Natural relief from colds and flu – first published in Nurture Parenting Magazine
I haven’t had a chance to blog for a while, so I am excited to be back and sharing this article that has just been published in Nurture Parenting Magazine. Here is a description of the magazine from their website:
Nurture ~ Australia’s Natural Parenting Magazine is your destination for thought-provoking,
evidence-based articles on the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual elements of
child-rearing from a natural parenting perspective.
Nurture is the only printed Australian natural parenting magazine and features comprehensive,
informative feature articles on natural parenting, including attachment parenting and conscious
Here is my first article in Nurture:
Do you dread the winter cold and flu season? In this article nutritionist Helene Drimer identifies some of the natural remedies that can help to keep you and your family well this winter.
Colds and flus are caused by viruses. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for these illnesses, however, antibiotics target bacteria and are ineffective in the treatment of colds and flus. Thankfully there are a number of effective natural medicines that are available that can help in the prevention and management of these irksome illnesses. There are also many diet and lifestyle modifications that you can make that can help to keep you well this winter.
NATURAL MEDICINES TO SUPPORT YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Vitamin D has a wide range of actions and there is a high prevalence of deficiency in Australia, so supplementation has the potential to be of benefit to many people. You may be aware of vitamin D’s role in the maintenance of bone health, but did you also know that it has important roles in immune modulation, thyroid and insulin secretion, cardiovascular function and the control of inflammation?
This very important vitamin also supports immune regulation and immune defense and is helpful in the management of autoimmune conditions. The flu seems to affect most people in the winter and this observation lead to the hypothesis that a lack of sunlight may contribute to influenza outbreaks. More than 20 years later it has been shown that vitamin D levels are lowest in the winter and that adults with low vitamin D levels are more likely to report suffering from a recent cold, cough or upper respiratory tract infection.
One randomised controlled trial in Japanese school children tested whether vitamin D supplements would prevent seasonal flu. The trial included nearly 340 children and was conducted over the four months of the winter flu season. The researchers found that the type A influenza rates in the children who had received the vitamin D supplements were about 40 percent lower than in the placebo group. 1
Your body stores vitamin D and can make it when your bare skin is exposed to sunlight. During the colder months, aim for 7 to 40 minutes of sun exposure at noon. For optimal vitamin D synthesis, ensure that your shoulders and arms are bare and that the exposed skin is not covered by sunscreen. Be aware that the UV levels are highest between 11am and 3 pm, so be careful about exposure to sunlight for longer than 40 minutes in the middle of the day and make sure that you never get burnt! During the warmer months, 6 to 7 minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon should be adequate (the length of exposure needed for vitamin D synthesis will depend on the colour of your skin and your locality).
Food sources of vitamin D are limited. Oily fish and egg yolks are good sources, however if you have low vitamin D levels and you would prefer to avoid sun exposure, you may need to take a supplement. It is best to check with your health provider about which brand of vitamin D will be most effective for you, because not all sources of vitamin D are created equal. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, is easily oxidised and can deteriorate rapidly, so it is important to choose a supplement with proven stability.
There are hundreds of different species of ‘good’ bacteria in your digestive tract. These helpful bacteria are called probiotics when they are taken in supplemental form. They assist in digestion and scientists are beginning to find evidence of a relationship between these ‘good’ bacteria and your immune system as well. Research has shown that certain bacteria in your gut influence the development of aspects of the immune system, such as correcting deficiencies and increasing the numbers of particular T cells. You can improve your immune system by taking a probiotic supplement or by making delicious probiotic-rich fermented foods at home. Examples include kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, yoghurt and miso.
Cordyceps, Coriolus, Reishi and Shiitake are medicinal mushrooms that can have magical effects on your immune system. They specifically target cells infected with viruses (which are often the cause of winter colds and flus). Each of these species of mushroom has demonstrated efficacy for immune enhancement. They are especially helpful in the resolution of chronic or recurring infections, such as cold sores. You can add them to your diet or you can ask your health care practitioner for a blend of medicinal mushrooms in supplemental form. They can be taken acutely when you have a virus or you can take a maintenance dose as a preventative measure. They are a food supplement, so they are safe to take when you are pregnant and breastfeeding.
Quercetin belongs to a group of plant pigments called flavonoids. These pigments give many fruits, flowers, and vegetables their colour. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants and they also have anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties. So not only does this amazing natural medicine help to prevent viral and bacterial infections, it also helps to reduce the symptoms of a cold or flu by reducing inflammation and histamine release. Quercetin is particularly effective for clearing sinus congestion. This can be especially helpful if a blocked nose is preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. Food sources of quercetin include citrus fruits, apples, onions, parsley, sage, red wine, olive oil, grapes and dark berries. Quercetin is also available in supplemental form from your complimentary healthcare provider. I prescribe a highly effective immune boosting powder for my patients that contains a high dose of quercetin, plus bromelain, rutin and a number of synergistic vitamins and minerals.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is an exciting new supplement on the market. I have included it in this article because it is not widely known and because it is effective in the treatment of a broad range of health challenges. This makes it a cost effective supplement that can benefit many of your body’s systems. NAC increases glutathione levels (the body’s most important internal antioxidant) and has been used for many years as an antidote for paracetamol overdose. It is a clinically effective nutrient that is indicated for conditions associated with detoxification, oxidative stress (which weakens the immune system) and mental health. One double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial of NAC in 75 participants with bipolar disorder showed significant decreases in depressive symptoms.2
NAC may also be helpful for neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease and conditions associated with oxidative stress and inflammation such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. NAC can be used to relieve the symptoms of colds and flu because it is a mucolytic. This means that it can aid in the clearance of mucus from your airways. Several studies have shown that NAC can reduce the rate of infectious exacerbations and the amount of days lost from work in patients with chronic bronchitis.3 NAC is a practitioner only supplement that requires a prescription from your healthcare provider. It is recommended to take a maximum dose of 1000mg/day if you are pregnant or lactating.
