Happy Fall! ‘Tis the season (my favorite!) for crisper weather, colorful leaves, an abundance of fun festivities and holidays, homemade soups, pies and other comfort foods. With the change of seasons, that also means the dreaded contagious colds and other respiratory infections! No one wants to get sick. It’s a nuisance to our lives, our breathing, our sleep, our smell and taste, our appetite for food and for life, our mind clarity, our energy levels and more.
As much as we think we are able to stave them off, sometimes it’s just inevitable. It happens and now we are stuck with this miserable viral infection (and sometimes bacterial infections ensue) that can last days, weeks or longer in some stubborn cases.
Sure, you can take products like DayQuil® or Nyquil® that contains Acetaminophen for reducing fever and aches, Phenylephrine HCL as a decongestant to open up our nasal and lung airways, Dextromethorphan HBr as a cough suppressant and Doxylamine Succinate as an antihistamine to dry up and reduce runny nose and sneezing. And sometimes we need those types of medications so that we can function during the day at our jobs and take care of responsibilities and sleep at night. It’s completely understandable to give in to those at times. Unfortunately, they can cause side effects and they do absolutely nothing for fighting the infection and curing. Just symptom relief. And I don’t believe that the common cold always lasts 7 days for everyone regardless of what you do. I know many patients, family members and friends that have been sick for 4-6 weeks only to have another virus hit them 4-6 weeks later. It’s always about how well (or not well) you take care of yourself. Sometimes integrating the best of both conventional and pharmaceutical medicine as well as using natural, functional medicine treatments is the best approach for comprehensively healing the body. There’s no perfect single right answer for everyone. So what can we do to expedite our recovery and kick that virus out of our body? Many options!
Listed below are several infection fighting, immune boosting and healing products, foods and lifestyle choices that can help you recover more quickly than simply taking over the counter medications alone or nothing at all and suffering needlessly.
- Medicinal Herbs: I have been recommended herbs for respiratory infections for many years to my patients with good success. I’ve also used them on my own when I get sick. And they work amazingly well. Whether it’s in capsule or tincture form, it really depends on the person. For sore throats and coughs and nasal congestion, I prefer the liquid herbal tincture form to be added to vitamin C powder with a splash of apple cider vinegar and/or spicy ginger flavored kombucha. A few of my favorite herbs for respiratory infections are Lomatium, Goldenseal, Licorice Root, Echinacea, Osha, Yerba Santa, Horseradish, Ginger and more. There’s a few tincture products that I recommend that fight the infection to help heal the body. Rapid Immune Boost by Herb Pharm – 3-4 dropperfuls 3-4 times per day, Upper Respiratory Support and/or Lower Respiratory Support both by Wise Woman Herbals – 3-4 dropperfuls 3-4 times per day.
- Oregano Oil: This potent anti-microbial plant contains carvacrol, thymol and terpenine and many other phyto-chemicals that have been shown to fight bacteria, fungus and viruses. This astringent and bitter product has a very strong flavor and aroma as you can imagine. You’ll need to add a splash of juice, elderberry syrup (excellent for the immune system) or kombucha to mellow out the pungent flavor. There are many available brands. One option is Oregano Oil By Genestra Brands 4-5 drops in water 2-3x/day.
- Vitamin D: This powerful vitamin is actually a hormone that via sun exposure is activated by the kidneys and liver. Most people don’t produce sufficient levels of vitamin D on their own even if you spend a lot of time outdoors or live in a sunny region. Furthermore, if your kidneys and liver are not functioning optimally such as in conditions of hypertension, diabetes, kidney failure, excess alcohol intake, fatty liver or hepatitis, you will continually run low on vitamin D. This can be easily checked from a blood test called 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D. Some foods contain Vitamin D such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and egg yolks. Despite this, the body usually needs a significant amount for many biochemical actions in the body, including triggering T-Lymphocytes, the cells that target and destroy bacteria and viruses. A great product that allows for dosage adjustment is Vitamin D3 Liquid by Pure Encapsulations – 5-10 drops each day(5000-10,000 IU) during sickness and symptoms. Afterwards, you can resume 2000 to 5000 IU most days for optimal vitamin D levels.
- Astragalus: This well known Chinese herb – Astragalus membranaceous – offers potent respiratory defense and immune support through binding and activating B Cells and macrophages and stimulating lymphocytes – all crucial for defending our bodies against viruses and other microbial pathogens. This herb can often be found mixed within other products or by itself in capsule form or liquid tincture form. One of my favorite recommended products is Astragalus Max-V by Douglas Labs 1 cap 2x/day morning and noon with food.
