Getting occasional coughs and colds can be beneficial for the body; pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, ‘exercise’ the immune system and make it stronger in the long term.
Ideally, we want to nurture our body so that it can fight pathogens effectively when we encounter them, and, when we do get poorly, manage our symptoms well to reduce the severity of the illness and avoid complications such as chest infections.
We encounter pathogens all day long, but only rarely do these make us poorly. The stronger our body and its defences, the better we will do fighting the pathogen.
Follow these tips to keep your immune system in tip top condition:
- Support the gut. A staggering 70% of our immune system lies in the gut wall. If our gut is suffering, our immunity can be compromised. Ways to support the gut include avoiding processed foods which are inflammatory, eating lots of fibre in the form of oats, beans, lentils and vegetables, and eating probiotic rich foods such as live, plain yogurt, kefir and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut.
- Increase fruit and veg intake. Eating a range will provide the body with compounds that help it fight infection, specifically: Vitamin A found in squash, carrot and tomatoes enhances the immune system via its anti-inflammatory mechanism; Vitamin C in red peppers, parsley and citrus fruits has been found to reduce the severity of colds; Vitamin E in olives, beets and avocado increases the performance of immune cells.
- Increase your intake of zinc and selenium. These are the top 2 minerals for immune health. Selenium kickstarts the immune response and can be found in brazil nuts (1 a day is optimal), eggs, mushrooms and red meat; and zinc reduces the spread of pathogens in the body and is found in oily fish, red meat, shellfish, nuts, seeds and dark chocolate (over 70% cocoa).
- Reduce stress. Chronically elevated stress levels reduce the production of white blood cells, the primary cell of the immune system, making the immune response weaker than it should be.
- Sleep well. Studies show people who struggle to get good quality sleep may be at increased risk of getting ill; this is because certain immune cells are manufactured when we sleep. If you struggle, consider your pre-bedtime routine and check our article here for any interventions you can make.
- Stay hydrated. Making sure we get our daily intake of water (1.5-2L) is important. Water keeps the mucous membranes in our nose and throat moist. Immune cells reside in these mucous membranes and prefer a moist environment to fight pathogens.
It's inevitable we will get poorly with coughs or a cold a few times a year; here are some interventions you can make to help your body fight the illness when you do succumb.
Tips to support the body when we do get poorly:
- The traditional honey and lemon in warm water can be very beneficial: honey is antimicrobial in nature (make sure to buy raw honey for the health benefits) and lemon contains immune boosting vitamin C; lemon water also helps thin mucus in the body, making it easier to expel along with the germs.
- Ginger and pineapple have also been found to expel mucus from the body, particularly the lungs. Pineapple can be eaten fresh or juiced / used in a smoothie, and is very anti-inflammatory. Ginger is very warming to the body, great if you are feeling cold, and it has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Cut some fresh ginger root into small pieces, simmer in water for 10 minutes, and drink.
- Garlic is a potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial, and can be very beneficial for the throat. Add liberally to cooking, or eat raw in homemade hummus or guacamole, or crush a clove in your lemon and honey drink.
- Soup made with meat broth / stock is superbly nourishing when your body is fighting an illness. It gives the body a big boost of immune boosting minerals without having to put in a lot of effort with digestion. Stock can be made at home or bought in health shops and some larger supermarkets.
- Fire cider is a potent homemade, traditional immune booster you can make at home. It includes apple cider vinegar, horseradish, turmeric, garlic etc - have a look here for the recipe. This can be made in advance and taken everyday and increased when you get poorly.
- Finally, rest - your body uses energy to fight the pathogen, so make sure not to use this energy elsewhere!
And of course, seek appropriate medical attention when necessary.