble falling asleep, try implementing a bedtime routine that helps you to unwind and relax and give yourself at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep time.
Add medicinal herbs and foods to your cookbook
Herbs and medicinal foods contain various phytonutrients that have the ability to kill microbes and viruses. By adding these foods to your meals you're bringing natural medicine into your own kitchen!
Ginger : a traditional folk remedy used for many health purposes and now backed by science, ginger can help to fight pathological infections due to its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties (13)(14).
As a warming spice it is also very effective at reducing any digestive discomfort such as bloating and nausea and supporting digestion.
You can add ginger to your soups, stews, and stir fries or sip as a hot tea throughout the day.
Garlic : another folk remedy, garlic contains numerous therapeutic compounds that have the potential to improve immunity (15).
The active ingredient found in garlic, allicin sativum, is said to exert antimicrobial and antiviral effects on the common cold and flu (16)(17)(18).
Research suggests that supplementation of aged garlic extract may enhance immune cell function while reducing the severity of the cold and flu (19).
Crushing raw garlic is said to provide the most immune benefits as the medicinal compounds are then released, such as allicin.
Oregano : a potent infection fighting herb, oregano possesses two compounds in particular, carvacrol and thymol, that have been associated with antiviral and antimicrobial activities (21)(22).
Oregano can be used in cooking however it is often taken in tincture form when the first signs of the common cold show up. The key is to be conservative with oregano oil as a little can go a long way, this oil is strong, don't say we didn't warm you!
Always choose a food grade oregano oil supplement and only take for short term use.
Raw honey : honey is a nutritional powerhouse rich with antimicrobial, antifungal, antiinflammatory, and antiviral properties.
Honey can not only be soothing to symptoms like a sore throat but it may also help to you get well faster by stimulating immune cells (23).
A study found honey to outperform typical conventional medications in the treatment of upper respiratory infections, without the side effects (24).
Add some lemon and ginger to hot water with raw honey and you got yourself a delicious immune boosting concoction this winter!
Be sure to choose raw honey over pasteurized honey in order to receive all of the nutritional benefits.
Green tea : green tea is particularly rich in antioxidant compounds known as catechins, that may provide protective effects against the cold and flu (25).
A cup of hot green tea can not only provide a soothing effect on the throat but it is also a potent source of germ-fighting medicinal properties (26).
Add in electrolytes
Electrolytes are most often associated with exercise, but they are also vitally important for the maintenance of good health and healing in the body.
In order for the body to adequately fight infections it needs to stay hydrated and electrolytes are essential for cellular hydration.
Some natural sources of electrolytes include coconut water, pink Himalayan salt, and bone broth, and supplementation is also available.