Fall is here, winter is coming, and with both – all sorts of viruses. Hand sanitizer and a flu shot that is estimated to be less than 20% effective this year is not enough for me. Managing cold and flu season for my family requires the same 4 steps as managing my mental illness:
1. Nutrition – let’s start with sugar. Sugar is public enemy number one when it comes to illness. It will wreck your immune system. Studies have shown that at a blood sugar level of 120 (easily obtained by drinking a soda or juice or a latte or eating candy or a cookie), the white blood cells’ ability to absorb and destroy viruses and bacteria reduce by 75%. It takes 4-6 hours to get back to normal. Don’t forget that refined carbs like processed white flour spike blood sugar even more than sugar itself (like that burger or sandwich you had for lunch AFTER you had a muffin or toast for breakfast). Think about that when you’re figuring out what to do with your kid’s Halloween stash.
Dairy is the second one you want to reduce or eliminate completely. It is inflammatory, the lactose spikes blood sugar, and we lose the ability to digest it properly as we age. It produces mucus, so anyone with sinus and allergy issues need to quit it completely. Forget about the calcium; it doesn’t contain a significant amount. There are a thousand other reasons to quit dairy, but since this is just about sickness prevention I’ll stop there.
Alcohol is another one you want to go easy on for your gut/immune health. I know when there are lots of holiday parties and it’s cold outside, I tend to drink more than usual. Be mindful of sugary cocktails and a double doozie like eggnog (oh how I love eggnog). If you’re going to have a drink or two, skip dessert. Give your gut a chance. Pick your battles. Choose to have your blood sugar spiked later during the day, so you can go to sleep while your immune system is recovering.
What fights sickness? Fill up on plants! The more colorful your diet is from the beautiful bounty our Creator provided for us, the more phytonutrients you receive. Fermented foods are also a great way to get beneficial bacteria in your gut. Sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented pickles, kombucha…if you like that sort of thing, go all out!
**Something to note – because the days are shorter and we aren’t outside as much, the chances of receiving vitamin D naturally from the sun decrease, and it’s going to leave you with low dopamine. What this means is that you will feel more of an urge to eat “comfort food,” or carb and sugar heavy treats in an effort to heighten the pleasure center of your brain to feel a temporary mood boost. Don’t fall for it!
2. Supplementation. We take a LOT of supplements at my house, because we can’t eat perfect 100% of the time. The key to prevention is getting into a supplement routine before everything starts spreading. Some of these supplements we take year round, some we start taking as soon as the flu shot signs are up (the flu mist is live and it sheds, so we don’t take any chances).
My kids take a pediatrician-approved, methylated multivitamin that has 3 probiotic strains included, one in particular being lactobacillus rhamnosus, which is key for respiratory health. They also take Snifflex chewables for allergies and sinus drainage. I make elderberry syrup everyone takes daily, and the saline spray and nose Frida and X Clear spray comes in handy after being around a lot of other kids as a prevention measure. Because of Rhett’s breathing issues, I also give him magnesium as it is very relaxing for the bronchial tubes (bonus that it helps him sleep). The formulation I give him also contains vitamin C! Vitamin D drops are a must since they’re not outside that much and we also do a teaspoon of fish oil every day (not pictured). Many health professionals will recommend Vitamin D with K2 for optimal protection.
The adults take a methylated multivitamin, probiotic with enzymes and magnesium supplement, plus elderberry syrup. My newest favorite product, Ease, targets gut inflammation and contains New Zealand Green-Lipped Mussel for omega 3s, bromelain for allergies, and turmeric and serrapeptase to target inflammation. More info on that product here.
We go hard on supplements, but even if you can just get into a probiotic and methylated multivitamin routine, you will do so much for your body this time of year!
3. Movement is crucial at all times of the year, but dreary weather and those low vitamin D levels can lead to lack of motivation for many. However, movement is so key for mood-boosting, something much needed as seasonal anxiety and depression is REAL. It can help improve dopamine levels, which as you remember, is a reason why many turn to emotional eating to begin with. It improves insulin resistance, also necessary because of the blood sugar/immune system connection I mentioned above.
Not everyone can afford to join a gym (though mine is only $10 a month with childcare included), but there are lots of free apps that give you at-home workouts. This one is great for all levels, and it’s free!
4. Relaxation. I know, deep sigh. It is probably one of the HARDEST times of the year to relax. Holidays, vacations, financial stress, work parties… it gets CRAZY this time of year. It’s so hard to relax when your schedule is packed. But stress, whether you are aware of it or not, weakens your immune system and leaves you wide open for illness. Ongoing stress leads to ongoing cortisol production and ongoing inflammation, which leads to a weakened immune system. Sometimes we can’t help it, and our stress load is out of our control. But there a few things than can help decrease our stress load.
- Changing your diet is number one (yes, we’ve come full circle). A diet heavy in sugar and processed fake food will make you more stressed (more info here).
- Learning breathing techniques, as crazy as it sounds, can also help decrease stress and repair your body. Yoga is wonderful for that, but there are plenty of meditation apps out there. Just 5 minutes a day will make a difference.
- Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time can impact your day to day stress load.
- Keeping a gratitude journal is another helpful tip. Reading Truth helps me to stay in a positive mindset even when there is chaos all around me.
Last tip – nobody is perfect. You can do the best you can and still get hit by illness. It is almost impossible to be 100% in every category. So even if you focus on improving each area a little bit, it can make a big impact on your overall health this holiday season!
Cheers to a season of health and joy!