Saturday, January 21, 2012

Flu Blues and Crummy Colds

The dark days are upon us, almost ready to hit the February blahs.  It is the time of year to pay particular attention to overall wellness and while flu shots never play a role in my family's wellness, we do need to pay attention to supporting overall health through honest to goodness real food.  I believe that nourishment should come from food, not supplements.  Many people tout that a routine vitamin and mineral supplement is a necessary aspect of wellness.  I disagree and we don't take daily vitamins in our home on a routine basis.
Our bodies are meant to receive their nourishment not from pills and isolated formulas of synthetic vitamins, but FOOD.  Real food is full of nutrient dense proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals that support health.  Fake foods not only lack important nutrients but are filled with anti-nutrients such as sugar, enriched flour and artificial ingredients.  Anti-nutrients such as these weaken your immune system.

Nutrients are better absorbed from foods rather than pills.  Vitamins do not occur in isolation in nature, rather, vitamins occur in complementary groups and it is these companion vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that give the greatest benefits to our bodies.  This isn't to say that I never prescribe a vitamin or mineral supplement to my patients.  I do on occasion but only for short periods of time.  It never comes without the "focus on nutrition" speech.  Good, solid nutrition builds a foundation that the rest of the body needs to work at its very best.  

Nutrition is primary, but what else can be done to stay strong and resilient during the colder months?  Here are a few tricks.  

Bone Broth

Over my winter holiday I spent a good chunk of time in the kitchen preparing a lot of fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, dilly carrots and sauerreuben, and bone broths.  Oh bone broth!!  There isn't anything healthier or more wholesome than good old bone broth.  I made chicken and beef.  Meat stocks provide building blocks for the fast growing cells of the gut lining and they soothe areas of inflammation in the gut.  This is why bone broths help digestion and have been known for centuries as healing remedies for the gut.  (Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD).  And this is exactly the reason why your mother's homemade chicken soup tastes so good and can be life-giving when you are sick.  I make my meat broths in the crock pot, with bones (chicken or beef), vegetable scraps, peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves.  I tried Nourished Kitchen's Perpetual Broth for the first time.  Try it yourself - even if you don't know your way around the kitchen yet, this is the easiest thing to learn.  And get in the habit of drinking a little bit of broth everyday - the best healing remedy for the gut lining and the immune system.

Lacto-Fermented Foods
Did you ever see your mother or grandmother make pickles or sauerkraut in those brown crocks?  Maybe you are so lucky to have one of those vintage crocks collecting dust in your basement.  Dig it out and start fermenting!  You can make your very own probiotic-rich food in your kitchen!  

Lacto-fermented foods promote the growth of healthy intestinal flora.  A common way to get that beneficial gut flora is to supplement with probiotics.  Most people have some degree of imbalance, what I call dysbiosis, in gut flora. Especially because of the widespread use of antibiotics, which kill the beneficial bacteria along with the bad bacteria, probiotics are more necessary than ever. 
During the lacto-fermentation process, lactobacillus (good bacteria on food) converts the sugars and starches in fruits and vegetables to lactic acid, which enhances digestibility, increases vitamin levels, and produces enzymes.  When we eat these types of foods, the lactobacillus lives and reproduces in our digestive tract, balancing stomach acids, maintaining balance between acid and alkaline, and supporting the digestive organs.  These live foods will gently help the body move towards health.  
Honestly, this is another one of the easiest things you will ever make.  Stay tuned for a future post on all things fermented.  

Warming Socks

Another traditional healing method involves using hydrotherapy or healing with water.  I usually get very strange looks whenever I suggest the warming socks trick.   In this case, water-logged socks that your body will magically dry with its own heat as it burns off the fever and congestion.  Again, a simple little thing to do at home that doesn't cost a thing and is really great to use with kids.
Take a pair of cotton socks, make them wet, wring them out really well and put them on. Put another pair of wool socks overtop of the wet cotton socks and go to bed.  The body will pull the heat down towards the feet to dry the socks, encouraging the fever, but reducing the tendency to overheat the heat the brain. It is also helpful to reduce head and nasal congestion. Remove the socks after a few hours or once the body heat has dried them out. 

Change of Season Soup
Change of season soup is an immune system tonic.  It is a Chinese herbal blend that is ideal to enhance your immune system during the changing of the seasons.  This herbal formula also improves resistance to colds and flu.  It helps to balance the body during periods of stress.  One cup or bowl twice a day for 12 days is recommended for a healthy person.  If you are in the midst of a cold or flu, wait until you have recovered to start taking the soup.  The soup has a slightly bitter taste.  To improve the taste, use it as a base for a hearty chicken soup made with immune enhancing mushrooms, onions, carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, beets and other local harvest vegetables.  This will help strengthen the lungs and enhance the immune system.

You will need equal parts (2-3 oz each) of the following herbs.  Chinese herbal stores may sell the herbs pre-packaged for convenience.
Codonopsis root:  to tonify and strengthen Qi energy.  It helps to build blood and nourish body fluids.
Astragulus root:  to strengthen protective defensess and Qi energy, nourish the Spleen, tonify the blood and lungs
Dioscorea (Chinese yam) root:  to tonify and balance the lungs and the kidneys.
Chinese Lycii berries:  to strengthen the liver and the kidneys
Fill a large stock pot with water.  Add the above herbs to the pot and cover.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 4-6 hours.  If the water level boils down, add water to refill.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the herbs from the pot and allow the soup to cool.  This recipe makes about 4 litres of soup.  You can drink it as a broth, use it as base for soup recipes, or drink as a tea, sipping throughout the day.  

Finally, don't wince in the face of illness.  If you get sick, big hairy deal.  Sleep and self care must top your priority list.  Take a couple of days off work, curl up with tea, a good book and rest.   Keep up with the immuno-boosting treatments above and take care of your symptoms: 

  • Steam inhalations with thyme or eucalyptus oil are both relaxing and congestion-busting.  These antimicrobial oils can even be added to some humidifiers.
  • If you can breathe through your nose, warm saline lavage helps clear the nasal passages
  • Treat your throat with warm salt water gargles, and freshly crushed raw garlic in honey.  Yep, down the hatch, right off the spoon.  
Embrace the fact that your body is working in accordance with nature.  We need to be sick from time to time in order to be well.  Allow your immune system to do its job and become responsible in learning how to better support your body through this process.  For more tips and tricks on what to do when you do get sick see last years post "Staying Health:  The Holistic Advantage".

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Kate! I have done "Warming socks" for two nights now. I feel easily 50 percent better than I was! After each night I wake up feeling better, with more energy and concentration. Thank you so much!