Monday, August 27, 2012

Living Healthfully: How to Stay Well During Cold and Flu Season

It used to be that if someone so much as sneezed in my general direction, I'd come down with some sort of full-fledged version of whatever virus or bug the offending sneezer had to offer.

For as long as I can remember fall, winter and spring meant nothing good for my poor hacking lungs, tender nose and achy muscles, and I became well acquainted with my friends lotion tissues, throat lozenges and, of course, antibiotics. 

Sweet relief only came in April for a few weeks or so before flowers started blooming and allergy season blossomed right along beside them. 

In a turn of unexpected awesomeness and grace, my allergies dwindled to almost nothing during my first pregnancy just five summers ago and for the first time ever I could enjoy being outside without my tag alongs of tissue boxes and allergy medicine. 

Even after giving birth, I remained mostly allergy free but I still struggled with illness every September through April, catching some sort of bug or virus almost monthly just until this past year. 

When I began cleansing my body this past January in an effort to reestablish my gut's health with whole, clean foods and cultured foods after a terrible six months of irritable bowel-like symptoms, I noticed that my digestion wasn't the only thing that improved: my immune system did as well. 

In fact, by the grace of God, I've only been sick with a cold once during the past eight months, and I've avoided the stomach flu twice when it's taken up residency in our house on two separate occasions. 

Aside from grace, I've noted several changes that have aided in my staying well, and after researching the validity of each practice, I knew I had to share my experience {in hopes that the minute I press publish my whole house doesn't come down with some sort of ailment in a sudden twist of irony!}.

And though there's no magic pill or herb or supplement for staying well during cold and flu season, there are plenty of practices, that when combined, offer hope even to someone who always seems to play magnet to germs.

Say No to Sugar

I know. I know. No, really; I know. 

Sugar is a tempting little devil and it tastes so darn good that it's hard to even think about saying no to the teaspoon in your morning cup of joe or the chocolate chip cookie ice cream awaiting you after the kiddos are fast asleep. Or maybe you don't think you eat all that much to begin with. Or perhaps you just don't think you can survive the 2 o'clock in the afternoon meltdown that ensues when your toddler wants some sort of sweet treat and you deny him that goodness. 

I know. I've been there, there and there. 

But after a solid six months of life with extremely limited natural sugars {I didn't even eat fruit!} and now having reintroduced small amounts of fruit and tiny amounts of honey, I can feel a major difference not only in  in my energy levels but also my body's ability to fight off stress and illness as opposed to this time last year when I ate some processed foods and more sugars than I realized. {Let's be clear: I feel much better with moderate amounts of natural sugar in my diet than no sugar at all!}

Really. Sugar in excess suppresses the immune system. And aside from that, there are about 76 more ways excess sugar consumption damages or hampers our bodies and minds and emotions.

So as painful as it may seem, cutting processed sugars out and eating natural ones in a good moderation may be one of your best defenses against getting sick. If you can't fathom cutting out the sugar daily, at least remove all of it when you feel an illness coming on. Since reintroducing even small amounts of natural sugar like fruits and honey, I've noticed that if I back off for a days when I feel even a hint of a sneeze coming on that my immune system responds better to invaders. 

Say Yes to {Pro} Bugs
Homemade Ginger Lemon Water Kefir
Fermented foods like real sauerkraut and drinks like homemade milk kefir and water kefir are some of the best preventive medicines for fighting the cold or flu. 

Because 80 percent of our immune system function begins in the gut, it's important to consume cultured foods like homemade kefirs because they often contain hundreds of species of beneficial bacteria and yeasts.

And once consumed, these probiotics take their jobs within their new homes very seriously; the moment they are introduced into their new residency they get to work cleaning. Good bacteria and yeast must remain in high population within the gut so as to keep any detrimental bacteria or viruses in check -- as long as the good guys are numerous, they'll keep the undesirables at bay. 

