Is your family currently on the cough & cold merry go round? The kids get it, then you catch it from them, then they catch it from you etc?
Over 80000 GP visits each year in Australia are related to cold/flu symptoms
More than $250 million worth of cold, cough and flu remedies are sold in Australia every year
There is another option - it's natural & it's cheaper!
In Australia we are smack bang in the middle of winter & almost everyone I meet has some sort of infection whether it's cold, cough, flu, sore throat or earache.
Most people immediately head off to their GP or the local chemist for a a miracle cure but have you thought about looking in the fridge or pantry for a more natural & often cheaper solution? Many of these infections are viral anyway so antibiotics are not going to be helpful.
So can foods really help to fight these infections? There are certainly foods that can help to boost your immune system so that you are less likely to get an infection in the first place but some can also help you fight an existing infection.
So here is my Top 10 list of Immune Boosting foods to kick those bugs in the butt!
1. Natural Yoghurt
70% of the immune system lies in the bacteria in your gut so keeping those little guys healthy is critical to an effective immune system Look for one that contains active cultures, particularly Lactobacillus. Ideally organic yoghurt would be best but if you can't get that just go for the best quality you can find & fits your budget. Avoid the yoghurt type drinks that are fairly popular, they are often full of sugar & may have been on the shelf too long for the bacteria to still be active.
Oats contain a particular type of fibre called Beta-Glucans which have been shown to have anti-microbial (that mean they fight both bacteria & viruses) & anti-oxidant properties so they may help prevent illness. They may even enhance the effect of antibiotics. Beta-glucans activate killer cells (macrophages). These are little critters that roam around the body fighting bacteria & viruses (imagine little gangs of vigilantes).
BONUS - Beta-Glucans may also help to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood.
Garlic contains a substance called allicin which fights infections including bacteria & viruses. 2 cloves per day are recommended but you can also use odourless tablets. In ancient Egypt garlic was fed to slaves building the famous pyramids because it was thought it would make them stronger. During both World Wars garlic was used as an antiseptic on wounds. If it's been used for that long why aren't you using it too.
At the first sign of a cold, usually a tickly throat, I really dose up on the tablets & add fresh garlic to my cooking. I usually find that this will stop a cold in it's tracks. The tickly symptom usually stays for a day or two but it doesn't develop into a full blown cold.
Shellfish, particularly oysters, contain high levels of selenium, a mineral that helps produce white blood cells. White blood cells are our infection fighting cells. Shellfish are also high in Omega -3 fatty acids which are well known for reducing inflammation. During a cold/flu the mucous membranes become inflamed making it more difficult to expel mucous. Expelling mucous is how the body gets rid of the offending germs so anything that helps us expel the mucous is going to speed up our recovery. Zinc is also plentiful in shellfish & this mineral is critical to maintaining the mucous membranes, skin & gut lining. If the skin & mucous membranes are in good condition it's harder for bugs to get into the blood stream. Having a well maintained gut lining helps immunity. As I said before 70% of the immune system lives in the gut so looking after that environment is critical.
5. Chicken Soup
Yes it's one of those old wives tales that is actually based on fact. When chicken is cooked, a substance called cysteine is released which thins the mucous making it easier to expel. Cysteine has a similar effect to many over the counter cough medicines. Much of the goodness comes from the bones so make sure you include the bones when making your broth & you can enhance the immune benefits by adding garlic, onions, spices such as tumeric (anti-inflammatory) or vegetables for added vitamins & minerals.
This one is a bit of a surprise. Beef is high in zinc which I've already mentioned is great for the mucous membranes, skin & gut lining but it also helps in the production of white blood cells - remember they are the ones that fight infection. If it's grass-fed beef it will have the added benefits of higher Omega-3's (anti-inflammatory) & vitamin E (skin, mucous membranes & anti-oxidants).
7. Sweet Potato
Oh delicious! Sweet potato is exceptionally high in Vitamin A (skin & mucous membranes) in the form of Beta carotene & has a small amount of Vitamin C (antioxidant). It is sometimes called 'the sweetest anti cancer vegetable' due to the high level of beta carotene. If it can fight cancer, fighting the common cold should be easy.
Research has shown that our ability to absorb beta-carotene is enhanced by adding some fat eg a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil per serving of potato. Researchers have recently discovered substances called batatosides in sweet potatoes. These substances are known to have anti-bacterial & anti-fungal properties but it is not clear whether these benefits apply to the sweet potatoes themselves.
Mushrooms not only help in the production of white blood cells but also make those cells more aggressive in fighting infection. There are many species of mushroom. The most common ones with known immune boosting properties are Shiitake & Reiki. These two have been shown to be antiviral, antibacterial & antifungal. Shiitake mushrooms are particularly effective against the common cold while Reiki have been shown to boost the immune system. Interestingly, both of these mushroom types have shown evidence of being effective against tumours as well.
Honey has been used to treat infections for thousands of years. It is antiviral, antibacterial & anti-inflammatory. There is also evidence that it may suppress coughing. The less processing the honey has been subjected to the higher the therapeutic benefit so raw honey is the best option. Manuka honey is said to have one the highest therapeutic values. Personally I don't like the taste. Here in Western Australia we can obtain Raw Jarrah honey that is certified therapeutic grade & it is delicious. Heating honey will dramatically reduce it's benefits so never cook it. However you can stir it into a dish just before serving. When making a honey & lemon drink, boil the water then let it cool a little before stirring in the honey to retain all that therapeutic goodness.
10. Stress Less!
OK I know it's not a food but this one is so important. The stress response is an amazing mechanism designed to keep us alive in dangerous situations. It's also designed to last for very short periods of time ie as long as it takes for the tiger to get you or for you to get away. Unfortunately many of us are suffering from chronic stress which means we are continually in a stress response. This causes inflammation & also affects our white blood cells & therefore the immune system.
Chronic stress can be caused by the everyday stresses of life - work, money, relationships etc. Even eating fast, constant dieting or excessive exercise can create a stress response. It can also be caused by emotional upheavals in our past that we haven't fully dealt with. We call these undigested emotions.
So find ways to reduce your stress levels - meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, spending time with friends, adult colouring - whatever makes you happy. If you have emotional issues in your past that you haven't dealt with then get some coaching or counselling & 'Let it Go".
So there you are, my 10 Immune Boosting tips.
I wish you a happy healthy winter!
Pam Bailey is a Feel Good Facilitator, Helping Women Feel Good Every Day
Nutritionist, Eating Psychology Coach, Life Coach & Heal Your Life Workshop Facilitator.
She is an International Keynote speaker & workshop leader & also provides private coaching via Skype & in person.
For more information contact Pam on 0452 464 818 or via email email@example.com