As we approach the cooler months the temperatures drop, nights get longer and sneezes, sniffles, coughs, sore throats and runny noses become rife. In New Zealand the cold and flu season starts about April and runs all through winter. From sunshine to essential oils and beyond, Red Seal’s naturopath Julie Fergusson has some ideas for keeping the winter lurgies at bay.
We are still learning about what makes our immune system strong. But generally it is colds and flu that often challenge us the most. Fundamentally, we know that these things can help keep our immune system stay strong: a healthy diet with plenty fresh fruit and vegetables, relaxation, hydration, exercise, a warm dry environment, lowered stress levels and a good mental attitude. But there are a few others that we can add to the list:
The sunshine vitamin
Many people are shunning the sun due to fear of melanoma and as a result the ‘sunshine vitamin’, vitamin D, has increasingly become a deficient in many people. The sun helps protect our immune system by stimulating the production of Vitamin D. Generally 5-15 minutes per day of sun exposure on bare skin will give us enough vitamin D, but many people lose out on the benefits because of limited sun exposure, sunscreen, old age, or deeply pigmented skin.
Vitamin D has also been linked to respiratory health. Good levels of vitamin D appear to reduce pulmonary inflammatory responses while helping innate defence mechanisms against respiratory invaders. Population-based analysis has showed a connection between circulating Vitamin D levels and lung function.
Symptoms of deficiency can increase risk of cardiovascular disease, impaired brain health in older adults, cause or worsen severe asthma in children, and has been linked to four different types of cancers. Researchers have also connected low levels of Vitamin D with achy joints.
- Vitamin D absorption needs fats in your diet. So those people on fat reducing diets or taking medication that change their cholesterol levels may being impairing their Vitamin D levels.
- Help your Vitamin D levels by including nuts, avocados, walnuts, flaxseeds, trout, tuna, herring, salmon, and egg yolk into a meal.
- Consider taking vitamin D supplement or cod liver oil.
- If you think you are vitamin D deficient a blood test can help determine your levels.
For more tips for achieving the best night’s sleep, click here .
The On/Off Switch
Proper sleep is fundamental to a healthy lifestyle. Sleep is like an on/off switch that helps us to reboot, rebuild and rebalance on a daily basis. When we fail to get enough sleep our body is not able to function well and we have lowered overall immunity.
If you are not sleeping well or getting inadequate sleep then you have to ask why. Is your sleeping environment suitable? Are you drinking too much caffeine? Are you stressed?
Many people refuse to listen to their body, stop and rest and give time to recuperate while sick. Sleep loss not only plays a role in whether we come down with a cold or flu, but also influences how we fight illnesses once we come down with them. Sleep is vital to our healing process and that is why sleep is one of best healing things that we can do when we are sick.
- Make sure the room where sleep is completely dark
- Get to bed in plenty of time
- Have a bath before bed time
- Listen to relaxing music or mediation to help you sleep
- A magnesium supplement can help you relax and prepare for sleep
- Herbs such as Passionflower, Valerian, Chamomile and Skullcap can help the body relax and prepare for sleep so make a good night tea before bed
- Tart Cherry can also help stimulate the production of Melatonin the hormone that controls sleep
- There are numerous medications that have side effects that include insomnia, so it is a good idea to check your medication if you are having problems sleeping
The power of essential oils
In winter we are inevitably spending more time inside in closer contact with people who are sick and the cold and flu virus lingers around on well-touched surfaces like door handles and light switches. Essential oils have been used for centuries to fight the symptoms of the common cold. You can add them to your bath water, diffuse them in the air or even apply them directly to your skin. Adding a few drops to a spray bottle to help wipe handles and light switches can help keep your room bacterial and virus free.
Tip: If you do have a cold or flu try adding a couple of drops on a tissue and sniff periodically to help ease breathing, a few drops in hot water for steam inhalation to help blocked sinuses, or in a bath to help relaxation and recovery. Below are a few favourites to help with the cold and flu season:
Tea Tree oil: It serves as a killer of all types of infections: viral, bacterial, and fungal. It can be used to clear up sinus infections and other respiratory ailments including runny nose, cough and sore throat.
Lavender: It can be used for pain relief, easing muscle cramps and headaches as well as an antiseptic to treat infections.
Peppermint: This is a natural pain reliever and kills viral infections. It can clear chest congestion when steam inhaled or mixed in a chest rub.
Eucalyptus : is known to clear up mucus in the lungs and heal the throat and nasal passages. Eucalyptus is a strong antiseptic and can be used on wounds or as a germ-killing sanitizer.
Lemon Myrtle : More powerful than tea tree, it is one of the most antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal of the Australian essential oils and is helpful with colds, flus and chest congestions. Ideal as a room spray or and a few drops can help in cleaning surfaces.
For more from Julie Fergusson and Red Seal, visit redseal.co.nz/category/blog/