Arm yourself with these top 10 nutrition and lifestyle strategies to repel viral invaders all year long:
1. Avoid sugars (especially fructose). The first thing you want to do when you feel yourself coming down with a cold or flu is to avoid ALL sugars, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods. Have you ever noticed how your kids seem to fall sick right after Halloween when they've OD'd on Halloween candy? Or you're stricken with a yeast infection after indulging in those Valentine's Day truffles? I often see this pattern in my practice and that's because sugar is particularly damaging to your immune system -- which needs to be ramped up, not suppressed, in order to combat an emerging infection.
2. Do your D’s. Less than optimal vitamin D levels will significantly impair your immune response and make you far more susceptible to contracting colds, influenza, and other respiratory infections. Other than cod liver oil, raw milk and eggs there are no significant dietary sources of Vitamin D and most of our intake comes from safe exposure to sunlight. If you're not getting 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight, the next alternative is to supplement with D3. What's optimal? Aim for 50 - 70ng/ml and monitor your vitamin D status every 3 months until you are in the desired range, then cut back to a maintenance dose of at least 2,000 IU a day.
3. Boost your protein intake. Research studies have shown that deficiency of high-quality protein can result in depletion of immune cells, inability of the body to make antibodies, and other immune-related problems. Protein is composed of the 20 amino acids your body needs for growth and repair, and some of these amino acids appear to be particularly important for immune functioning. For example, the amino acids called glutamine and arginine are being considered as nutrition therapy in pre-surgery patients because of their ability to stimulate the immune system.
4. Gorge on garlic. Not only does garlic repel vampires, it also has anti-viral properties and is a known immunity booster. Ideally, go for raw garlic or crush it right before eating.
5. Cram in those Cs. Vitamin C appears to support a decrease in the length of time and severity of symptoms associated with upper respiratory viral infection. So pile your plate high with citrus fruits and dark leafy greens, such as parsley, cauliflower, and mustard greens that are loaded with flu-fighting phytonutrients. You can also supplement with Vitamin C but make sure you use a natural form made from amla berries or acerola cherries that contain associated micronutrients as opposed to synthetic Vitamin C. You can take several grams every hour till you are better unless you start developing loose stools. Once that happens, cut back on your dosage.
6. Zoom in on zinc. Zinc is a potent immunostimulant, and its deficiency can result in profound suppression of T-cell function. Healthy levels of zinc can be provided by including Swiss chard, collard greens, summer and winter squash, lamb, raw crimini mushrooms and calf's liver in your diet. A Cochrane Database Review of the medical research on zinc found that when taken within one day of the first cold symptoms, zinc can cut down the time you have a cold by about 24 hours.
7. Pop a probiotic or fill up on fermented foods. Most people don't realize that 80 percent of your immune system actually lies in your gastrointestinal tract, making a healthy gut a major focal point if you want to maintain optimal health. A high quality probiotic will recolonize your gut with "good" bacteria and can be incredibly helpful at certain times, such as when you stray from your food program and consume excess grains or sugar, or if you have to take antibiotics. Look for a probiotic with 15-30 billion organisms or consume traditional fermented foods such as raw kefir, kimchee, sauerkraut, miso and natto.
8. Hydrate. Water is essential for the optimal function of every system in your body and will help with nose stuffiness and loosening secretions. As for chicken soup, yes, it can indeed help reduce cold symptoms as it contains a natural amino acid called cysteine, which can thin the mucus in your lungs and make it less sticky so you can expel it more easily. Ditch the canned soup and make a fresh batch of spicy soup with lots of pepper and turmeric—the spices will trigger a release of watery fluids which will thin down the respiratory mucus so it's easier to cough and expel.
9. Break a sweat. Exercise is a crucial strategy for increasing your resistance to illness. One study found that people who exercised regularly (five or more days a week) cut their risk of having a cold by 50 percent. And, in the event they did catch a cold, their symptoms were much less severe than among those who did not exercise.
10. Stock up on antiviral herbal supplements. Some antiviral superstars include: oregano oil; bee propolis; andrographis; olive leaf extract; grapefruit seed extract; and elderberry extract. Use one or several in combination as a preventive measure, particularly if you spend time in high-traffic areas such as airports, offices, theaters, etc.
Rupina Meer is a Board-Certified Health Coach who received her training from the acclaimed Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN). Rupina's mission is to help her clients get radically honest with the relationship between what they eat and how they feel so that they can look and feel great from the inside out without diets, deprivation or dogma. Visit http://zen-trition.com/ to get instant access to a free eReport and discover the Top 5 Health Myths That Are Keeping You Fat, Fatigued & in a Funk.
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