01 Feb Fight the Flu February
Did you meet your goals for Jogging January? I had a lot of fun focusing on increasing my physical activity levels and I’m excited to keep up with those goals as we move into February. The focus for February is on keeping you and your family healthy! A strong immune system is key for quality of life and long-term health. You will learn how to optimize your immune system and how to fight the infections that manage to get through your rock solid defense system.
Fight the Flu!
There are millions of pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, etc.) that can plague you at any moment and there are almost as many possible treatments. I don’t want you to forget about the naturopathic treatment options! It is often our first instinct to head to a doctor when we are sick. This is important and I encourage all of you to check in with your doctor when you feel sick to make sure it isn’t a serious infection that requires a pharmaceutical treatment. But don’t stop there. Check in with your naturopath too!! Over time, you can build an effective naturopathic toolkit to have on hand in your home when illnesses present themselves.
Naturopathic treatment options are beneficial because they support your immune response to an illness and often help you fight off illnesses more effectively in the future. Ever wonder why kids get sick all the time?? It’s because their immune systems are developing most rapidly from 0-7 years old. Children have never been exposed to illnesses before this and each new pathogen requires their immune system to fight it in different ways. It takes time for the immune system to learn and to build up its repertoire of antibodies, defenses, and attacks.
The most important thing we can do to fight the flu is to ensure our immune system is functioning at 100% of its capacity all winter long. Let’s take a look a few simple ways to boost your immune function this winter!
Eat a healthy diet.
- Focus on eating a diet of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, meats and whole grains.
- Avoid packaged food, processed food, “white” food, sugar, juice, and pop.
Get the recommended amount of sleep for your age.
- Sleep is always important for overall health but especially during flu season!
- Recommendations can vary but this is what I generally suggest:
- Infants and toddlers: 12-15 hours.
- 2-5 years old: 10-13 hours.
- 6-13 years old: 10-11 hours.
- Teenagers: 8-10 hours.
- Adults: 7-8 hours.
Minimize and manage stress.
- By following #1 and #2, practicing mindfulness, and asking for support when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Naturopaths can also recommend added nutritional and herbal supplements to assist your body in managing stress more effectively.
- Interestingly, many of the herbal remedies we recommend to improve stress management, will also boost immune system function.
Ensure healthy gut bacteria.
- Your immune system begins in your gut! If you’re noticing that you suffer from frequent colds and flus, you likely need to improve the balance of good bacteria in your gut.
- People who are frequently sick have often been on multiple antibiotics, which kill all of the bacteria (good and bad). Replenishing this bacteria can strengthen your immune system.
- Talk to your naturopath about the best probiotic supplement for you!
Support the immune system with immune boosting herbs.
- These include astragalus, reishi, codonopsis, and many others. As with any supplement, you should always talk to your naturopath to ensure you’re taking one that is safe and effective.
Now that we’ve discussed how to boost your immune system, let’s talk about what happens if you do get sick. For many people, fever is the most stressful aspect of the flu.
Don’t fear the fever!
The fever is not the disease, it is a symptom of an illness. Fevers are meant to stimulate the immune system and create an inhospitable environment for infections. A fever of 39C (102.2F) to 39.4C (103F) is actually the optimal temperature for fighting infections. This is why you should actually be proud of your child when they can mount a high fever! It helps them fight off their infection quickly and effectively. As we get older, it becomes harder for our body to create a high fever and, therefore, can become harder to effectively fight an illness. This is a common problem in the elderly population. Overall, the goal of naturopathic treatment is to support our body’s incredible ability to mount a fever! However, please be aware that there are some situations in which we do need to suppress a fever, namely if it rises too high or too quickly.
How to Manage a Fever:
- Avoid dehydration. Encourage yourself, your child, or your partner to drink plenty of fluids! These include water, electrolytes, broths (especially bone broths), coconut water, breastmilk (for infants).
- Herbal teas. Peppermint, chamomile, ginger, and many other herbal teas are effective for fevers because they have anti-microbial properties to help fight the infection, as well as diaphoretic properties to encourage sweating and minimize the fever naturally.
- Using medications to lower a fever can often be counter productive because it hides the fever, makes it easier for the infection to spread, and often gets rid of the lethargy. Lethargy is our body forcing us to take the rest it requires.
