It’s once again that time of year when concerns for our health focus on the flu, and the question of whether to vaccinate ourselves and our families looms large. This year, there’s also the swine flu to consider, and the conflicting reports about the H1N1 have many people concerned.
I don’t intend to explore the issue of whether vaccines are safe or effective. The decision regarding whether they are right for you can only be made by you. Do your research, and if you’re unsure, discuss the issue with holistic health experts who you trust and respect.
Regardless of your choice, know that you can reduce your risk of contracting any variety of flu that might present itself this winter, as well as the common cold, by:
- Boosting your immunity by practicing good habits of self-care related to nutrition, exercise, and sleep
- Destroying germs and viruses you pick up before they have a chance to become entrenched
- Familiarizing yourself with natural remedies that can be used proactively on a regular basis, or employed at the first sign of symptoms, either preventing the illness from developing or greatly reducing its duration and intensity
Here are a few of my favorite ideas to help you stay well this year. Develop a habit of spending a little time on your health up-front, and you may avoid the considerable downtime and disruption a sickness can cause:
Neti Pot: The nasal passages are one of our body’s first lines of defense against illness. Saline nasal rinsing using a device like the neti pot performs two important functions:
- It will carry some of the dirt, dust, pollen, and other foreign substances that are trapped in the mucus membranes of the nose out of the body before they can reach your throat, be swallowed, and end up in your stomach.
- It will keep the protective layer of mucus in the nasal passages functioning properly, preventing it from becoming too thick and dry, or too thin and runny, which would make it easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate the lining and cause the swelling and excess discharge of mucus we call a “cold.”
Gargling or sniffing a little salt water at the first sign of a cold is a staple of folk medicine. People in India have used this method to clean the nasal passages for thousands of years as a traditional remedy.
Today, saline nasal rinsing is recommended by health experts worldwide, and clinical studies have shown that nasal irrigation is effective in improving symptoms for patients with frequent sinusitis. In terms of cold and flu prevention, it can be done on a regular basis (every day is fine). Even children can be taught to do it, and are actually more likely to see it as fun — we are talking about pouring water in one nostril and seeing it come out the other!
What you need to know to implement this suggestion: It may feel awkward at first, and it will take a little longer in the beginning, but trust that you will become an expert quickly. You’ll be so impressed with the results that you will get past your initial discomfort and have no trouble finding a few extra minutes in your routine.
Ceramic pots are available in most health food stores, but after breaking a few of those on the bathroom tile floor, we were happy to switch to the hard plastic version available here. You’ll use 1/4 teaspoon of finely-ground non-iodized salt, or salt specifically made for the neti-pot available in health food stores, for each application. Any neti-pot you purchase will come with detailed instructions, but you can see a demonstration here.
Gargling With Apple Cider Vinegar & Sea Salt: There are some studies showing that even just gargling with water can cut down on the incidence of colds. And through the process of osmosis, gargling with water to which you have added salt, which will be naturally more concentrated, meaning it contains less water than the contents of your mouth, will tend to draw water out of any bacterial cells present, rendering them ineffective. Therefore, if the salt water is concentrated enough, it will kill most germs in the mouth and some in the throat.
Adding apple cider vinegar (ACV) to the mix, known to help heal a sore throat, provides a powerful germ-killing, soothing remedy that can be used preventively, up to twice a day, or at the first sign of a scratchy throat or other symptoms. Don’t be worried if you swallow a little–it doesn’t taste so great, but ACV is full of nutrients and will also help re-establish a healthy acid/alkaline factor in your gut, which tends to be overly alkaline prior to a cold or flu striking you down. So beyond the gargling, drinking a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with 8 ounces of water about three times a day can be helpful for fighting off an illness.
What you need to know to implement this suggestion: I recommend Bragg’s organic raw & unfiltered ACV, available at health food stores and some supermarkets, but you can certainly use whatever you have on hand to start. You’ll need to:
- Mix 8 ounces of water that’s been warmed on the stove (don’t bring it to a boil or it will be too hot to use) with 1 teaspoon of ACV
- If you’re adding the natural sea salt, start with a very small amount and experiment with what you can tolerate. You can’t make a mistake, so just do what works for you
- It’s a good idea to rinse your mouth with water afterwards to eliminate the acid that can be destructive to teeth enamel.
