by Dr. Will Cole
Eating clean, whole foods are the foundation to a strong immune system. But inevitably, even the healthiest of individuals will get sick. The symptoms can creep up on you and next thing you know you are on the couch binging on Netflix with a box of tissues.
My job as a functional medicine practitioner is to consult patients on their health. The last thing people want to hear is health advice from a congested practitioner. Therefore, there are a few key things I do when I feel a cold coming on which allows me to either fight the cold off completely or reduce the cold to a day or two of mild symptoms. Here are my favorite ways to help you amp up your immunity:
1. I eat more detoxing food medicines.
An overload of toxins can put stress on your immune system. I always make conscious choices to avoid toxins as much as possible, so when it comes time to detox I need to go to the next-level. Parsley, cilantro, dandelion tea and blueberries are all easy to incorporate throughout my day. Parsley and cilantro get added to smoothies or salads and blueberries are eaten by the handful. You can always find me with a cup of tea in my hand so I’ll switch out my typical green tea with dandelion to take advantage of its B-vitamin content to help support my detoxing methylation pathways.
2. I add in adaptogens.
Whenever I need a health pick-me-up adaptogens are the first thing I turn to. These natural plants and herbs provide support to different areas of your body in order to restore balance. Some are my favorites include:
- Ashwagandha: Often used to restore the immune system after being sick
- Maca: Loaded with vitamin C
- Astragalus: Antiviral and antibacterial
3. I target my supplements.
My normal diet consists of whole food sources such as wild-caught seafood, grass-fed beef, a variety of vegetables, healthy fats, and some fruit. I typically like to use medicine as my food but sometimes supplements can provide a beneficial boost.
- Vitamin C: This is the ultimate immune booster. Studies have shown it can reduce symptoms by up to 30% with a typical daily dose between 1,000 and 4,000 mg.
- Zinc: When taken with vitamin C it can increase vitamin C’s immune benefits. It is responsible for increasing white blood cells and helping to fight off infections. Research shows around 75 mg can help reduce the length of a cold.
- Echinacea: This herb can shorten the length of your cold.
4. I increase my immune-supporting foods.
The second I feel a cold starting I reach for Manuka honey. This honey comes straight from New Zealand and its antimicrobial properties are out of this world. Adaptogenic mushrooms are another favorite of mine. Chaga and Turkey tail both work to bring balance to the immune system. If you are dealing with a virus like the flu Chaga works great for that as well due to its antiviral properties. If you don’t like mushrooms you can get them in powder form to put in tea and smoothies but I personally love to eat them as a side with my meals sautéed with garlic and onions.
5. I gargle with sea salt water.
Sea salt is more than just a meal-time seasoning. It is actually a fantastic anti-inflammatory tool that can be used to ease a sore throat. I usually mix 1 teaspoon sea salt with 8 ounces of water and gargle for at least 30 seconds which helps to break up mucus and get rid of bacteria from the throat. There’s a reason why the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found a 40 percent decrease in upper respiratory infections in those who gargled with salt water.
6. I up my use of essential oils.
I regularly diffuse oils in my home and functional medicine clinic. The use of oils for healing dates back thousands of years. When I feel a cold creeping up I go a little crazy with some specific ones:
- Eucalyptus: Not only does this oil smell wonderful it helps clear up any congestion. It can be great diffused or rubbed on your chest. It is also antimicrobial.
- Tea Tree: This is a great multi-purpose antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral oil.
- Frankincense and myrrh: There’s a reason why the wise men chose these to gift to the newborn baby Jesus. Together, they have intensive antimicrobial properties. And bonus, they smell amazing so I love use them on my neck and arms even when I am not feeling sick!
7. I sip on bone broth.
Growing up, it was likely that you were given chicken noodle soup when you were sick and there’s a reason. Bone broth is filled with nutrients like glucosamine, glycine, gelatin, and other minerals that help to heal your gut which is especially restorative after having a stomach virus like the flu. As Hippocrates says “all disease begins in your gut,” so it is essential to give your digestive system the nutrients it needs to get back to feeling 100%.
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