As the blue skies of summer fill with the clouds and rain of winter, the dreaded flu season often catches us off guard. Symptoms like a light headache, mild aches, runny nose, scratchy throat and a low-grade fever are indicative of a cold, whilst a dry cough, generalized body aches, fever and intense fatigue may mean that you have the flu. When managing these conditions, it is important to remember that symptoms are the body’s way of telling you that something has gone awry and its defense system is on the case. Suppression of these symptoms will only slow the body’s recovery and prolong infection time. Hence, the maintenance of a healthy immune system is the primary way of protecting yourself against getting sick, and it is important to start treatment at the first signs of an illness.

So what can be done at home to boost the immune system?

A great place to start is with food and fluid. Contrary to popular belief, when ‘coming down’ with a cold or flu, it is beneficial to reduce food consumption. Therapeutic fasting allows the body to save the energy that it would normally use for digestion in order to work on cleansing and detoxification. As the symptoms recede, food can be reintroduced.

While reducing food consumption is beneficial, increasing fluid intake is also essential. Among the most valuable liquids are water and unsweetened herbal teas. Fluids enhance the protective function of mucous membranes, especially in the airway, which directly prevents viral and bacterial attachment. It is important to avoid sugary drinks such as soft drinks and sweet juices, since sugar inhibits the immune system.

In addition, it is important to increase immune-boosting vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C and zinc both support the immune system, and are directly anti-viral. They have been shown to reduce the duration and severity of an illness.

All of the above are fundamental in supporting the body’s natural healing capabilities, however, the single most important intervention is REST. The immune system functions better when the parasympathetic nervous system (or the part of the brain that allows us to ‘rest and digest’) assumes control of bodily functions, allowing the body to focus on healing. Meditation and sleep activate the parasympathetic nervous system and can be useful tools when battling the cold and flu.When it comes to avoiding the cold or flu this season, prevention is key. It is never too late (or too early) to start boosting your immune system. If you do catch a bug this season, be sure to act quickly and try out a few of the above suggestions. For more information, advice and treatments book an appointment at the Boucher Naturopathic Medical Clinic.