Good Old-Fashioned Chicken Broth: Your grandmother was right, this isn’t just an old wives’ tale. Store bought won’t be nearly as effective as making a stock using bones, some pieces of meat and fat, vegetables and good water. This kind of remedy can be kept on hand for frequent use during the cold and flu season. According to the highly-esteemed nutrition researcher, Sally Fallon, stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It also contains the broken-down material from cartilage and tendons, things like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, that are now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.
When stock is cooled, it congeals due to the presence of gelatin, a substance that’s been used as a therapeutic agent since ancient times. Just as vitamins occupy the center of the stage in nutritional investigations today, two hundred years ago gelatin held a position in the forefront of food research. It was universally acclaimed as a most nutritious foodstuff, found to be useful in the treatment of a long list of diseases including peptic ulcers, tuberculosis, diabetes, muscle diseases, infectious diseases, jaundice and cancer. Babies were found to have fewer digestive problems when gelatin was added to their milk.
What you need to know to implement this suggestion:
The following is Sally Fallon’s recipe and instructions for making chicken stock. Don’t be intimidated by the suggestion to use a whole chicken, or the idea of cooking chicken feet. Unless you have easy access to a chicken, using the parts is fine.
1 whole free-range chicken or 2 to 3 pounds of bony chicken parts, such as necks, backs, breastbones and wings*
gizzards from one chicken (optional)
chicken feet (optional)
4 quarts cold filtered water
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 bunch parsley
*Note: Farm-raised, free-range chickens give the best results. Many battery-raised chickens will not produce stock that gels.
If you are using a whole chicken, cut off the wings and remove the neck, fat glands and the gizzards from the cavity. Cut chicken parts into several pieces. Place chicken or chicken pieces in a large stainless steel pot with water, vinegar and all vegetables except parsley. Let stand 30 minutes to 1 hour. Bring to a boil, and remove scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 6 to 8 hours. The longer you cook the stock, up to a full day for this recipe, the richer and more flavorful it will be. About 10 minutes before finishing the stock, add parsley. This will impart additional mineral ions to the broth.
Remove whole chicken or pieces with a slotted spoon. If you are using a whole chicken, let cool and remove chicken meat from the carcass. Reserve for other uses, such as chicken salads, enchiladas, sandwiches or curries. Strain the stock into a large bowl and reserve in your refrigerator until the fat rises to the top and congeals. Skim off this fat and reserve the stock in covered containers. Stock will keep several days in the refrigerator or may be frozen in plastic containers (ice cube trays is a good way to store small servings). It can be consumed as is, or used as a base for other soups throughout the winter.
Vitamin D: Multiple studies have shown a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and influenza. Having adequate vitamin D has also been shown to reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infections, and studies have shown that even heart attacks, colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and stroke may be linked to insufficient levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is available to anyone with access to the outdoors through sunlight. Exposure for 20-30 minutes a day, without sunscreen, is generally recommended. However, during the winter cold and flu season, the sun is weaker in northern locations, and we can’t get enough vitamin D from exposure to solar rays.
What you need to know to implement this suggestion: Oily fish, like salmon, sardines, and mackerel, beef liver, and whole eggs are good dietary sources of vitamin D, but most people will not consume enough of these foods to meet their needs.
I always prefer a food source for vitamins and minerals, versus a synthetic version, whenever possible. Cod Liver Oil has traditionally been recommended as an excellent food source of Vitamin D, and is available in capsule form, for those of you who have unpleasant memories of taking the oil as children. More recently, concerns have been raised about the high levels of Vitamin A in this oil, which can be toxic if taken in excess.
However, according to The Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit focused on natural health research and education, Vitamin A will only be toxic in cases of D deficiencies, believing that the two vitamins work synergistically when found together in a substance like cod liver oil. They recommend natural products are used, and that the A & D contained in the oil should be at a 10:1 ratio. Some synthetic or processed versions might have a ratio as high as 100:1.
If you choose to use Cod Liver Oil, assess the product you’re considering with these guidelines in mind. Brands to look for include Carlsons, Garden of Life, and Nordic Naturals. Remember that like most vegetable oils, fish oils must be kept in the refrigerator to avoid the oxidation that will make them rancid. More information from the Price Foundation, including suggestions for other excellent brands available only through mail-order, can be found here.
If you prefer to use a supplement to meet your needs for Vitamin D, the D3 form is generally recommended, as opposed to the less expensive, but less potent D2 form.