However, like everyone else in the world, I still get sick at least once or twice a year (and so do my kids… sometimes more frequently). At first, I thought I must be doing something wrong. But then I learned that getting the occasional cold or virus can actually help strengthen and educate our immune system. In other words: catching a “bug” now and then is a natural and beneficial part of living a healthy lifestyle! That said, it’s still no fun to be down and out. So, here’s what we do to get through uncomplicated, occasional illnesses quickly, safely, and as comfortably as possible.
Keep Your Immune System Strong
With summer over and school back in session, increased risk of exposure to cold and flu viruses is inevitable. Your best defense is to strengthen your immune system by reducing everyday stressors. Here’s how:
Use soap and water vs sanitizers to wash your hands
Soap and water do an excellent job removing germs, (instead of killing them, which is what causes them to morph into stronger germs), bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens without any unwanted side effects. We use Branch Basics Foaming Wash at home and the travel size when out and about.
Common household products with harmful ingredients like fragrance, VOCs, SVOCs, formaldehyde and pesticides all take a toll on different aspects of our immune system (lungs, lymph, liver, etc.) causing vulnerability and more weakness over time. Thus, improving indoor air quality by tossing the toxins is one of the most powerful things you can do for your health. Learn more on how to do this in our #TossTheToxins free online course.
Focus on REAL food
This means tossing the toxins in your pantry and refrigerator! Avoid foods with harmful chemicals and eat as much organic, whole, unprocessed food as possible while minimizing packaged, processed foods. We’ll have more tips on what we eat when we do get sick coming up, but you can also dive into our Food section of the Branch Basics Learning Center to read more.
Reduce screen time at night to optimize sleep
Sleep is one of the most powerful remedies for supporting your immune system. However, the artificial blue light emitted from screens suppresses the production of our master sleep hormone, melatonin, resulting in less quality sleep. If you ever needed a good reason to reduce screen time, this would be a great one! For more ways to improve your sleep, see our article 10 Tips For Healthier Sleep.
What To Do If You Get Sick
Rest as much as possible: We know this is easier said than done when you have children, a job, and other responsibilities. However, research has proven that sleep helps enhance our immune defenses by helping certain immune cells attach to their targets.1 2
Plus, it’s the world’s best stress reducer and helps quell inflammation. Try to resist the urge to scroll through your phone, bring your work to bed or even binge-watch your favorite show during this time and just surrender your body to sleep.
Tip for new moms: If you’re sick with a baby, it’s essential to call in reinforcements! Ask your partner or a close friend/family member to stay with you so you can rest between nursing and feeding sessions. According to breastfeeding experts, nursing mothers produce antibodies to the pathogens they are exposed to which get passed along to their breastmilk (wow!). This is why it’s almost always A-OK to keep nursing when you’re sick (but if you’re unsure or hesitant, check in with your doctor, midwife or lactation expert). 3 Just make sure you’re drinking lots of fluids to keep up with you and your baby’s needs.
Get outside and get grounded
If weather permits, getting outdoors isn’t just helpful for increasing vitamin D levels, but other benefits as well. We believe in the practice of grounding (aka earthing), or walking around on wet grass barefoot. This simple form of nature therapy has a long list of scientifically-proven benefits for your health. To dig in more, we suggest watching this amazing documentary on the benefits of grounding!
Grounding has so many benefits. To name a few, it improves your immune response by increasing white blood cell counts, decreases inflammation, reduces cortisol output, is good for your heart health and helps you sleep.4 How does this work? Well, when we come into direct contact with the ground there is a natural exchange of negatively-charged electrons from the earth. These electrons act as antioxidants, which neutralize excess positive electrons (from electronics, personal devices, EMFs, etc.) and provide our bodies with all the aforementioned health benefits. Check out the powerful findings of this grounding study or read Grounding: A Few Steps A Day To Transform Your Life for more information.
Eat vegetables and fruits – no meat and dairy
It’s important to listen to your body in two ways when sick – eating only when truly hungry and eating easy-to-digest, nutrient-dense foods that support healing versus suppressing it. This means we fill our plates up with plenty of vegetables, moderate amounts of vitamin-rich fruits, and no heavy foods, particularly meat and dairy (as an exception, bone broths are great). When you do have an appetite, eat the rainbow!
Easy to digest, blended vegetable soups and broths are often best when feeling sick. As you improve salads, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes, greens, roasted veggies and veggie “noodles” (spiralized into soups or sauteed with garlic and a little coconut oil) are excellent foods that promote healing without compromising your body’s defenses.
