It’s that time of year again. A time for peace and joy, gift-giving and feasting, winter sports and cozy fires. And while it’s not uncommon to come down with a virus this time of year, it’s not inevitable either. In fact, we have a good bit of control over how our bodies resist cold and flu germs and other viruses, bacteria, and pathogens. The key lies in the health of your gut flora/microbiome or “terrain” combined with a reduction of toxic chemical exposures whenever possible in our food and homes.
The problem with not-so-modern germ-theory
Most of us are familiar with scientist Louis Pasteur’s Germ Theory of the 1800s, the premise on which modern medicine is built. In short: germs are the problem and exposure to germs will likely make you sick. To get better, you either wait it out or take medication to kill all the germs. To prevent major illnesses (including the flu), you get a vaccination. End of discussion…
…except that’s not the end of the discussion. As it turns out the old-school Germ Theory of disease is being challenged and is no longer recognized as 100% accurate. The discovery that 70% of the immune system is in the gut microbiome and that a healthy microbiome means strong immune function helps explain why some people are more susceptible to colds and flu. New scientific discoveries into the microbiome have also proven that not all germs are bad germs and that we actually benefit from exposure to certain types of bacteria, viruses, etc. to build a strong immune system1. Plus, the use of antibiotics to essentially annihilate all bacteria has led to a variety of chronic conditions and the antibiotic-resistant crisis we now find ourselves in.
A crash course in terrain theory
What does all this have to do with how our bodies respond to viruses? At the same time that Pasteur’s germ theory was presented, an opposing theory known as “Terrain Theory” was also brought to the scientific community by Pasteur’s rival, Antoine Béchamp. In short, Béchamp proposed that it was not the germ, but the body or the “terrain” that either succumbs to or repels viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. In other words, the healthier your body is the less likely you are to get sick. Unfortunately, Béchamp’s theory got buried (read more about this in “Are Germs Really the Problem? Rethinking cold & flu prevention”), but new research on how to boost your immune system seems to be on his side2, 3,4. Plus, it does help explain why two people can get exposed to the exact same virus, yet one gets sick and the other does not.
7 Tips to avoid cold and flu by boosting your immune system/terrain
Tip #1: Remove Immune Stress & #TossTheToxins
The fastest way to increase your resistance to colds and flu regardless of the condition of your gut flora is to simply take a box and toss the toxins from your home and diet!
- Remove all pesticides and all cleaning products with harmful ingredients from the home. Both pesticides and cleaning products have ingredients that directly alter the microbiome which can cause obesity and more vulnerability to illness.
- Make a clean sweep of your pantry and refrigerator of all foods that are not organic, have harmful ingredients, and inflammatory fats. Take special note that refined sugar not only suppresses the immune system and makes you more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses but also prolongs cold and flu symptoms. Learn more about how to #TossTheToxins here.
Tip #2: Eat real, fresh food
One of the most powerful ways to strengthen your immune system is to eat a balanced micro-nutrient rich diet. Fresh, organic whole foods like fruits, vegetables, high-quality meats, gluten-free grains, herbs and spices contain a perfect blend of disease-fighting antioxidants, immune-boosting vitamins and minerals, and other nutrients which help maintain the health of our microbiome and detoxification pathways. Be sure to focus on eating plenty of fresh fruit, colorful vegetables, and cultured foods this time of year, aiming for 7-10 servings a day of fruit and veggies and 1-2 servings of probiotic-rich foods (like cultured veggies, kombucha, kimchi, etc.), if tolerated, per day.
Tip #3: Air Out Your Home
Oxygen rich air has been shown to promote a stronger immune system, aid digestion, improve concentration, encourage higher serotonin levels (which improves mood), and normalize blood pressure and heart rate. Follow the European lead of opening windows (especially in winter) for 10 minutes in the morning and evening to flush out stale air. Air locked in the home has a higher carbon dioxide level and doesn’t contain as much oxygen as the fresh air from the outside. The simple, no cost operation of opening windows throughout your home for as little as 10 minutes can impact a number of aspects of your health.
Tip #4: Get outdoors
While many of us tend to hunker down indoors for the winter, it’s important to get outdoors for three reasons:
- Natural sunlight provides immune-boosting vitamin D and helps improve your mood.
- Being outdoors has been shown to reduce stress and will help you stay active.
- Cold, fresh air is full of oxygen and teeming with beneficial bacteria which will help challenge and strengthen your terrain. Nordic mothers know this, which is why they’ve traditionally bundled up their babies and let them sleep outdoors in prams for naps. And their children are strong, healthy, and resilient.
Tip #5: Get enough sleep
Studies have shown that sleep is one of the most important components in maintaining a healthy terrain5. Aim for 7 ½ – 9 hours per night for optimal immune function.
Tip #6: Surround yourself with positive people
Research (and commonsense) have shown that being social is one of the most underestimated ways to help protect yourself from disease and boost longevity6. Plus, when you surround yourself with positive people it boosts your mood which further strengthens your terrain7. While social media may be a convenient way to stay in touch, it just doesn’t have the same effect as offline, personal contact. Thus, we highly recommend making the extra effort to meet friends in person or at least talk on the phone a few times a week.
If you are unable to hang out in person, try a virtual hangout with a few friends. Getting facetime in can make a world of difference!
Tip #7: Try these immune-boosting herbs and vitamins
Not all immune-boosters live up to their reputation. However, these ones are our tried-and-true favorites:
- Zinc – is one of those magical nutrients that can not only help boost immunity and fight colds, but can also help prevent them. A review of school-age children showed that regular zinc supplementation helped reduce the incidence of colds, the number of days missed from school, and the need for antibiotics8 Ideally get your zinc from zinc rich foods.
- Elderberry—tastes great as a syrup and can be taken prophylactically to help prevent cold and flu (plus kids love it!)
- Echinacea—has been shown most effective for its preventative benefits against viruses, such as when you’re planning a plane trip9
- Vitamin D—has been shown to reduce the incidence of the flu in children10
- Garlic—research has shown that garlic can help prevent colds when eaten daily11
- Oscillcocinum—this is a homeopathic product specifically for shortening the duration of the flu. However, we have also used it with success to prevent the flu, especially when you know you’ve been exposed. If you know you’ve come into contact with the flu virus, start taking it as soon as possible for best results.
For women that are pregnant or nursing, we always recommend talking to your doctor before starting any new supplements. We are not medical doctors and can not give medical advice. For more tips and tools on how to boost your immune system by creating an iron-clad terrain, check out: “Are Germs Really the Problem? Rethinking cold & flu prevention” and #tossthetoxins for tips on improving indoor air quality.