With all the attention on the Coronavirus and other flu viruses that seem to be wreaking havoc out there in the world, it seems valuable to explore some tried and true opportunities for wellness straight from your kitchen.
Because let’s face it, your first line of defense for any ailment is always going to be your own immune function. The stronger your system, the better equipped you are to avoid or fight off any of those lurking bugs and viruses.
What’s the hands-down, best way to build a strong foundation for immune function? Lifestyle! Which means food, movement, and other means of naturally strengthening your body’s response.
So, let’s start flu busting with what you put in your belly!
To discourage any of those pesky bugs or viruses from setting up camp in your body, you will want to be sure you aren’t feeding them when you’re feeding yourself. This means you will want to significantly decrease your intake of manufactured foods, especially low nutrient density/high calorie processed products. You can find more about what and why toward the end of this article.
Instead focus on fresh, whole foods, as close to the fruit and root as possible. Eat a rainbow of fresh, nutrient-dense, natural foods; things like dark green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, and lower sugar fruits. Whole foods provide plenty of antioxidants and vitamins and minerals to help strengthen your system. Also, be sure to include high-quality meats and animal products, as well as, natural fats for more opportunity for nutrient density (B Complex Vitamins, Vitamin D, Zinc, Iron, Protein, Amino Acids, etc..)
Eating seasonally is also a good guide. What foods would naturally be available in the Fall, Winter, and Early Spring? Things like root vegetables, squashes, cruciferous vegetables, and winter onions and shallots. All of these foods contribute to a strengthened immune function. Paying attention to seasonal aspects of diet can ensure you don’t run low on things like Vitamin D and zinc, which can suffer during winter months if you’re consuming mainstream, low quality food options.
In fact, some research suggests that the reason we believe there is a “flu season” isn’t necessarily because flu shows up at a particular time, but because our immune system takes a dip and things can get a better grip on us.
Vitamin D is a perfect example. While it would be impossible to say that supplementing with Vitamin D in the winter will keep you from getting the flu, it is possible to say that our immune systems are diverse and complex and Vitamin D plays an active role in our ability to adapt and overcome certain immune system insults. One review of available literature by Sunderam and Colemen (2012) found that influenza and respiratory infection were more common in individuals; especially children and older adult, who were also deficient in Vitamin D. When Vitamin D was introduced and nutrient balance was achieved, the immune function was able to respond and fight off viral infections more effectively.
But wait! Before you reach for a bottle of Vitamin D, how about trying to add more Vitamin D rich foods to your ‘plate’? For example, mushrooms, egg yolks, salmon, sardines, and other cold-water oily fish have so many other amazing flu busting properties (keep reading and you’ll find out more) that’s it’s worth making them part of your meal or snack.
More whole foods to put on your plate (or in your bowl):
Did you know that research demonstrates that including at least ½ c of fermented food a day can significantly enhance immune function and assist in warding off and/or recovering quickly from different strains of influenza virus?
Several studies have demonstrated that the lactic acid in foods like naturally fermented sauerkrauts and the lactobacilli in yogurts and kefirs have not only immuno-stimulatory influences but also can block the ability for a virus to actually take hold in your system
Broths are right up there in the first line of defense. Throughout the Fall, Winter, and Early Spring, I can’t get enough of them. I recommend mixing it up with some hearty bone broths, nourishing mineral broths, and specialty broths packed with immune-boosting roots, herbs, and fungi.
Bone broths have been consumed as a foundation for health throughout human history. In almost every culture there are examples of basic bone broth recipes as a remedy for the sick or weak or just as a general tonic for strength (Siebecker, 2005). Bone broth is made by boiling meat and bones, including the cartilage, in order to extract the micronutrients, amino acids, and other healthful biochemicals.
To make a healthful bone broth, there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, the quality of ingredients is critical. Naturally raised, pasture-centered, free of steroids or antibiotics, are going to be your best option.
Studies demonstrate that free-range or pasture centered meats are higher in quality protein and micronutrients that contribute not only to immune function but also gastrointestinal health and microbiome (gut) balance (DeSilva, et. al, 2017; Klobuch, 2011).
Another important factor, believe it or not, is the time it takes to cook your broth. In today’s age of convenience, with instant pots and pressure cookers, it can be tempting to just toss everything into a pressure cooker and produce an almost instant elixir of health. Unfortunately, research demonstrates that while you might have a tasty bowl of soup, you will not have near the number of healthful micronutrients and biochemicals that you would have if you had slow cooked your broth.
In one study by Chen and colleagues (2010) the minimum time for optimum nutrient density in broth was 4 hours. 4 or more hours of slow cooking chicken meat and bones resulted in higher essential fatty acids and amino acid content, as well as increased protein and collagen.
I find slow cooking a pot of bone broth is nourishing not only to my body, but also to the rest of me. The satisfaction of knowing that I am taking time to nurture my wellness strengthens my emotional and spiritual body as well.
Mineral Broths are my next go-to for deep nourishment and flu remedies. The nutrient density derived from slow cooking a variety of winter vegetables is an amazing remedy for the body and soul. Again, research demonstrates the importance of slow and low cooking time and temperature for optimal extraction of nutrients and flavor (Mougin, et. al, 2015).
My favorite vegetable broth contains squash, sweet potatoes, onions, leeks, and a number of other mineral-rich vegetables. Packed with potassium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins like A, C, and E, this broth will make sure your immune system is robust and ready for winter.
Specialty Broths like mushroom-based broths are another way to increase immune function and strengthen your immune response. The Beta-Glucans found in edible mushrooms have been shown to have a very high immune stimulating potency. One study by Abdullah and colleagues (2017) demonstrated, once again, that the magic lies in slow cooking and low heat for optimal extraction of the immuno-nutrients found in a wide variety of culinary mushrooms.
