‘How do I keep my kids from getting sick?’ is a question I get asked a lot this time of year. I think it is an important question for adults as well as kids – especially as we head into the holidays. It always seems to me that some of the worst cold and flu outbreaks occur right after the holidays.
I have several theories. The first is about exchanging bugs (virus and bacteria) with our cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc. The second theory is our exposure to extremely rich food, upsetting our digestive tract which holds a significant part of our immunity. The third theory is about cold cloudy days without enough sunlight which reduces our daily vitamin D levels.
I don’t get very concerned about my first theory. It is a necessary part of family life which I wouldn’t want to be without. So see if you can have the biggest Thanksgiving ever and make sure you see everyone you are even remotely kin to. Follow the advice below to keep your immune system tuned up so that the virus and bacteria do not take hold in your system.
The second theory is where I think most of us could use some help. The typical American diet tends to have too much refined food in it. The refined food along with too much sugar makes us prone to ‘dysbiosis’ or bad biology in our intestines.
The average adult should have about 4 pounds of critters in their intestines. When we are in balance, those critters are beneficial and make up a good portion of our immune systems by fighting bad bugs, helping digest our food and manufacturing essential vitamins. When we are out of balance, the bad critters take over and make us more susceptible to colds and flu.
So – one of my main defenses against any kind of cold or flu bug is to take probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial creatures in pill or powder form that is more concentrated than what you can find in yogurt or kefir. They are best taken at bedtime because they need time in your system uninterrupted by food so they can colonize.
For theory number 3, take extra vitamin D if you aren’t getting outside on a regular basis. Cod liver oil is a good source because it also contains vitamin A which also helps boost immunity.
For times when you need extra protection against colds and flu, take echinacea – a great immune booster. There are other herbs and combinations of herbs that work as immune boosters – I like something called Defense Plus that is grapefruit seed extract with echinacea and vitamin C. Olive leaf extract is another popular immune booster – I know people that have taken one a day for years and never gotten sick. Another great immune booster is vitamin C. Emergen-C makes an immune formula with zinc that works great.
The best advice for boosting immunity is to be proactive. Get your system built up now instead of waiting until it is too late. Remember, the best defense if a good offense.
Margaret Durst is a naturopathic doctor who owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.