Vitamin C acts as an important antioxidant, anti-histamine, and immune-stimulant. It is known to favourably regulate a number of immune cells, such as lymphocytes, phagocytes and natural killer cells, as well as antibodies and cytokines. Great food sources of vitamin C include broccoli, brussel sprouts, citrus, parsley, capsicum, pineapple, potatoes, raw cabbage, strawberries and tomatoes.
Zinc is an essential nutrient that has many important roles in your body. It has a role in wound healing, is an antioxidant and helps to support the immune system. It has an important role in foetal nervous system development and it helps to support the brain and nervous system too. Research has shown that zinc supplementation can enhance immune system activity. Randomised controlled trials have demonstrated the efficacy of zinc in supporting immune function systemically and also in the digestive tract. Great food sources of zinc include oysters, beef, pork, turkey, chicken, yoghurt, cashews, chickpeas and almonds.
‘Good broth resurrects the dead’ South American Proverb.
According to Fallon and Enig, the authors of Nourishing Traditions, chicken broth – the famous ‘Jewish Penicillin’, is a valued traditional remedy for colds and flu. Moses Maimonides, a 12th Century physician, prescribed chicken broth as a remedy for colds, flu and asthma and modern science has confirmed that broth can help to alleviate the symptoms of infectious diseases.
Broth is hydrating and provides the fluids and electrolytes needed to help your body fight viruses. It is also a mucus stimulant, so it helps to clear up nasal congestion as well. However, these benefits are only conferred from traditionally made bone broths. Commercial chicken soups will not have the same beneficial effects.
Chicken Broth Recipe
(adapted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G Enig)
- 1 whole chicken or 1.5 kg of bony chicken parts (preferably free-range and organic). Add the chicken head and feet if you are adventurous.
- 3.75 L cold filtered water 3. 2 tbs vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled, roughly chopped
- 3 celery sticks, coarsely chopped
- 4 teaspoons of sea salt 4. 1 bunch parsley
1. Cut chicken into several parts (if you are using a whole chicken, remove the neck and wings and cut them into 5. several pieces). Place chicken in a large stainless steel pot with water, vinegar, salt and all the vegetables (other than the parsley).
2. Allow this to stand 30 minutes (to allow the chicken to attain room temperature). Bring to the boil and remove the scum that rises to the surface. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours.
3. Remove the chicken carcass. Allow the chicken to cool and remove the meat from the carcass (refrigerate and use in other meals e.g. curries, sandwiches, salads).
4. Return the bones to the broth and continue to simmer for 6 to 24 hours – the longer you cook the broth, the richer and more flavoursome it will become.
Make sure you are at home while it is simmering. If you need to go out, turn the stovetop off and begin simmering again when you return home. Strain the stock into a large bowl. You can store your stock in sterilized mason jars in the fridge or you can freeze it.
Did you know that visiting your chiropractor can also help to strengthen your immune system? Chiropractors work with your spine and nervous system (which consists of your brain, spinal cord and all your nerves). There are numerous modes of communication between your nervous and immune systems and a chiropractic adjustment has beneficial effects on both body systems.
DIET AND LIFESTYLE
Eating a nourishing, wholefood diet throughout winter is essential for strengthening your immune system. Maintaining optimal nutritional status can help to keep you healthy and reduce your risk of getting sick, as well as aiding in a faster recovery from illness.
- Eat fresh, seasonal foods (and buy organic when you can). Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish and wild or free-range meats.
- Ask your practitioner to assess you for food intolerance and avoid allergy foods.
- Reduce inflammatory foods (which can suppress immune function and increase mucus production). Examples include dairy, sugar, white baked goods and soft drinks.
- Enjoy a hot fresh lemon and ginger tea with a dash of raw honey to soothe a sore throat.
- Drink a minimum of eight glasses of filtered water each day, and avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption.
- Take time to rest and relax, and get a good night’s sleep. This can be a real challenge as a parent, so get as much help and support as you can.
If you choose to use nutritional supplements, it is advisable to have them professionally prescribed by your nutritionist, naturopath or doctor. While nutritional supplements are natural and safe for most people, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider to ensure that they are indicated for your specific health circumstances and that they will not interact negatively with any medications you are taking. This is particularly important if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
1. Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M, Kurihara M, Wada Y, Ida H. (2010)Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Am J Clin Nutr. 91:1255-60. Epub 2010 Mar 10.
2. Berk M, et al. (20087) N-acetylcysteine for depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder – a double-blind randomised placebo-controlled trial. Biol Psychiatry, 64:361-368.
3. Grandjean EM, et al. (2000) Efficacy of oral long-term N-acetylcysteine in chronic bronchopulmonary disease: a meta-analysis of published double-blind, paceno- controlled clinical trials. Clinical Therapeutics; 22(2): 209- 221.
Helene is a nutritionist, Reiki practitioner and the co- director of Light Chiropractic and Wellness (lightchiro.com.au), a multi-disciplinary practice in Glebe. She is also the author of Evolving Mamma (evolvingmamma.com), a blog about conscious parenting and healthy living. She has a two year old daughter named Lior, which means ‘my light’ in Hebrew.