Cold and flu season is here and it seems like it is hitting everyone pretty hard this year. All anyone wants to do when they’re sick is feel better. The fact is that there are over 200 different viruses that cause the common cold and there is no cure for any of them. However, there are ways that you can support your body as it fights them off. Here are a health coach’s simple suggestions for natural cold relief.
Eat the Rainbow
Fresh produce is loaded with immune system-supporting compounds call phytonutrients (“phyto” means “plant”). These nutrients give plants their vibrant colors and distinct flavors. There are many, many phytonutrients – so many that we don’t yet know them all nor what they do for our bodies. One thing that we do know is that phytonutrients are rich in antioxidants and other immune-system supporting compounds. They also include anti-inflammatory compounds as well. Inflammation continues to be linked to more and more illnesses and chronic diseases. To experience the benefits of phytonutrients, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. An easy way to think of this is eating the rainbow – the more different colors you can eat, the more phytonutrients you’re eating as well!
If you’re feeling under the weather, whipping up a vegetable soup with carrots, onion, celery, sweet potato, and zucchini can help you get those phytos in while soothing your throat and helping with congestion. If the cold feels good on a sore throat, whip up a smoothie with berries and spinach or cauliflower. (Check out this recipe for cauliflower caraway soup!)
While that hot toddy might sound good, drinking while you’re sick is no way to get better faster for a number of reasons. For one, it can dampen your immune system, making your body less able to fight off that bug. It can also leave you dehydrated, making your congestion worse and leaving you feeling awful. Another reason to skip out on the alcohol is that it disrupt your sleep when your body needs rest to help you recover. Finally, alcohol is inflammatory which can make you feel worse and make your symptoms persist longer.
If you’re sick, stick with water and herbal tea with honey. The honey in it will help soothe your throat and cough. Plus, there is some evidence that certain herbal teas may help alleviate some of your symptoms. When I’m sick, I like a peppermint tea to support my stomach and a lemon-ginger tea for my throat and congestion. Plus, having no caffeine means it won’t disrupt your much-needed sleep. These options will also help keep you hydrated.
Our blood vessels are lined with special cells called the endothelium. The endothelium is like your body’s own pharmacy in that it releases a number of different medicinal compounds into your bloodstream as is needed. When you exercise, it increases the blood flow through your blood vessels and over the endothelium, thereby prompting it to release more of those medicines. This is why sometimes when you feel a cold coming on, you feel better after going for a walk. Additionally, regular exercise can help produce new blood vessels further improving your circulation and your health.
Obviously, there is a balance needed here. If you’re sick, going for an intense run or taking a HIIT fitness class is probably going to make you feel sicker. Remember, exercise, while beneficial, is also a stressor on your body. Keep this in mind and listen to your body. If you’re feeling terrible, skip that walk and stay in bed.
In the simplest sense, our bodies need just 4 things: nutrition, movement, water, and rest. Sleep deprivation suppresses your immune system, so the more exhausted you are, the more likely you are to get sick and the harder is will be for you to recover. In today’s fast-paced busy world, rest is one of the most important factors for natural cold relief.
To make sure you are getting sufficient and quality sleep, avoid simple carbohydrates and big meals in the evening. As we said before, that glass of wine before bed might help you fall asleep, but it will disrupt your sleep later in the night, so skip out on the alcohol as well. It’s also important that you sleep in a dark room and keep all devices out of the bedroom – just looking at your cell phone screen in the middle of the night will disrupt production of your sleep hormones.
Avoid Sugar and Processed Foods
Added sugar and the additives found in processed foods can act as inflammatories on your body making you feel worse and your symptoms persist longer. They are also lacking in the nutrients that your body needs to recover while being heavy in calories. Focus on keeping it simple with whole foods. Some lighter options if your stomach is bothering you are: dry whole grain toast, brown rice, oatmeal, soup/broth and sweet potato. If you’re feeling well stomach-wise, dark leafy greens, broccoli, and fruit are great options.
Very often, people resort to orange juice when they’re sick thinking they’re getting a megadose of Vitamin C that will magically cure them. You’re better off avoiding the juice since there is no fiber in it, leaving you with just sugar. If you want to have Vitamin C, opt for whole foods before juice.