How to Prepare for Cold & Flu Season with Advice from an N.D.
With cold and flu bugs on the rise, I recently recalled something my Naturopathic Doctor said to me about the frequency of one’s colds. In one of my appointments I had mentioned that as a kid I caught a cold, the flu or strep throat what felt like 5 times per year, and on the other hand I know people who haven’t been sick in years. This piqued my curiosity so I asked her what the deal is.
Aliyah Alibhai, a Naturopathic Doctor at Sow Health Integrative Naturopathic Clinic in North York, explains “getting sick 1-2 times a year (even small colds) is a good thing because it shows that your immune system is functioning and can fight infections effectively. When people get sick frequently or take a long time to get over a cold, it shows that the immune system is not resilient and is struggling to fight infections and cannot mount an appropriate response.”
Looking back to the rounds of antibiotics I took as a kid for strep throat, eczema and more, it makes total sense that my immune system was shot. Still having my tonsils at that point also made me more susceptible to strep throat, as opposed to my mom and sister who had theirs removed and rarely ever has a sore throat. After having my tonsils removed a couple years ago, in addition to eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and trying to keep stress levels low to rebuild my immune system, I now rarely get sick.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dr. Aliyah explains “when someone doesn't get sick at all, their immune system may not be responding. Often times it’s high levels of cortisol that block your body from performing other tasks. Remember, cortisol is your fight or flight signal. When cortisol is chronically high it blocks many other responses including immune function, rest and regeneration, digestion and metabolism, to name a few. The most common example of this is someone who is constantly go-go-go — and the moment they finally take a break or a vacation, their body will recognize the break and they typically get sick at this point.”
Regardless of which end of the spectrum you're on when it comes to cold and flu season, it’s always best to take precaution and use a healthy lifestyle as your first defence. Here are some tips for protecting yourself from catching a bug this winter:
Eat with the Season
Since winter is colder and there’s less daylight available to us, it’s important to eat fortifying and warming foods to fuel and protect the body. Think oatmeal, soups, root vegetables and dark leafy greens. At this time of year we want to avoid too much cooling and watery foods such as watermelon, cucumbers and excessive fruit intake.
When the weather is cooler we may not feel as thirsty, but adequate water intake is still important. Filtered water, warm lemon water and herbal teas are great ways to stay hydrated. Hydration will also help prevent dry winter skin.
Keep Your Cortisol Under Control
As mentioned earlier, cortisol is your “fight or flight signal,” a hormone that is released in response to stress. Take measures to have healthy stress levels, such as meditation, gentle aerobic exercise and practicing a relaxing hobby. Exercise keeps your blood flowing, helps release excess energy and promotes better sleep.
Take Supplemental Defences
With less daylight comes less vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, so ensure that you’re getting enough. I get a small bottle of drops from Sow Health that lasts me most of the year since less is required during the warmer months. If you feel a tickle in your throat or another sign of a cold coming on, have some oil of oregano on hand and take a few drops daily until you’re feeling back to normal. If you typically suffer from dry skin in the winter you may want to supplement with a good quality fish oil (or flaxseed oil if vegan or vegetarian), as Dr. Aliyah has recommended to me. As long as you’re eating healthy, moving your body, getting adequate rest and managing stress you're ahead of the game when it comes to your immune health. Additional supplements can be discussed with a Naturopathic Doctor based on your individual needs.
If you’re looking for professional guidance and attention from a Naturopathic Doctor, I’ve been a patient of Dr. Aliyah’s for a couple years and with her help I have improved my skin, digestion, stress levels and other issues. I give Dr. Aliyah and Dr. Sarah at Sow Health a glowing five stars! You can learn more about them and book and appointment on their website: http://www.sowhealth.ca/