While there has been a lot of emphasis on the health-giving properties of particular mushrooms, like Reishi, Shitake, or Turkey Tail, all edible mushrooms have the potential to enhance your immune function, so even tossing some simple white and brown button mushrooms into any of your broths or hot water can make a nourishing flu remedy.
You can bump up the volume on your immune system reboot by adding other fresh roots, herbs, and spices known for their antiviral, antibacterial, and immune-boosting function.
Things like burdock root, winter onions, and garlic increase antiviral properties of your broth (Abdullah, 2007)
TEAS and TONICS
In between sips of broth and bites of yogurt, you can also enhance your potential for wellness by sipping on some herbal teas and tonics. Elderberry syrup, echinacea, thyme, oregano, herbs that fall into the ‘berberine’ category (goldenseal, Oregon grape), and turmeric.
Mix and match some herbs and spices, pour over the hot water, mix in a nice spoonful of raw honey, and you have a flu-fighting tonic that will also warm your hands and belly.
Don’t have any herbs on hand? Try sipping a simple but powerful combination of lemon, cayenne, and honey. Believe it or not, this simple remedy is more than just folklore and packs quite a punch for immune function.
THINGS TO AVOID:
Manufactured foods with low nutrient density. Numerous studies demonstrate that nutrient intake has a direct impact on immune function and the ability to respond to disease. Eating low-quality foods, packaged foods with additives and other ingredients that work against your potential for wellness, should be avoided as much as possible.
Processed sugars. We all know we shouldn’t be eating them and in the case of trying to boost your immune function, you will most definitely want to avoid them. Research suggests that your immune function is compromised for up to 5 hours after consuming sugar-laden foods.
Anti-inflammatory supplements and medications. Believe it or not, reaching for that NSAID anti-inflammatory may be doing you more harm than good when it comes to the flu (Hama, 2009). Your body relies on a particular inflammatory response to fight of the viral invaders, taking things like Ibuprofin, disrupt this response, in effect decreasing your body’s ability to fight off the flu virus.
Fish Oil Supplements. Even more surprising, while fish oil supplements might be doing you a world of good for basic systemic inflammation, studies suggest that, just like the NSAIDs listed above, the anti-inflammatory action may well be setting you up for a bout of the flu with little resource to fight it off (Schwerbrock, et. al, 2009).
OTHER LIFESTYLE INTERVENTIONS
Sleep. Getting the appropriate amount of undisturbed sleep is vital to immune function. In fact, studies suggest that disrupted sleeping patterns can pave the way for respiratory compromise due to influenza viral activity.
Movement/Exercise. When it comes to boosting immune function in the winter, you want to be like Goldilocks where exercise is concerned...just enough, not too much or too little. If you're feeling run down, maybe skip the gym and just do some easy movement or walking. Whipping your nervous system and forcing it to rise up and respond when viral activity is already trying to get a foothold in, will pretty much pave the way.
Essential Oils. Poopoo them if you will, but there is quite an extensive amount of research demonstrating the antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal qualities of particular essential oils. Lavender, cinnamon, eucalyptus, lemon balm, lemongrass, tea tree, geranium, all have demonstrated antiviral properties against various strains of influenza (Setzer, 2016). I use them to wipe down surfaces and also have them diffusing in the air in rooms that have heavy traffic.
De-Stress! We all know that stress compromises our immune system... or if you didn't know that, now you do. Stress absolutely compromises immune function, so doing a little something every day to combat stress will go a long way towards fighting off the flu and any other number of wintertime blues and bugs.
That should be enough to get you started on a Flu Busting Regimen... keep your eyes out for more in-depth information over the next few weeks. See anything you'd like to know more about? Give me a shout and I will be more than happy to elaborate.
Abdullah, N., Abdulghani, R., Ismail, S. M., & Abidin, M. H. Z. (2017). The immune-stimulatory potential of hot water extracts of selected edible mushrooms. Food and Agricultural Immunology, 28(3), 374-387.
Abdullah, T. (2007). A strategic call to utilize Echinacea-garlic in flu-cold seasons. Journal of the National Medical Association, 92(1), 48.
Chen, Y., Rui, H., & Zhang, L. (2010). Effect of species of chicken on the qualities of chicken soup. Modern Food Science and Technology, 26(11), 1212-1216.
Mougin, A., Mauroux, O., Matthey-Doret, W., Barcos, E. M., Beaud, F., Bousbaine, A., ... & Smarrito-Menozzi, C. (2015). Impact of Boiling Conditions on the Molecular and Sensory Profile of a Vegetable Broth. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 63(5), 1393-1400.
Sanchez, A., Reeser, J. L., Lau, H. S., Yahiku, P. Y., Willard, R. E., McMillan, P. J., ... & Register, U. D. (1973). Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 26(11), 1180-1184.
Schwerbrock, N. M., Karlsson, E. A., Shi, Q., Sheridan, P. A., & Beck, M. A. (2009). Fish oil-fed mice have impaired resistance to influenza infection. The Journal of nutrition, 139(8), 1588-1594.
Setzer, W. N. (2016). Essential oils as complementary and alternative medicines for the treatment of influenza. American Journal of Essential Oils and Natural Products, 4(4), 16-22.
Siebecker, A. (2005). Traditional bone broth in modern health and disease. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, no. 259-260. Gale Academic OneFile
Sundaram, M. E., & Coleman, L. A. (2012). Vitamin D and influenza. Advances in nutrition, 3(4), 517-525.