Naturally thrive this cold and flu season!
As winter sets in and the days get shorter, it’s a beautiful opportunity to bunker down, relax in front of the fire with a cup of herbal tea (or the odd good red!) and get a few early nights. Our energy turns inward, away from the busy, social, ‘doing’, ‘yang’ (masculine) energy of summer to the quieter, more introspective and restorative, ‘yin’ (feminine) energy of the cooler months. As much as this is a nice change for many of us, an unwelcome part of winter is of course colds and flu!
So….‘natural ways to improve immunity’ seems a great topic for my first blog! I want to show you some easy, accessible, cheap ways to nurture your health through winter.
Eat more mushrooms.
Reishi and Coriolus are some of the more exotic immune-boosting mushrooms used in Herbal Medicine (and by us at Bayshore Naturopathic), however did you know that even the humble common white button mushroom has been shown to contain immune-boosting compounds? Try sautéing sliced field or white mushrooms in olive oil, butter, minced garlic and salt and pepper for breakfast or as a side-dish. Mushroom soup is a delicious winter favourite. They can even be eaten raw, sliced into a salad.
Eat more garlic and onion.
Garlic and onion, both members of the allium family, have antibacterial and antiviral actions. They are also expectorants (meaning they help loosen and thin mucous, making it easier to cough up), and they reduce inflammation. Although garlic’s effects are strongest in its raw, freshly crushed form, not everyone can stomach taking it this way. Try roasting garlic and onion with other veg and rosemary, making yummy garlic prawns, or cooking a pot of French Onion soup. Look out for Australian-grown garlic, as garlic from China can be irradiated.
Note: Avoid eating large quantities of garlic if you’re on blood thinning medications such as warfarin or aspirin, as it can thin the blood further.
Make a honey, lemon and fresh ginger tea (or a liquorice one!)
This is an old remedy, but it works! Fresh sliced ginger has anti-inflammatory actions. Manuka or Jarrah honey (the cheaper option) also have antibacterial actions.
Note: Avoid consuming large amounts of ginger if you’re on blood-thinning medications.
Liquorice tea (available as teabags in health-food shops) helps to soothe sore throats and inflamed lungs, through its demulcent (soothing), anti-inflammatory actions. It’s also an antitussive, meaning that it reduces coughing, and an expectorant (meaning it loosens and thins mucous).
Learn to make your own sauerkraut.
Over 70% of our immune system is in our gut, in gut-associated-lymphoid-tissue (GALT). Naturopathy teaches that ‘all health and disease starts in the gut’. There is a resurgence of fermenting workshops available in the community at the moment, as society becomes more health-conscious, and a class is a good idea for those starting out. There is also a lot of information and recipes for simple ferments available online. A simple cabbage sauerkraut is a good place to start, and the humble sauerkraut has been shown to contain trillions of health-giving lactobacilli bacteria – with 3 tbsps. containing more bacteria than you’ll find in a whole bottle of probiotics. Before you throw out your probiotic capsules though, know that these specific, clinically-trialled strains have been shown to be beneficial for improving symptoms of many conditions, such as IBS, thrush or diarrhoea, which is why Naturopaths routinely prescribe them in practice.
With any fermented food, it's best to start with very small amounts (such as 1 teaspoon of sauerkraut a day) and gradually work your way up to around 2 tbsp a day (if tolerated). This will prevent digestive issues, particularly if you have a sensitive gut.
Gargle cooled thyme tea for sore throats.
Thyme is an excellent herb for soothing a sore throat through its antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial actions. Keep some dried thyme in your pantry, or grow a plant in a pot (it’s very hardy). Steep the thyme leaves in boiled water for 10 minutes to make a strong tea (cover the lid of the cup as it steeps so the volatile oils don’t evaporate). Leave to cool, and gargle a few times a day. Don’t swallow the liquid.
This is an obvious, yet so often overlooked influencer of immunity. Our society simply doesn’t value sleep. Think about it – our bodies and brains evolved over many thousands of years in a world where we rose with the sun, and slept when it became dark. We simply don’t do this anymore – working until late hours on the laptop, or exposing ourselves to artificial light and stimulation in the form of TV and smartphones. I often discuss the importance of ‘sleep hygiene’ with my patients, which is in itself is a subject that could fill an entire blog! ‘Busyness’ is valued in our culture, and rest, relaxation, recuperation and sleep is often (wrongly) associated with laziness, and is the first thing to be sacrificed in times of stress. Develop a ‘wind-down’ routine (with dimmed lights, free of screen time) that works for you. Our brain needs darkness to effectively make melatonin (the sleep hormone). Make getting your 8+hours a night a high priority, and your immune system will become more resilient.
Finally, but most importantly, be kind to yourself.
Showing compassion for the self is an essential part of self-love. Stress and overwork is the enemy of healing. ‘Convalescence’ has become an old-fashioned word, rarely part of modern vocabulary, which is unfortunate. The world isn’t going to come to a crashing halt if you cancel that commitment, take a couple of sick days off work or miss a few sessions at the gym when you’re unwell. Listen to your body first and foremost, and better health will be your reward.
Naturopathic treatment is wonderful for treating colds and flus – herbal medicine and nutritional therapy can help you recuperate more quickly by naturally boosting your immunity and helping to kill off bacteria and viruses. If you’re prone to ‘catching everything that goes around’ you may benefit from some individualised support to find the reason for this. If you’d like some further guidance on improving your immunity, please give Bayshore Naturopathic a call and book in with either myself or Ellen.
Yours in health,
Naturopath, BHSc (Nat), MNHAA