Fall is here, bringing with it cooling temperatures splashes of color on trees, and a bounty of red, orange, yellow, and purple at the farmers markets. Due to the changing weather, now is the perfect time to prepare yourself for cold and flu season. People who get the flu are those with weakened immune systems. So instead of waiting around to get sick, use this time to build up your immunity. How?
Start by examining your daily diet. Is it loaded with sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and processed junk food? If so, then you are suppressing your immunity. Sugar lowers your natural killer (NK) white blood cells. These cells fight invaders such as viruses and bacteria. Sugar also inhibits the body from absorbing Vitamin C, which is a crucial component of a healthy immune system. HFCS, over loads the liver and leaves it unable to filter out harmful toxins. Processed foods are stripped of vitamins and minerals, and/or have synthetic vitamins added. These empty calories don’t support a healthy immune system, and they put an additional burden on your digestion, liver, and kidneys. Basically these denatured foods break the body down instead of building it up.
Eating a variety of brightly colored seasonal fruits and vegetables increases your antioxidant intake. Various colors contain a variety of phyto (from plants) nutrients. For example, orange and yellow produce is loaded with beta-carotene and vitamin C, both of which are important for immunity. The blues and purples contain anthocyanins, which act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. The best way to get all the benefits is pack your plate with color, every day.
There are many herbs and supplements that are beneficial for your immune system. Many medicinal mushrooms, such as shitake, reishi, agarikon, turkey tail, and maitake increase NK cells. Elderberry is an old folk remedy that we now know prevents viruses from replicating by coating and puncturing the viral cell walls. Garlic is not only tasty, it’s a potent anti-microbial. If your stomach can tolerate it, you can eat it raw when you feel a cold coming on. If not, it’s available in capsules and tinctures.
Herbal teas are comforting during colder temperatures and are one more layer of protection for your system. My favorite tea purveyor is Traditional Medicinals. They make potent herbal blends, including Breathe Easy, which contains Chinese herbs, eucalyptus, and licorice and is excellent for clearing congestion. They make a full line of cold care teas too. You can also use bulk herbs, and make your own concoctions. Try slippery elm, for soothing sore throats and Echinacea to support overall immunity.
Also, make sure to take time out for relaxation. When the body is under stress it weakens our immunity. Take a hot bath with Epsom salt and lavender oil, walk, read, or just take a few minutes each day for yourself.
These are just some of the possibilities for taking care of your self during the upcoming cold and flu season. Before you load up on over-the-counter drugs and medications at the first sign of the sniffles, first try supporting your body naturally.
Here is a seriously immune-boosting soup recipe that is perfect for cold days, whether you have the sniffles or just want to prevent them. Astragalus has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years and helps the body adapt to stress, is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Burdock root is a blood purifier and dandelion detoxifies the liver and kidneys. Miso is packed with probiotics (benefical bacteria) which support digestion and immunity. To your health!
delicious immune boosting soup
1 ounce dried astragalus root
4 ounces fresh dandelion root, thinly sliced (or 2 ounces dried)
4 ounces fresh burdock root, thinly sliced (or 2 ounces dried)
1 tablespoon grated fresh gingerroot
1 tablespoon dried kelp, dulse, or other sea vegetable
2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
1 medium-size onion, chopped
1 bunch kale or collard greens, chopped
8-10 medium-size fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh miso paste
directions: Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and reduce heat. Add astragalus, dandelion, burdock, ginger, and sea vegetable; stir well, cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain, return broth to pot, and keep over medium heat. In a saute pan, heat oil over medium heat; add onion and mushrooms, and kale saute until tender. Add garlic; saute for a few more minutes, and then add entire mixture to broth. Turn off heat and stir in miso paste.
Recipe adapted from: From Body + Soul, November/December 2006
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