- Cold compress to the head and neck.
- When you are in the sweating phase, it is because your body is trying to cool itself down. Encourage this with cold compresses and removing some blankets.
- When you are in the shivering phase, your body is trying to raise its temperature. Don’t use the cold compresses at this time.
When to Worry:
- Children less than 3 months old with a high fever should be taken to a doctor immediately.
- Temperatures over 41C (105.8F)
- If the person appears very ill, lethargic, excessively sleepy.
- Dehydration – not urinating regularly.
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Excessive pain
For congestion or upper respiratory symptoms, humidifiers and steam inhalations should become your best friend! The steam gets into your nasal passages and sinuses to break up congestion. Adding essential oils, such as eucalyptus or peppermint, to a steam inhalation or a humidifier (or an essential oil diffuser if you have one!) will have an added benefit for decreasing congestion and fighting the infection. Nobody in Ontario should try and make it through our cold and dry winters without a humidifier!
Supportive treatment not kicking it fast enough? There are TONS of natural supplements that have amazing antiviral and antibacterial properties. Every herbal medicine has different uses so you need to consult your naturopath to find out which one is right for you. Ones to consider include (but are definitely not limited to) echinacea, elderflower and elderberry, licorice, and goldenseal.
Our Fight the Flu Goals
The goal of this post is to help you feel empowered when it comes to fighting the flu. There are simple steps you can take to feel better faster! I hope it also educated you on the benefits of visiting a naturopath when you’re experiencing a cold or flu infection.
Fight the Flu February Goal #1: To remain healthy throughout February by using the above tips to boost your immune system function. Make your own personal goals for each week are based on where you think your body could use assistance (sleep the recommended number of hours, eat at least 1 serving of fruits or vegetables with each meal, practice mindfulness daily, etc.).
Fight the Flu February Goal #2: If you or a loved one gets sick, use one of the natural treatments listed in this post and/or reach out to a naturopathic doctor who can suggest additional supportive treatments.
As a BONUS, I’m including the How-To steps for 2 of my favourite immune boosting recommendations: Magic Socks and Bone Broth!
Magic socks are an effective treatment for fevers because they stimulate blood flow and encourage the immune system to function optimally. They are also effective for any upper respiratory congestion for the same reason, improved blood flow and immune function will assist in draining the congestion.
Materials needed: 2 pairs of socks (one thin cotton and one thick wool)
- Wet the thin pair of socks with cold water and wring out. Place on the sick person’s feet (this works for both adults and children!).
- Put the dry, wool socks on top of the wet, cotton socks. Put person to bed.
- Check on their feet to ensure their feet have warmed up 5-10 minutes after wearing. If they have not warmed up, then remove the socks. Some people will need their feet warmed with warm water before applying the wet cold socks.
Dr. Martin’s Bone Broth
Bone broth is an amazing “supplement” to have on hand because it is full of nutrients, easy on the digestive system, helpful for boosting immune function, and the perfect way to stay hydrated when sick. There are multiple recipes out there for bone broths so please feel free to search and find one that resonates with you. Below is my favourite way to make a delicious, gut healing, immune boosting bone broth.
Ingredients: slow cooker, chicken or meat bones, 8-12 cups of water, apple cider vinegar, carrots, onion, salt.
- Place bones (meat removed) in a large pot or slow cooker. My preference for bones is to use chicken, however meat bones can definitely be used and can often be purchased from a butcher. When I make bone broth, I will buy 2 full chickens, roast them, remove the meat for meals, and then use the bones for my broth. My slow cooker fits 12 cups of water so I find 2 chickens works better than only 1.
- Add 8-12 cups of water (to cover the bones).
- Add vegetables for flavour. I usually add a few carrots and half an onion.
- Add 3-4 tbsp apple cider vinegar (to extract the minerals from the bone).
- Add 1 tbsp salt.
- Cook in slow cooker on low heat for 24 hours (or as many as 48 hours).
- Strain out the bones and vegetables and keep the broth.
- I keep a few cups to use for making a chicken soup (with the meat from the bones) and portion the rest into mason jars that can be frozen and used whenever we get sick!