You’ve followed all the advice to build a strong immune system but somehow, the cold and flu season goggas triumphed! What do you do now?
Despite our best efforts and even when living a very healthy lifestyle, there are times when we simply cannot avoid being under the weather. Regardless of why and how you got sick, there are some highly effective steps and supplements we can take to dramatically reduce the length and severity of cold and flu-like symptoms. In fact, some of the recommendations here have studies backing them showing that if taken on time, you can decrease your “sick” time by up to four days!
Below are some of the top science-backed approaches to not only strengthen your immune response before you get sick but also help you to feel better as soon as the first symptoms of an illness appear!
1. Cold & Hot Exposure
Sure, taking a cold shower or an ice bath in winter when you’re already starting to feel grim possibly sounds worse to you than the flu itself! However, the positive effects of cold therapy might make it worth your while after all! Cold showers and ice baths have been shown to increase white blood cells circulating through your body (good for immune response), reduce inflammation (so you can heal faster) and boost lymphatic drainage (which removes toxins from the body). Improved mental focus and fat burning are further pleasant side effects so give that cold shower a go, the old wisdom of staying out of the cold is soooo old!
Similarly, sweating through the use of a sauna also improves lymphatic flow and is a powerful tool in helping you feel better and quicker.
2. Mild Exercise
Never exercise when you’re sick? Yes and no. Yes to mild intensity exercise like walking and yoga, but no to strenuous exercise that strains you unnecessarily. It turns out that incorporating mild movement when you’re feeling ill boosts the lymphatic system positively, which allows you to build defences against the nasties much faster. Being too sedentary when you’re ill is actually not doing you any favours!
3. Sunshine and Vitamin D3
Want to supercharge the exercise benefits mentioned above? Take a walk in the sunshine! We know unequivocally that sunshine leaves us healthier overall and is a major contributor to preventing illness, but a good dose of Vitamin D is also one of the most potent strategies to remedy illness. Even in winter, 15–20 minutes of daily sun exposure is the best thing you can do for your immune system.
The resultant improvement in mood is important when you’re feeling sick and miserable, but on a cellular level, it also provides you with the tools needed to defend yourself against pathogens that are causing your illness. Supplementing with Vitamin D3 is also a good strategy to reap these benefits.
4. Light Fasting
When we’re sick, we want to provide our bodies with all the resources needed to combat the pathogen attack. Digestion is unfortunately one of the most labour-intensive activities our bodies are tasked with, so when you’re eating a big bowl of I’m-sick-comfort-me junk food, you’re diverting important resources away from the immunity battleground to digesting food instead.
Severe fasting (more than 12–16 hours) is a bad idea, but try to limit continuous snacking to give your digestive system a break, and focus on healthy, nutrient-dense foods when you do eat.
5. Bone Broth
Tying into the previous point, bone broth is a nutrient powerhouse that is super easy on the digestive system. Chicken soup for a cold is actually really sage advice! Bone broths are packed with immune-boosting amino acids that not only help your gut fight infection but also improve your white blood cell production and improve your sleep. And we all know that sleep is the best medicine!
6. Look after your Lymphatic System
As already mentioned, looking after your lymphatic system and aiding good lymph flow is important when you’re fighting off an infection. Simply put, the lymphatic system is an important part of the immune system. It consists of lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, lymphoid organs and lymphoid tissues. While the mechanics are not important, knowing how to best support it is very important when you’re feeling ill.
Here are the top tips to light up your lymphatic system:
- Dry skin brushing (I was sceptical on this one, but it is now part of my daily routine. Three minutes a day boosts my energy levels in a tangible way and studies indicate that it has a very positive effect on the lymphatic system).
- Drinking a lot of good quality, filtered water.
- Get a massage! This is probably the best intervention to stimulate lymphatic drainage. Why is “drainage” important? Because lymph fluid is what actually carries bacteria and other foreign substances out of your system. A build-up is bad, a massage is good!
- Rebounding (mini trampoline), vibration plates or simply jumping up or down (keeping it to mild exertion) works really well.
Think yourself healthy? Scoff if you will but there is power to positive thinking. Activities like mindful meditation, gratitude journaling, yoga or general positivity are shown to have a real and tangible impact on immunity. Stick with me here: there are scientifically-backed studies showing the physical and mental benefits of these practices, in all aspects of life and including immunity.
8. Eliminate Sugar
Pathogens feed on sugar. Don’t feed the bad guys! Focus on immune-boosting foods like mushrooms, garlic, lemon, ginger, turmeric, carrots, kefir, chia and berries!
9. Supplement Smartly
The following supplements make a real difference once the sniffles, congestion, aches and pains have already set in:
- Zinc: Zinc is one of the very best immune-hacking supplements. It is a micronutrient which is abundant in foods like meat (especially beef liver), cheese and seafood (think oysters). To supplement dietary consumption of zinc, good options include a beef liver supplement (I like Ancestral Nourishment’s Beef Liver capsules), a zinc lozenge (look for zinc lozenges specifically to fight a cold as it works through a different mechanism than a tablet due to releasing ionic zinc when it starts to dissolve, key to its antiviral activity) or an IV drip of trace elements which includes zinc.
- Colloidal Silver: Colloidal silver strengthens the immune system and helps to fight infection. A slug or two of this near-tasteless liquid has become very popular of late in the integrative medicine space for its immune-boosting and infection-fighting properties.
- Bicarbonate of Soda: Taken with some water, bicarbonate of soda has been shown to strengthen the body’s anti-inflammatory response and calm down an autoimmune response. Cheap and easy!
- Echinacea: Research supports this awesome little compound’s ability to relieve upper respiratory symptoms such as inflammation and the common cold. Studies have shown that echinacea can cut the likelihood of getting a cold by over half, which is a lot! This affordable, readily available superstar boosts the immune system in a significant way. You’ll find this little gem in the PrimeSelf’s BioShield formulation.
- Medicinal Mushrooms: Mushrooms are probably the most potent yet underrated immune-supporting food! They are powerhouses in terms of delivering B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other molecules that fight bad bacteria and viruses, which make them highly effective to protect you from getting sick but also help you ward off infection once you’re already sick. PrimeSelf’s Shroom Elixir makes a great addition to your morning coffee, and the Medi Mushroom 4in1 Stack incorporates some of the most potent immune-boosting mushrooms: Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Chaga and Cordyceps.
- Elderberry: Best taken as a syrup, in capsules or in drops, this powerful fruit has been shown to reduce your symptoms and the duration of colds and flu, particularly for air travellers! A recent study showed that if you supplement within 48 hours of first feelings symptoms, it could reduce the duration of illness by up to 4 days, which is staggering.
- Vitamin C: The age-old remedy for when you’re sick. But think further than citrus fruit, because the list here packs an even bigger punch when it comes to Vitamin C! Think chilli peppers, guavas, yellow peppers, thyme, broccoli, liver, strawberries, papaya and kiwis when you next want to boost your Vitamin C levels. Also highly recommended is the BioShield product: Vitamin C is only one of the super potent ingredients in this powerhouse supplement.
Stop Colds and Flus in their Tracks
There you have it. While infection might take a hold of you, there is plenty that you can do to alleviate your symptoms and support your body to get the upper hand sooner and more effectively! It’s always smart to have the above tools and supplements on hand year-round so that you can OPTIMIZE the recovery process and get back to OPTIMIZED living as quickly as possible!
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- Thea is the founder of Neolaia — Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.