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Dr, Krista Brayko, ND

Prepping Your Immune System for Flu Season

By: Dr. Krista Brayko, Naturopath

Our susceptibility to colds and flu are in direct relationship to the strength of our immune system and internal hygiene. Viruses and bacteria will not thrive or take hold if our internal hygiene is balanced and healthy. Now is the time to be proactive with our health and adopt good wellness habits. Prevention is key!

PREVENTION is the BEST MEDICINE

Beneficial methods to strengthen immune defenses include lifestyle factors, which includes wise food and supplement choices, reducing and managing stress, improving sleep, and increasing movement. Contrary to popular belief, there is little evidence that immune function declines with age.  However, as we age our bodies accumulate more toxic substances and nutrient deficiencies, which interfere with good immune system recognition and communication.  Boosting immune function also means strengthening defenses, reducing exposures to toxins, and improving elimination (digestion).

Get sufficient sleep! Although our immune system is always active, it is most active while we are asleep.  Therefore, sufficient sleep is vital to maintain optimal health. We all know sleep restores and heals the body. Take advantage of the dark winter nights and head to bed earlier. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Address the stresses of the day long before bedtime by incorporating various relaxation and breathing techniques in order to allow the mind to rest. Stress increases the level of cortisol in the body.  If sustained at high levels, this “fight or flight” hormone may weaken the immune system.

Get regular exercise. Physical movement not only increases blood circulation and oxygenation, but also helps lymph (the body’s garbage collectors) move through the body and eliminate metabolic wastes and toxins more effectively. Mild to moderate exercise (for approximately 30-45 minutes/day) has been shown to significantly boost the immune system. If you are feeling run down, avoid overexertion, as this will lower your immune defenses.

Drink plenty of fluids. Wintertime can be a particularly challenging time to stay hydrated! Consuming adequate fluids supports all of your body’s functions including the immune system. Keeping your mucous membranes well-hydrated helps optimize the mucous membranes of the mouth, ears, and nose. Keep a mug of pure water with you at all times (hot or cold). Make soups and broths. Drink herbal teas like ginger and echinacea daily. Avoid concentrated fruit juices (or dilute 1:1 –  juice:water) and sweetened beverages, as the high sugar content stresses the immune system.

Avoid simple sugars as much as possible! Sweet treats are incredibly prevalent this time of year. Studies have shown that refined sugars (including white flour and fruit juice) can suppress your immune system for hours after ingestion, making you more susceptible to infection. Think of it this way: when you eat sugar your immune system slows down to a crawl.

Add garlic, onions, ginger, and lots of spices (oregano, turmeric) to your meals! All of these herbs contain powerful antimicrobials properties that will only boost your immune system. Add these to your soups, sauces and vegetable dishes.

Eat your vegetables: Vegetables contain an array of nutrients that support the immune system. High in vitamins C, A, and phytonutrients – these nutrients metabolize energy, support detoxification, and help maintain our stress response. Choose more leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower), peppers, sweet potatoes, and squashes. Aim for four servings of vegetables daily!

Try a daily nasal saline flush: Along with staying hydrated, flushing your sinuses with mild salt water helps to keep mucous membranes moist and in turn protects you from unwanted microbes. Mucous membranes are loaded with enzymes, immune cells, and lymph glands designed to catch viruses/bacteria and are our first line of defense against infection. The best mechanism for this is a Neti Pot. Studies have also indicated that flushing one to two times daily is appropriate; more is not better in this case. Be sure to thoroughly dry (blow) your nose after each treatment, as microbes thrive in dark, wet, moist environments.

Don’t over heat your home: Dry air dries out mucous membranes. Keep rooms a moderate temperature and consider using a humidifier to keep air moist. A HEPA filter in bedrooms is a great way to minimize dust and toxins, thereby reducing the burden to your immune system.

Wash your hands often, of course.

There are many ways to add health into your daily routine during this cold and flu season. Consider incorporating this immune boosting soup recipe into your meal planning.

If you do happen to come down with a cold or flu we offer same day naturopathic appointments to address your symptoms and get you better faster. It may be helpful to have you start taking a potent nutritional supplement and/or herbal remedies to help your body overcome the issue.

IMMUNE SUPPORT SOUP

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 cup leeks, chopped
  • 3 tbsp grated fresh ginger root (or use as little as 1 teaspoon, to taste)
  • 5 clove garlic, chopped or sliced (divided)
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) miso, chicken, vegetable or mushroom broth (or water)
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1  cup carrots, cut into ¼ inch rounds
  • 1 cup celery, sliced
  • ½ tsp grey or pink sea salt
  • ¼ cup fresh, minced parsley
  • ½ cup fresh basil, freshly chopped
  • 1 tbsp of each oregano, thyme, and rosemary, chopped*
  • 2 bay leaf, whole
  • pepper to flavor
  • 4 cups kale, washed and torn
  • 1 cup snow peas or green beans, chopped
  • Add cooked chicken if desired, 8 drumsticks (bone in, gives added immune value)

*If these herbs are unavailable fresh, then use 1 tsp of each dried. Look for fresh herbs whenever possible.

Instructions

  • Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, 3 chopped garlic cloves, ginger and leeks. Cook until softened – about 3 minutes.
  • Add chopped vegetables, salt, stock and bay leaf. Add drumsticks. Increase temperature to high, bring to a boil then reduce to simmer. Cook for approximately 30 minutes until vegetables soften, but aren’t mushy.
  • Stir the kale, peas, fresh herbs, 2 cloves of fresh finely chopped garlic into the soup. Simmer for another few minutes to blend flavours and soften kale. Adding these ingredients at the end ensures that the veggies are bright green and the garlic is providing maximum immune benefits.

Medicinal benefits of this soup:

A bowl of immune boosting soup can help the body fight infection. During infection, mucus can thicken and encourage growth of viruses and bacteria. Hot soup thins this mucus. Soup is also hydrating and full of electrolytes and minerals that boost your immune system.

  • Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinan, an active compound that can boost your immune system to fight infections.
  • Rosemary, thyme and oregano contain essential oils that are anti-viral and anti-bacterial.
  • Real chicken stock made with bones contains B vitamins (in the marrow), calcium, magnesium and zinc – all essential for immunity.
  • Kale, leeks, peas and beans contain B vitamins for energy, nerve and adrenal support.
  • Carrots provide beta-carotene (precursor to Vitamin A) to assist the lungs in fighting off infections.

Ginger and garlic are powerful anti-inflammatories and immune-supportive spices. You will notice this soup has triple the spices of a standard soup – feel free to add more. The active ingredient in garlic and onions is allicin. Allicin is a natural antibiotic. Don’t hold back on the garlic in order to get the therapeutic effects.  

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