The flu and the common cold are both caused by viruses that infect the respiratory system, causing fatigue, headache, nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, and general misery. The flu tends to be more severe, and can also be accompanied by a high fever, chills, body aches, and loss of appetite. For those with healthy and resilient immune systems, both the common cold and the flu will typically resolve within 2 weeks. While many people report an improvement of cold & flu symptoms after taking a prescribed antibiotic, it is important to remember that both are caused by viruses, and not bacteria. With the development of drug-resistant ‘superbugs’, the practice of prescribing antibiotics to cold and flu sufferers is thankfully a thing of the past.
With so many signs and posters proclaiming ‘cover your cough’ and ‘sneeze in your sleeve’, it’s hard to miss the fact that we have officially entered this year’s cold & flu season. Soon, we will start to see commercials for medicated tissues, and will glare unapologetically at fellow commuters who dare to cough in our presence. On average, adults in the U.S. have 2 colds each year, with children averaging over 6 colds per year. The vast majority of these colds will occur over the winter season.
When it comes to general guidelines for preventing colds and the flu, much of it will not be surprising.
Stress Management: While you may not be able to control the circumstances of your life, controlling your reaction to overwhelming situations- using various relaxation methods such as meditation or yoga- can help keep your immune system available to respond quickly and adequately to viruses that you come in contact with.
Food Choices: Having a diet that is rich in fruits & vegetables and low in sugary or processed foods will help to protect your body and reduce inflammation levels that make us vulnerable to illness and infection.
Good Hygiene: Be careful to wash your hands thoroughly when entering from outdoors, before eating, after using the restroom, or after spending time with someone who you know is ill.
Increasing Circulation: This includes both internally and externally. Be sure to stay physically active in the colder months to maintain good circulation and fitness. Also, although many of us keep windows closed during the colder months, opening a window every so often to allow fresh air in can boost your mood and your health- especially if you live in an area with low pollution or have an air purifier in your home.
If you, or someone you love, does end up getting sick, there are several reliable home remedies that one can implement to ease symptoms and support a full recovery from a cold or flu infection.
Rest: Adequate rest is vital to protect against and heal from cold and flu infections, because reducing stress plays a key role in immune function. Stress goes beyond the situations that cause us anxiety or upset, and includes the excess demands placed on a body that has not been given sufficient time to rest and recover from the demands of daily life.
Hydrate: Consuming enough fluids will ensure that your organs and cells are receiving nutrients and having waste products removed efficiently. During a respiratory infection, such as a cold or the flu, drinking warm liquids like broth can help to ease sore throat symptoms and reduce congestion by loosening mucus.
Probiotics: Although it has not been proven if probiotics play a role in preventing colds and the flu, those who take probiotics on a regular basis seem to have less severe symptoms when sick with a cold. Probiotics can be particularly helpful for children who attend daycare, as children who take probiotics are shown to have fewer colds.
Honey: Taking honey at night can reduce coughing episodes and ease other cold symptoms. Many people will also take a combination of honey with raw garlic, for an antiviral boost, to treat and/or prevent illness throughout the winter months.
Eucalyptus: Diffusing eucalyptus essential oil helps to ease nasal and chest congestion. Rubs or salves that contain eucalyptus can also be applied to the back and chest to help loosen mucus.
You may notice that some of these remedies also double as preventative measures. Be sure to sign up for our upcoming workshop to learn more about how you can strengthen and support your immune system through the coming winter months, and beyond. We hope to see you there!
Dana McNaught, MS
Sage Contributing Writer
(2012, June 8). Girl sneezing [digital image]. Retrieved from https://kids.niehs.nih.gov/games/songs/childrens/cover-your-mouth/index.htm
Have you ever had an allergy attack? Your eyes burn, your nose emits seemingly infinite amounts of fluid, you get rashes, and you just feel terrible. The most common allergy seasons are spring and fall but what happens when you experience these symptoms in the summer? What if you have attacks constantly throughout the year that mimic head colds and when you take measures to feel better like drinking OJ, you get worse?Earlier this year, after decades of struggling with sinus infections, chronic head colds, ear infections, eczema and overall inflammation, amid a fit of sneezing and nose blowing that resulted from me trying to take some of my own herbal medicine, I had an ah-ha moment. I tuned into my body and realized that the sneezing and sniffling felt just like a histamine response. It was this awareness which led me down the path of histamine intolerances and changed my life forever. Until this point, I had only heard of histamine intolerances maybe once or twice and hadn't come across others with this condition. Yet, as I looked at the alcohol-based tincture on my desk and recollected back to the year before when orange juice I drank to deal with a "head cold" while traveling sent me deeper into a pit of sneezing, I knew histamines were part of the story.So, what is a histamine intolerance? Here's a lovely research study on histamine intolerances if you're the research type. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17490952In lay terms, there are a whole host of foods which produce histamines (citrus, avocados, many night shades, fish, fermented foods, dark chocolate, dairy, nuts, some beans, alcohol, etc) and in a healthy person, the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO) is available to break down these histamines and help to quickly clear them from the body. For someone who has a histamine intolerance, their body either produces insufficient amounts of DAO or none at all. I've seen it explained like a clogged drain. If you eat small amounts of histamines, your body will slowly break them down and eliminate them, but if you overload the system, the "drain" can't empty fast enough and so histamines get backed up into the body causing symptoms like runny nose, diarrhea, headaches, asthma, hypotension and other reactions. The recommended course of action is to limit or avoid histamine containing and histamine liberating foods.As a lacto-vegetarian (vegetarian who eats some dairy but no eggs), I looked at the list of histamine foods and panicked. What am I going to eat??? But I decided I was going to attempt a histamine-free diet despite austere food restrictions. The first week, I felt great...never better. All of my symptoms disappeared, but by the second week, I was feeling the effects of malnourishment due to lack of options for protein and by week three I had thrown myself into poor health from nutrient imbalances. So much for a histamine-free, vegan diet. Not so easy. As a nutritionist, I knew how to quickly rebuild my health but I still felt perplexed on how to manage my new discovery.As the months went on and my nutrient status returned to normal, I found myself occasionally dipping into the histamine pool, cautiously enjoying some of my favorite foods and closely watching for symptoms. Avocados were quickly added to the OK list in moderation. Dark chocolate unfortunately did not make the cut as it gave me instant headaches and brain fog EVERY time. As I ate my way through the histamine food list, making mental notes of how foods affected me, I began compiling my own customized diet.Over the past year, I have had several clients come into my office with similar sensitivities. My first recommendation is always to know the high histamine and histamine liberating foods and keep a food diary with symptoms. For most, it is not necessary to completely avoid histamines, but rather to monitor symptoms and figure out what foods are definite NOs. I have certainly had far fewer symptoms of runny nose, eczema and headaches this year than ever before, and when I DO have symptoms, I'm able to draw a very clear line to foods I ate.If you suspect you have a histamine intolerance, here's a list of histamine foods that may be helpful http://healinghistamine.com/histamine-in-food-lists/. And of course, you are always welcome to schedule a time to speak with me too. http://www.sageintegrativehealth.com/services/Happy histamine hunting.WendyWendy Romig, MBA, MS, CNS, LDNOwner, Clinical Nutritionist/HerbalistSage Integrative Health CenterPhiladelphia, PA