We’re still experiencing some rather nice weather here in Toronto but soon temperatures will drop, the leaves will change and we’ll start hearing A LOT about cold and flu season.
Here’s the thing - I don’t actually believe that there’s one season in particular that spontaneously spawns colds and flu. I feel that as we approach Fall/Winter, our stress levels go through the roof and so does our sugar intake. I’ll explain how these factors impact our immunity in a moment.
Think about it…we celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years all within that time frame of “cold and flu season”. Yes, it’s true that for most of us, those are lovely occasions surrounded by family, friends, laughter, great food and drink. BUT, they are also incredibly stressful occasions marked by financial strain, full calendars AND an increase in refined sugars (hello! candy, desserts & alcohol).
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Stress? Yes, this time of year brings beautiful autumn leaves, pumpkin spice lattes & the anticipation of Christmas. But, for many, this time of year also brings on stress - financial and personal. There’s the financial stress of spending a lot of money within a short period of time. Money on Halloween costumes and candy to hand out. Money on Christmas gifts for friends, family, colleagues. Money on outfits for these occasions and eating out at holiday parties. Not to mention the personal stress of which parties to attend, who is hosting, what to cook or bring with you to a party. Our social calendars fill up, leaving very little time for rest and recuperation.
Sugar? There is no denying that our sugar intake sky rockets this time of year. Again, let’s recap: we have Halloween. Whether you’re trick or treating or handing out candy - guaranteed you’re having some! Thanksgiving dessert? Pumpkin pie and sweet potato casserole- come on! We drink more alcohol this time of year at each of these festivities. We’re gifted with hostess chocolates or treats at work and Christmas cookies. See what I’m saying?
Then there’s sleep. Because we’re stressed out and because our social calendars are so full this time of year, we stay up longer, wake up earlier and for some insomnia is an issue. Sleep deprivation plays a huge role in dampening our immune system.
Stress, lack of sleep & increase in sugar - it’s a one way ticket to getting sick.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. Some people get sick and some don’t. Have you ever wondered, why? It all stems from the strength of your immune system. We’re all exposed to viruses. So why then are some of us more susceptible than others? It’s because a strong immune system is able to detect foreign invaders and nip them in the bud before they turn into anything.
When I was younger and even into my early twenties, I would get sick every few weeks (no exaggeration). I worked with children at the time and when I would come in contact with someone who had a cold or flu bug, I would get it! Just like that! It was pretty awful, actually. The biggest issue for me then was diet. I was not eating properly, consuming WAY too much sugar, dairy and other inflammatory foods. Eventually, when I got into the field of holistic health, this changed. I learned how to develop a strong foundation little by little. I did this through the food I ate, I changed my diet & made lifestyle changes. Fast forward to today and I maaaaybe get sick once a year - if that.
You can work on cold/flu prevention too by focusing on 3 things: food, lifestyle & supplements.
Today, I’m sharing with you my top 10 (tried and tested) ways to survive cold and flu season.
Diet: Our diet truly is the foundation of a strong immune system. Did you know that an acidic environment is more likely to breed colds & flu? It’s true. This is why it’s so important to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. What does that look like? Think real, whole, unprocessed foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, quality proteins and healthy fats). Cleaning up your diet is the most important way to prevent cold and flu. If you start anywhere, it should be here!
Stress: When we’re stressed we release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol actually inhibits our immune function. Additionally, chronic stress creates inflammation in the body and as we already discussed an acidic body is more susceptible to getting sick. So, finding ways to manage our stress levels is imperative when we're discussing prevention. This looks different on everyone but I suggest (if possible) getting to the root of your stress and making changes. I realize that’s not always possible in which case you’ll want to employ some stress management techniques such as: meditation, journalling, massage therapy, aromatherapy, breathing techniques, epsom salt bath, etc.
Sleep: This is the time when our bodies regenerate and repair. There’s no substitute for quality sleep. Have you ever noticed that when you’re stressed out and not sleeping well you get sick? That’s no coincidence. A lack of sleep suppresses immune function. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.
Sugar: The ultimate immune suppressor. Sugar is at the top of the list for inflammatory foods. It’s no wonder this time of year is known as cold and flu season, it’s also the time of year we consume the most sugar! Want to prevent getting sick this year? Watch your sugar intake! And yes, that even includes natural sweeteners such as maple syrup and raw honey. I’ve been using Lakanto as of late which is a natural sugar-free sweetener that uses monk fruit.
Vitamin D: I’ve been doing a lot of research on Vitamin D and it seems to me that this is one of, if not the most important supplement to be taking when we’re talking about cold/flu prevention. Studies are showing that it can actually boost immunity. In fact, in one of the largest representative studies done to date, it showed that people with the lowest levels of Vitamin D reported having more cases of cold and flu. This study concluded that individuals with a Vitamin D deficiency may be more susceptible to colds and flu. What I suggest: get your levels tested twice a year and supplement with Vitamin D3 accordingly. Work with a qualified health care practitioner (like a naturopath or holistic nutritionist) to help get your levels where they need to be.
St. Francis Deep Immune: St. Francis is one of my favourite (and trusted) brands and they have a series of INCREDIBLE products geared towards cold and flu prevention that they call, Deep Immune. These products help boost your body’s natural defences. Within the Deep Immune series you have the tincture, capsules and a kids formula. I personally love the tincture because they’re the best way for the body to absorb herbal medicines. But if you can’t stomach the taste of the tinctures, their capsules are equally amazing (same formula, just in dry form), convenient and super easy to digest. Their kids formula is great tasting and is an effective formula for children.
What I love about the deep immune products is that they include powerful and healing adaptogens such as astragalus, liquorice and reishi. Adaptogens help us to adapt to stress, they push back against fatigue and combat colds/flus.
I like to to take the tincture myself from September on (throughout fall/winter, AKA cold and flu season) preventatively. I take it like a wellness shot each day. You could do the same thing with the capsules and kids formula as well.
If I do get sick, I temporarily stop taking Deep Immune & I switch gears and use different supplements to help get rid of it immediately.
*I’ll do another blog post, sharing my top remedies for cutting the duration of a cold/flu in half. Stay tuned!
Vitamin C: Is a powerful antioxidant that’s also antiviral and antimicrobial. Take Vitamin C on it’s own and not as part of a multi. I also suggest looking for one that has bioflavonoids for better absorption.
Garlic: The food you eat can literally be medicine! Another powerful antimicrobial, garlic kills bad bacteria in our system without killing the good bacteria. It’s most effective when it’s raw but cooking with garlic in general is great for prevention. I really love a good homemade Caesar salad like this one which makes getting in that raw garlic a breeze.
Adaptogens: I touched on this one in #6 already but adaptogens truly are a wonderful addition to your daily routine. As I mentioned, they help us adapt to stress and have a normalizing effect on the body. I really like including medicinal mushrooms such as chaga, reishi, lion’s mane and cordyceps and other herbs like ashwagandha (for stress), matcha, cacao and chlorella. You can take these daily. They are really powerful, so small amounts over time are perfect. I love brands such as Sun Potion, Four Sigmatic, Moondeli, Giddy Yoyo and I purchase all of these through my local health food store or online from Pure Feast.
Probiotics: Did you know that 70% of our immune system resides in our gut? It’s paramount that your digestion be working top notch. This is where probiotics are really effective, they help to reinoculate our gut with good bacteria. I recommend a good quality, daily probiotic - ideally one that requires refrigeration.
There you have it! My top 10 ways to survive cold & flu season this year.