We are currently experiencing a 1-in-100 year type of event with COVID-19. Naturally, people are panicking and life is changing by the day. But we must slow down, breathe and make a plan.
Remember – “Fear is excitement without the breath”, meaning the very same mechanisms that produce excitement also produce fear. Any fear can be transformed into excitement by breathing fully with it. On the other hand, excitement turns into fear quickly if you hold your breath.
When you catch yourself feeling fearful, remember to breathe.
Modern science has proven that we can double or triple the protective power of the immunce system with the right tools and nutritional factors. Your body’s defences can act like superheros against colds and viral outbreaks if you learn to fill every cell receptor with the right nutrients.
There are many myths and theories out there about what works to guard against colds and viruses. Were you ever told to “feed a cold, starve a fever”? Did your mother ever warn you not go to bed with wet hair? Similar to these old wives tales, there are highly touted remedies out there which have been proven to have no effect when fighting or healing from colds and flu viruses.
Increased Fluid Intake
It’s obviously super important to never become dehydrated, particularly when you’re ill. When you’re sweating profusely due to a fever, or suffering diarrhea or vomiting you can lose a lot of fluids very quickly, so it’s important to replenish those as needed.
Aside from that, there is no measurable benefit to resisting or fighting viral infections or speeding recovery when we do increase fluid intake. Stay hydrated and you’re good.
Chicken soup has no effect on the common cold or other viral infections. That said, it may temporarily lessen nasal congestion, similar to the effect a steaming session would have, or what my mum used to make me do: put a blob of Vicks and some hot water in a bowl, then lower my head over it covered by a towel. It provides relief from a stuffy nose purely because of the steam. Studies show steaming may actually lengthen the duration of an infection by suppressing mucosal flow and white blood cell movement. So, chicken soup is a placebo at best.
Vitamin C Supplements
The role of vitamin C supplements in the treatment and prevention of colds and viruses has been debated for more than 60 years, but scientific studies have proven they do nothing to reduce the incidence of upper repiratory tract infections in adults. The only adults whose health did improve when taking supplements were those with inadequate nutrition – so if you’re eating enough fresh fruit and veg there is no benefit to taking a vitamin C supplement.
There is also no benefit to taking “extra”, like when you’re starting to feel symptoms of an oncoming cold, as your body does not store excess vitamin C.
Echinacea is no more than a placebo. While one small study has shown some positive effects of taking echinacea, a far larger body of studies have shown that it plays no part in reducing the severity or duration of cold symptoms.
The good news is there are a number of remedies that do help your body fight off colds and flu. The effectiveness of the following have all been established by published scientific studies.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Your gastrointestinal system is a hugely important part of your immune system – about 70% of it is made up of cells in your GI tract! It also synthesizes certain vitamins and nutrients, so your gut bacteria plays a very important role in keeping you healthy. Unfortunately poor dietary choices will sometimes wreak havoc on your gut bacteria, and antibiotics can kill them off completely! Luckily there are a couple of easy things you can do to optimize the health of your gut bacteria.
Firstly, you want to minimize the unnecessary use of prescribed antibiotics. If you don’t need to take antibiotics, please don’t, because they’ll strip away a lot of the good bacteria in your gut.
Secondly, grow a good gut garden. You can do this naturally by eating prebiotics like onions, garlic, lentils, and asparagus. These foods can’t be fully processed in your small intestine, so they move into your large intestine where they serve as food for our gut bacteria, helping them thrive and multiply. The downside is they’ll probably make you fart a bit too, but luckily that won’t last forever.
Third, you can seed and promote a healthy gut by taking a good probiotic on a daily basis. I use the refrigerated vegan one from Inner Health. There’s a cap adults can take, but if your children aren’t up for capsules yet then they also have a powder which you can sprinkle over their cereal in the morning, or pop in a drink of juice or some water.
Zinc is an essential mineral for immune function, and has been proven to fend off infections. Taking a zinc supplement for five months can reduce your risk of catching colds two out of three times. It’s also extremely effective in reducing the duration and severity of cold symptoms. And even if start taking a zinc supplement at the onset of a cold or flu the duration and severity of your symptoms will be halved. Many of us are borderline deficient in zinc, so try to take about 15mg per day – a number that can be hard to achieve for vegans and vegetarians without supplementation.
You could also focus on foods rich in zinc: Raw nuts and seeds (sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds), beans (adzuki, black beans, edamame), wild rice, shiitake mushrooms, chickpeas, tahini, and kale.
A unique vitamin, vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a vitamin. It’s also not readily found in our food supply, and is formed in the skin when exposed to UV rays from sunlight – hence it’s nickname “the sunshine vitamin”.
Vitamin D helps reduce the severity of infections, and if you have low levels of vitamin D you’re at increased risk of contracting acute lower respiratory illness.
It can be difficult to know whether you’re getting the right level of vitamin D, as it depends on a lot of different factors: where you live, your lifestyle, skin type, daily UV level and duration, and a number of other factors. It can be difficult to know whether you’re getting enough, so a blood test is recommended if you want to know for sure.
As a general rule of thumb you want to expose your body to UV rays for only a few minutes each day. Remember to use sunscreen!
If you’re concerned about meeting your need through sun exposure and you don’t want to go get a blood test, which is understandable, then just take a supplement.
Elderberry extract has been proven to inhibit the growth of the flu virus, and reduce the duration of flu symptoms. The main flavonoids present in elderberries improves the defensive function in viral infected cells, by inhibiting the adhesion of the virus to cell receptors so it can’t replicate itself as effetively. This has the effect of reducing the seriousness of viral infections.
Elberberry extract taken as a supplement is the most potent. You’ll want to follow the instructions on the packaging but generally speaking you would need to take two or three tablespoons a day as an adult. The major issue with Elderberry extract is its cost – if you’re getting a tincture made up for you by a herbalist at your local health food store you’re looking at about $60 for a small bottle of 200ml, which won’t last more than a couple of days.
Aside from the remedies listed above there are other ways you can optimize your immune system, hopefully you already know and implement all of these already! Exercise daily (20 minutes is enough). Get enough sleep. Cut back on stimulants (coffee, soda, etc). Last but not least, to aid your mental health reduce your intake of news and social media.
If you would like to read more, all the information above was inspired by the book Super Immunity, written by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. The book goes into a lot more depth about the points mentioned above, and other things you can do to optimize your immune system – all backed by research, clinical trials, and published papers (cited). If this is a topic that interests you I would strongly encourage you to read it, and empower yourself with knowledge.
- 2 bananas
- 2 cups frozen raspberries
- 4 teaspoons white chia seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 tablespoons nut butter (optional)
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (optional)
- 1 tablespoon shredded coconut (to serve)
- fresh raspberries (to serve)
In a high-powered blender, add all ingredients (reserving coconut and fresh raspberries) and puree on high speed for a minute until fully blended and smooth. Taste, and adjust optional ingredients to taste. Puree again briefly being careful not to blend too long or the mixture will heat up.
Transfer to serving dishes, top with shredded coconut and fresh raspberries and serve immediately, or refrigerate for a few hours before serving.
Best eaten the day of making it as the banana will oxidise over time.
Take the very best care of you and your family at this worrying time. Remember to B-R-E-A-T-H-E.