Sitting on the SkyTrain in Vancouver yesterday, there was a symphony of sound, but not one that makes you sit back and relax. Nope, this was the unique symphony that debuts every fall:
coughing, sneezing, nose-blowing, and throat clearing. The symphony of cold and flu season.
As the weather gets cooler, viruses and bacteria have a better environment to flourish in, which is why the number of sick days jumps in the fall and winter seasons. The rhinovirus, coronavirus, and influenza virus are the more common culprits of illness and your body’s ability to cope with these bacteria and viruses dictates the number of days off work or school that you might have to take.
While many of my patients don’t like to hear this, we actually should be getting sick once in a while. Getting a cold or flu is a way to keep your body in check and remind the bacterial and viral-fighting components of your immune systems to remain active and strong. I like to see people getting a cold at least once every year, but being able to shake it off within a week or so.
If you are getting sick more often, or have lingering symptoms lasting weeks or months, then it’s time to start supporting your immune system, or looking into how your body is handling stress. If you haven’t been sick in years, there is the chance that higher levels of stress hormones, called cortisol, are actually suppressing your immune system.
Let’s reframe what “being sick” actually is. Your perception of your cold or flu is actually your body’s way of dealing with the bacteria or virus that has gotten into your body. If you have a runny nose, it is not the bacteria doing that directly, it is your body responding to the bacteria by creating a lot of mucous to try to flush the bacteria out.
For those who don’t get sick, it might not be that you aren’t exposed to these bacteria or viruses; it may be that your body is just not responding to them. Your body’s response is what will strengthen your immune system, so rather than suppressing a cold through medications, we should be helping the body wage that war so that it can be dealt with and we can have a stronger immune system because of it.
Best Deep Immune-Supporting Herbs:
Dr. Land’s Favourite: St. Francis Deep Immune Tonic
Best Superficial Immune Supporting Herbs
Dr. Land’s Favourite: Cytomatrix ACES + Zinc
There are two “levels” to our immune response—the deep immune system and the superficial. The deep immune response is what helps support the ongoing maintenance of your immune system. If you are getting sick frequently or your illnesses are lasting for a long time, it might be time to support your deep immune system.
If you’ve done all you can to stay healthy, but that dreaded cold hits anyway, then it is time to reach for the superficial immune support. These are the supports that will help kill off the unwanted bacteria or boost your body’s immune fighting response.
A few other recommendations:
Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for a healthy immune system. When we are sleep deprived, the number of cold and flu fighting cells, called T-cells, are reduced, while inflammatory factors, called cytokines, increase. Studies have shown that the most restful sleep is achieved by those falling asleep between 10pm-midnight and getting at least 7 hours of sleep.
Take time off:
Many of my patients tell me “I just can’t take time off when I’m sick.” Yes, you can. Actually, your co-workers will thank you for it. Going to work sick just spreads your illness around and forces other people to have to decide whether they too should work while sick. If you continue to work, and your work environment is stressful, your higher stress hormone (cortisol) levels will actually suppress your immune system and it will take longer to get over your cold. Better to take a day or two off and get better than to have a week of discomfort, decreased productivity, and irritated co-workers.
When sick, we often curl up on the couch, watch TV and eat comfort food. However, if you can add in foods rich in vitamins and minerals that support your immune system, then you are actually feeding yourself the nutrients your body needs to get rid of what is ailing you. Eating an assortment of colours of food, along with foods rich in Vitamin A, C, E, and zinc—all great choices.
For an upper respiratory tract infection:
Try a steam inhalation. Fill your sink with hot tap water, lean over it and drape a towel over your head to keep the steam in. The steam will help loosen up mucous in the nasal cavities so that you can blow it out more easily. For added benefit, add a drop of good quality Eucalyptus Oil or a drop of this powerful blend of oils called OnGuard. Essential oils have anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties which will help to fight off any bacteria lingering in your sinuses.
Publisher’s Note: Dr. Robyn Land is a Naturopathic Physician and owner of Local Health Integrative Clinic in Vancouver, BC. She is also an adjunct faculty member at the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine and the Program Director for ProHealth Yoga & Retreats .