Staying Healthy through the Holidays
By Dr. LuLu Shimek, ND
The holidays are by far my favorite time of year. The smell of pumpkin pie in the air, drinking hot cocoa by the fireplace, caroling with friends (I can’t carry a tune but who cares) and decorating the Christmas tree with my family. But with all the holiday season fun the dreaded cold and flu season can dampen the cheer. I have 10 easy tips to stay healthy during the holidays by boosting the immune system.
Why do we get the cold or flu?
There are numerous reasons why we get a seasonal cold or the flu. One, it’s cold outside and we are snuggling up with friends and family with the doors and windows closed - easy to spread an airborne virus. Secondly, a virus can survive on non-porous surfaces for hours - yuck! If for instance, you open a door that was recently touched by a person infected with a virus, and then touch your nose or mouth, you have infected yourself. This is why it is so important to wash your hands especially during the flu and cold season. Thirdly, the nasty “ bugs” we call viruses that cause respiratory infections are always mutating, and our immune systems have problems taking care of these continually changing and evolving germs. These pesky viruses produce sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and sore throats. Even though the symptoms of a cold are usually milder than the flu, and gone within a week, they still cause many children to miss school and adults to miss time from work. The influenza virus comes in two forms, A and B, and is not as common as the cold. Flu symptoms will knock you out with a sudden onset of: fever, body ache, cough, headache, dry or sore throat and other respiratory symptoms.
10 Tips to Prevent Colds and Flu
When you contract a cold or the flu, the respiratory system works overtime to drive out the viruses by creating more mucus. To speed up the healing action, it’s much better to use natural treatments to expel the mucus by thinning it rather than drying it up with antihistamines. There are several great ways to thin mucus secretions. The best way is to drink broths, hot herbal teas, and other warm liquids (without dairy and sugar). You can also take a steam shower and add a few drops of Eucalyptus essential oil. If you don’t have a steam shower, bring a quart-size pot of water to a boil, remove it from the stove and place your face a comfortable distance from the steam, then cover your head with a towel. Inhale through your nose if you’re stuffy, or through your mouth for chest congestion. You can strengthen the power of steam by adding 1-3 drops of antimicrobial essential oil to the boiled water - such as Thyme, Eucalyptus, Pine, Lavender, Rosemary and Peppermint.
2. Limit your sugar intake and eat intuitively
Instead of grabbing a sugar cookie your co-worker brought in, have a healthy snack: a handful of walnuts, celery sticks and almond butter, carrots and hummus or sliced apples sprinkled with holidays spices are my go to snacks. Eating too much sugar reduces your white blood cell count for hours which decreases the ability to fight off and kill bacteria and viruses. Rather than overeating, try practicing eating intuitively by honoring your feelings instead of comforting yourself with food. The holidays can bring up anxiety, loneliness, boredom and even anger. Eating your favorite comfort foods my satiate your feelings in the short term, numb the pain, or distract from reality but food is not the solution.
3. Boost your immune system with nutrient dense whole foods
A great way to support your immune system throughout the winter is to eat a whole foods diet. Eating foods that are high in vitamin C will help keep your immune system strong, so include fruit and vegies such as lemons, kiwifruit, cayenne pepper and broccoli in your weekly shopping list. Ensure your diet also includes plenty of lean meats, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and use lots of herbs and spices. If you're struggling to get the recommended servings of of fruit veggies each day, try juicing them or making a green smoothie. A blend of green apple, celery, lemon, and ginger with a pinch of cayenne is an excellent immune boosting shot.
4. Make an immune boosting soup.
Here is a recipe for my favorite Immune Boosting Soup created by Dr. Bill Mitchell, who was a renowned Naturopathic Doctor in Seattle, Washington.
1 Small Yellow Onion, Chopped
1-5 Cloves garlic, chopped or crushed (to taste)
1 tsp-3 Tbsp grated fresh ginger root (to taste)
Juice of ½ lemon
½ cup sliced Shiitake mushrooms
1 Quart miso broth, chicken broth, or mushroom broth
3 Tbsp fresh minced parsley
1 grated carrot
Directions: Combine the broth, onion, ginger, garlic, mushrooms, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, carrot and parsley. Put cover on pan and steam for 5 minutes. Eat 1-4 times a day.
5. Rest up and get your Zzzzzz
It’s so important to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night particularly during the holidays. A lack of sleep can have a serious effect on your immune system, making you more vulnerable to catching colds. You're not being a “bah humbug” by skipping a party when you feel worn-down, instead you are practicing prevention. Practice correct sleep hygiene by creating a relaxing bedtime routine, such as listening to soft music or soaking in a warm bath. Limit your use of electronic devices by turning off the tv, computer, ipad and cell phone one hour before bed.
6. Stock your wellness cabinet with key vitamins & minerals
7. Elevate your mood with fresh air and sunshine by exercising at least 30 minutes per day
8. Do one thing each day you enjoy to help you deal with the stress of the holidays.
Continual stress makes us susceptible to illness because the brain sends defense signals to the endocrine and immune system, which then releases a variety of hormones that readies us for emergency situations but depresses our immunity at the same time. So it’s important to be aware of the simple daily stressors in our lives. There are several mind-body therapies that help reverse the stress response.
Relaxation exercises such as yoga, tai chi, chanting and meditation
Positive thinking such as affirmations
Art, music or dance
9. Herbs to Help Remedy Cold and Flu
10. Magic Socks
Yes, I did say magic socks - it’s the holidays no less! The magic sock or warming sock treatment increases body temperature to allow your immune system to catch up with the infection. It works great with kids and adults, though adults typically need to do it for more nights in a row. It sounds unpleasant, but really isn’t bad and is quite helpful. If fever is high, do not take a warm bath first.
1 pair white cotton socks
1 pair thick wool socks
Warm bath or warm foot bath
Warm your feet first. This is very important as the treatment will not be as effective. Warming can be accomplished by soaking your feet in warm water for at least 5—10 minutes or taking a warm bath for 5—10 minutes.
Dry your feet with a dry towel.
Take a pair of cotton socks and soak them in ice cold water for a couple of minutes.
Wring the socks out thoroughly so they do not drip.
Place cold wet socks on feet. Cover with thick wool socks. Go directly to bed. Avoid getting chilled.
Keep both pairs of socks on overnight. You will find that the wet cotton socks will be dry in the morning.
When to contact your doctor
If a child has a fever of 102˚ or higher or an adult has a fever or 101˚ or higher, this does NOT mean it’s time to use Tylenol or fever supportive drugs, it’s time to make sure your doctor is aware you are sick and ask for advice.
If you are experiencing lethargy, especially with a HIGH fever
If you are having difficulty breathing or a chronic cough that is keeping you up at night and is getting worse.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.