- Vitamin C: Most of us have heard that vitamin C is good for our immune system and to load up during the common cold. But how so? T Lymphocytes and Phagocytes need Vitamin C to do their job of defending the body and eradicating pathogens. Therefore, a long term deficiency of this important vitamin would adversely affect the functioning of our immune system and make us more susceptible to illnesses. Studies have shown that taking vitamin C as a preventative (before you get sick) may decrease the duration of the cold in normally healthy people but inconclusive on whether it prevents you from getting sick in the first place. I take vitamin C powder every day all year long and it also adds a tasty citrus flavor to my water bottle that I carry with me. An excellent choice is C+ Biofizz by Designs for Health -1/2 tsp in water 2-3x/day.
- The Good Bacteria, aka Probiotics: Our GI Tract is a culturally diverse environment filled with a variety of beneficial or therapeutic bacteria that have a symbiotic relationship with us humans. They have taken up residence within our guts (through healthy sources of complex carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, as well as fermented foods/beverages) to help us better absorb nutrients from our food, to help support our immune system and defend us against foreign pathogens, to ensure regularity and balance and much more. With 70-80% of our immune system residing in our gut (Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue), it makes perfect sense to support that good bacterial population with a professional quality probiotic. One of the best products I’ve used with good success in the majority of my patients is – Ther Biotic Complete by Klaire Labs – 1 cap at bedtime.
- Immune Restorative Mushrooms: Therapeutic grade wild mushrooms harvested from nature are a functional food that can be used to support the immune system during times of stress, chronic illnesses, low energy, digestive disturbances and during respiratory infections. Certain mushrooms provide polysaccharides (carbohydrates) that increase the activity of immune cells called natural killer cells and macrophages and can offer antioxidants to limit free radical oxidation in the body. Such medicinal mushrooms are Shitake, Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Maitake, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, Chaga and more. Eating them fresh or lightly cooked, dried and encapsulated or in liquid tincture form can enhance the immune system and expedite healing during times of infection and imbalance. Three of my favorites are Stamets 7, MyCommunity or Breathe all by Host Defense – 2-4 caps per day.
- “Let Food Be Thy Medicine”: It should come as no surprise that eating a healthy diet is essential for nourishing the body but also for supporting the immune system. Excess sugar and other refined carbohydrates can adversely affect immune cell function in addition to raising blood glucose making it more difficult to recover from infections. Filling your body with nutrient rich fresh and non-pesticide laden fruits and vegetables provides your body with the essential vitamins and minerals that our immune system requires to defend us. Avoid or limit the “nutrient poor” processed foods that offer little to no health value, i.e. sugar, refined carbohydrates, overcooked food, crackers, cookies, chips, breads, desserts. Eating healthy simply makes us feel better and that’s the #1 goal in recovery from infections.
- Exercise: One of the most common things I hear from patients, friends and family members is that they are too tired to exercise when they are feeling sick. That’s understandable as the body is trying to fight a respiratory infection and feeling weak and run down. Interestingly, however, when you are able to do some form of exercise, even if only for 20-25 minutes, it actually improves your immune system by increasing white blood cell production (i.e. neutrophils, B-lymphocyte producing antibodies) and increasing their circulation to fight infections more efficiently. Plus the increased metabolic activity of exercise helps to open up the sinuses, nasal and lung airways and to clear excess mucus containing viruses and bacteria. The rise in body temperature with exercise can also help to further the antimicrobial effect. And better yet, exercise usually slows down the release of stress hormones and less stress usually means a healthier, stronger body and immune system. And more exercise typically results in better, deeper sleep which also helps the body to heal. And lastly, but ever so importantly….
- Sleep: Most of us can all agree that sufficient sleep makes us feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. It also happens to be the best time for our immune system to recharge itself. During deep sleep, our bodies are rebuilding, repairing and becoming revitalized to face whatever infections, stress and challenges come our way. Immune regulating proteins called cytokines are released during sleep while others are released during times of sickness and stress. With chronic sleep deprivation (which invokes stress hormones), some cytokines and other immune cells are reduced, thus making us more susceptible to getting illnesses and also potentially staying sick for a longer duration. Plus lack of adequate sleep increases our risk for abdominal weight gain, blood sugar dys-regulation, cardiovascular disease and premature aging. And who wants that?
Nourishing and strengthening our bodies with plant derived nutrients, vitamins and minerals and tried and true diet and lifestyle changes can absolutely make a world of difference in how efficiently our bodies recover and feel rejuvenated again!
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