{Also, our bodies actually are made up of more bacteria than cells; so think about it -- we need to keep the good bacteria in abundance in order to keep our immune systems firing well.}

Hold the Light at Night

On your iPhone or your TV or whatever else that engages you come about 9:30 at night so your body and mind can begin winding down. The light glowing from these screens actually awakens our bodies, which can delay sleep. And we need our sleep, especially during cold and flu season because our body makes major repairs during sleep as well as cleanses certain organs.

Chinese medicine says that between 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. your body restores your adrenal glands, which are responsible for giving us rushes of energy when we need them most. Some of us, especially those who like to burn the midnight oil consistently and others of us who bear heavy stress loads, start to wear down our adrenal glands, fatiguing them, which then in turn begins to decrease immune system function. And that's just one example of how tiny glands even determine our immune system response!

Our other major organs and systems also experience restoration and rebuilding while we rest, as the body increases cell division and protein synthesis during sleep. And we need all of these systems to work well in order to keep illness at bay, so uninterrupted sleep is integral to fighting off infections.

Uninterrupted sleep is sometimes impossible with small children, but doing what we can to promote it for both the kiddos and ourselves goes a long way:

* Keeping the bedrooms cool -- about 65 degrees -- seems to help the body rest best
* Sleeping in darkness also promotes uninterrupted sleep -- that means turning off nightlights, keeping cell phones in the next room {we have a charging station in our upstairs hallway}, dimming clock faces, etc.
* The white noise of a fan often provides a peaceful background noise for maintaining steady sleep

Let Go

One of my major pet peeves is when people tell me to just relax and let go of the stressors I'm feeling heavy on my shoulders -- as if that were an easy and effortless effort! Truth be told, I'm mostly go-go-go personality who thrives on energy and activity, and I like being active and busy. It seems like stress follows those of us who like living life in the fast lane. Unfortunately, though, if we're ever moving and always engaged in busyness and activity, we're likely wearing down those adrenal glands we just talked about, thus weakening our immune systems.

Aside from learning there is beauty in slowing down the fast pace of life, I've learned how to incorporate rest and relaxation into packed days:


* quiet time in the morning spent in prayer and reading my Bible
* 10 minutes during the late morning spent snuggling on the couch and reading books to the kids
* enjoying a glass of tea and staring off into the sky in the afternoon while the kids play and the dishwasher runs
* finding forms of exercise that incorporate stretching and focused meditation

Even just five minutes of quiet meditation and prayer a few times per day can reduce stress levels and restore the body and mind.

Maybe you might need more restoration time than five minutes a few times a day? We have a perfect all-day retreat, Creative Soul, coming up at the end of September, and registration is now open for this day filled with connecting, creating and calming.

Don't Feed; Nourish

When making food choices, especially during cold and flu season, keep one important mantra in mind:

Don't feed cravings; instead nourish the body. 

When craving something sweet, don't turn to refined foods filled with flours and processed sugars; turn to something seasonally available to satisfy instead:

Cinnamon butter apples and coconut flour bread makes a nutritious and delicious treat
* apples coated with cinnamon and nutmeg and baked at 350 degrees in pastured butter
* pumpkin pie coconut bread {recipe coming soon!}
* baked apple pie oatmeal

Instead of eating foods that are abundant in ef=", packaged, found in the bakery section of the store --, eat ones that are packed full of the vitamins and minerals that support our bodies' many functions, including our immune systems.


  1. Around the time Reese was born my mom was diagnosed with Lupus. Both of those events prompted me to start taking a serious look at my health habits but it's been a long road of resistance. Only recently am I finally embracing some of these practices with my whole heart. I have a long way to go, but I've already seen amazing changes. I really enjoyed your insight, especially because some of those areas are still my biggest struggles (like late night lights and too much sugar). Thanks for sharing and I'm looking forward to joining you at the retreat!

  2. Oh sugar….it's so hard! My kefir grains are in the mail though! Excited to start brewing.

  3. You have me inspired...I will be home full time again soon. (I resigned from my job) and I am looking forward to the time to meal plan in a way that nourishes.

    I may need to lean on you for some info. Already tucking away some of your recipes.

    Cannot wait for the pumpkin pie coconut bread recipe.


  4. I am on a similar journey... dairy is not my friend right now. Can't wait for the coconut flour bread either!


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