For many of us, wintertime is, unfortunately, the season of runny noses, watery eyes, and sniffles. The common cold is one of those health annoyances which can, if it hangs around long enough, be extremely frustrating. And when that cold you just got rid of comes bouncing back a few days later for a second or third round, the seemingly endless cycle can have even the toughest among us waving the white flag of defeat.
So, how to stop the wintertime head cold madness? Fight back with the best of nature’s arsenal, and leave those over-the-counter drugs and prescription meds on the shelf. Instead, try any combination (the more the merrier!) of my 23 tried-and-true cold-prevention strategies. Be sure to start incorporating them into your routine now so the bad guys won’t stand a chance this season.
Make your exterior an inhospitable (to germs) environment.
If you commute by train, work in an office with lots of shared equipment, and/or are the parents of school-aged children, your exposure to germs, sad to say, will be quite high. Pathogens are everywhere and largely unavoidable. However, promise me you won’t try to combat them with antibacterial gels and wipes which, unfortunately, poison the environment, contribute to antibiotic resistance, and are thought to play a significant role in the epidemic of allergies in younger people. Instead, try these six simple ways to keep winter cold germs from finding their way into you:
1. Cover up — as in wear gloves as much as possible to reduce contact with heavily-trafficked germy surfaces like handrails, subway poles, ATM machines, etc.
2. Wash hands frequently — skip the antibacterials and use basic soap and hot water for at least 30 seconds.
3. Pat dry with paper towels — instead of hand dryers which tend to blow germs back into the air (talk about counterproductive!)
4. Switch to healthier hand wipes — if you’re often on the go, portable packs of artificial-fragrance-free essential oil wipes like Herban Essentials are a great option, or, better yet, find a good online recipe to make your own.
5. Keep your skin well-sealed — to prevent all that hand-washing from causing cracks or breaks in the skin through which germs can enter, keep hands moisturized naturally with oils like avocado, coconut, or sesame.
Make your interior inhospitable too — with the right foods.
To stay well in winter, you’ll need to keep your immune system in tip-top shape, so if you’ve slacked off a bit during the holidays, the time to get it together is now! Start by eliminating processed foods and sugar which weaken immunity and inflame your system. Next, eat your way strong with foods that arm your immune system with everything it needs to crush pesky wintertime invaders:
6. Put probiotics on your plate — to help balance the bacteria in your gut and strengthen immunity. Get your fill in the form of tasty, probiotic-rich fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and raw, organic apple cider vinegar. Frequent servings will help re-inoculate your gut with the good bacteria you need to maintain bacterial balance and prevent weakening of the gut wall which can inflame your system (and make getting sick all too easy).
7. Think green, green, greens — they’re loaded with immunity-boosting phytonutrients, and the fiber that makes your good gut bacteria thrive, which in turn helps keep immunity high. Sure, they’re great in salads, but also add greens as a staple ingredient to other parts of your meals as well. Add spinach to smoothies, toss chopped broccoli into omelets, add Swiss chard to lunch or dinner stews and soups, or snack on home-baked kale chips. The more the better.
8. Everything tastes better with garlic — so don’t hold back. It’s also got antiviral and antibiotic properties, and is a powerful immunity booster, so chop up a raw clove or two every day and sprinkle on your meals — and enjoy. (You’ll get some benefit from cooked garlic as well, just not quite as much.)
9. Drink hot toddies, teas, and tonics — made from immune-boosting herbs like andrographis, echinacea, elderberry, and astragalus. Another delicious, immune-boosting option is rooibos tea. If you need to sweeten, add a little raw stevia and enjoy.
10. Drink bone broth — warm, soothing and tasty, organic bone broth from grass-fed animals delivers a healthy dose of amino acids like arginine, glutamine, and glycine — which are excellent immunity-boosters.
11. Pour on the herbs and spices — because many of them have anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antiviral properties worth digging into. Topping the list: ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, thyme, and cayenne pepper.
12. Add a little coconut oil to your diet — it’s an excellent shot to the immune system, with natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.
13. Try a two-week Elimination Diet — to detect and then remove irritating foods that weaken your immunity
Supplement your immunity throughout the winter — and beyond.
When cold season is in full swing, you’ll want to do everything you can to give your immune system a leg up, and supplements are an excellent way to add another layer of protection to the mix. To beat back the viral invasions, here are a few of my immunity-boosting favorites:
14. Fish oil — just one to two grams of high-quality fish oils daily to maintain wintertime immunity. Be sure to look for capsules containing the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
15. Probiotics — in addition to eating daily servings of probiotic fermented foods, I also recommend taking a high-quality daily probiotic, with at least 10-20 billion live organisms, preferably a broad-spectrum probiotic that contains a variety of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria strains. For example, the Be Well Probiotics contain the five most viable and stable strains.
16. Vitamin D3 — when sunlight is in short supply, a daily maintenance dose of at least 2,000- 5,000 IUs of Vitamin D is sufficient for most people (but check with your doc first to assess your vital D needs).
17. Vitamin C — to avoid gastric upset, go easy on the stuff. All you need is about one gram of vitamin C daily, to help support immunity, protect against infection and, if you do get the sniffles, it will act as a natural antihistamine to help tame inflammation and reduce swollen membranes.
18. Antiviral herbs — they stimulate immunity and contain medicinal compounds that attack viruses, without creating resistant viral strains, so they’re easy to love. Among my favorites are andrographis, elderberry extract, echinacea, olive leaf extract, grapefruit seed extract, and lauric acid.
19. Yin qiao or gan mao ling — two of the classic Chinese immunity-boosting herbal formulas that have been used for thousands of years to keep colds at bay — but try using one or the other, NOT both.
Behave like the cold-fighting machine that you are.
OK, so you’re eating well and supplementing your immunity, but there is more you can do to keep that immunity engine purring. I’m talking immunity-supporting behaviors — those healthy habits that can give your immunity an even bigger edge against the worst that winter can throw at you. Here are a few ways to kick your immunity up a few more notches:
20. Sleep well and probably more than you think you need — those precious hours of shut-eye are the body’s restore-and-repair time, so get at least seven to eight hours a night, and if you need a catnap when you’re falling short, keep them to 20 minutes or less.
21. Get sweaty on a regular basis — as moderate exercise helps keep your immune system robust. Follow it with a session in the steam room or sauna for an added immunity boost.
22. Focus on relaxation — stress undermines immunity, so reducing it is essential for your winter health. Commit (or re-commit) to relaxation practices like meditation, restorative yoga, or simply doing things that calm and center you.
23. Lay off the antibiotics — limit their use as much as possible to keep your immunity, and your gut lining, strong.
Still sniffling? Then it’s time for a full-scale investigation.
Colds are supposed to run their course and fade away — the sooner the better. If, however, you feel like you’ve taken most, if not all, of the aforementioned advice to heart, and you’re still not getting well or you’re suffering from boomeranging colds, then it’s time to dig deeper and get some basic medical tests done. Head to your doc or a knowledgeable health practitioner to test for the following, to help determine what’s going on in your body and what’s up with your immunity, or lack thereof:
· Complete metabolic panel (CMP)
· Complete blood count (CBC)
· Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
· High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP)
· Thyroid panel (includes TSH, free T4, free T3, reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies)
· Antinuclear antibody (ANA)
· Lyme disease with co-infections panel
· Epstein-Barr virus antibodies (IgG and IgM)
· MTHFR gene mutation
· Vitamin B12
· Vitamin A
· 25-hydroxy vitamin D
· TIBC (how much iron is being utilized)