As for fruit, organic, sugar-free, additive-free applesauce and fresh melons, citrus, bananas, pineapple, papaya, and berries all supply helpful vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, prebiotic fibers, and natural sugars that bolster immunity and refuel your liver’s vital glycogen stores.
Eat extra greens!
Leafy greens like kale, collards, turnip greens, dandelion greens and lettuce support immunity two ways:
- They are powerhouses of immune-enhancing minerals and vitamins C, K, selenium, antioxidants and enzymes. Microgreens actually contain up to 40 times more healing nutrients than fully-grown vegetables!5
- New research has shown that leafy greens and other green veggies like brassicas are the source of a chemical signal critical to functional immunity. They work by ensuring that immune cells in the gut and the skin known as intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) function properly.6
Try raw garlic
Garlic is an extremely powerful antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-fungal. Plus it’s good for your heart and blood sugar, both of which can be affected during acute illness.7 Since the freshness, chemical composition, and purity of garlic supplements varies widely from brand to brand, it’s best to eat organic, raw garlic.
Fresh garlic is pungent, but by consuming it this way you’ll get all the benefits of its whole food components including the oils, enzymes, antioxidants, and concentrated allicin – the active component that makes garlic so medicinal.
Here are 7 ways to make raw garlic palatable, and possibly even downright tasty!:
- Grate and/or mince garlic, and mix it with raw honey. Ingest like cough syrup.
- Chop up garlic and swallow it whole, like you would a supplement.
- Hold a crushed clove in your cheek, especially if you have a sore throat. This can work wonders to reduce the pain and other symptoms of a cold!
- Mince garlic and ginger together and add lemon and raw honey to make a tea.
- Eat it pickled or fermented – just make sure it’s been naturally picked or lactofermented, as in no vinegar added, for greatest medicinal benefit.
- Throw some minced garlic in your greens, potatoes or soup.
- Make garlic lemonade! I discovered this recipe whilst researching natural remedies for clogged milk ducts (too much raw garlic can be no bueno for nursing infants) and it was delicious and effective. It’s great for kids too and anyone who can’t quite stomach whole garlic. Find the recipe at birthstream.com! It’s delicious and warm, too.
If your kids won’t eat raw garlic, try making garlic socks! Before bed, grate and/or crush garlic and mix it with a little olive or coconut oil. Then, put the mixture on the bottom of a pair of socks. Cut a strip of an old cotton rag to wrap gently around the garlic and foot and pull on the socks! You can also just put garlic on the bottom of the foot and pull on socks. Within seconds you can smell garlic on the breath, which shows how the skin uptakes whatever it comes into contact with… Crazy!
Drink Bieler’s broth, healing soups and fresh juices
Bieler’s broth is a classic healing elixir created by Dr. Henry G. Bieler, a prominent figure in the early days of alternative medicine. This broth is touted for its ability to alkalize the body, support detoxification pathways, and supply vital immune-fortifying nutrients. You can find the original Bieler’s Broth recipe here.
Carrot, ginger, and turmeric soup is also a lovely combination of super-healing foods and expectorant, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory spices. Here’s a quick recipe:
- Sautee onions, carrots, garlic and celery until soft
- Add in fresh ginger and fresh or dried turmeric to taste. The more the better, but make sure it tastes good enough to eat as turmeric is very earthy.
- Add water or bone broth
- Simmer until tender
- Blend until smooth
- Season with Himalayan pink salt or sea salt to taste, and enjoy!
Organic, fresh vegetable juices are also great sources of nutrients and can have a cooling effect if you have access to a juicer. Here are some of the best items to juice:
- Carrots are a great choice for their high beta carotene content. Their natural sweetness can give you a boost of energy.
- Celery packs a detoxification punch and is high in minerals, natural sodium, potassium, and vitamins C and K.
- Cucumber is cooling for fevers and contains potassium, vitamins C and K, and silica.
- Ginger has proven antiviral and anti-bacterial benefits and is particularly good for upper respiratory infections and excess mucous8
You can also add some fruit to your juices, but keep them predominantly vegetable-based. Fruits like papaya and pineapples contain enzymes like bromelain9 that can help break up mucus and aid coughing. Citrus fruits are high in immune-boosting vitamin C and antioxidants and melons are cooling and hydrating.
Take extra Vitamin C, D and zinc
The best way to get vitamins and minerals is to eat organic whole foods. However, agricultural practices have greatly depleted our soil, so supplementation with micronutrient dense food-based supplements can be beneficial, not only as a preventative but especially when faced with illness.
Vitamin C helps bolster immunity by supporting your innate and adaptive immune system. As an antioxidant, it helps reduce inflammation and free radical damage – both of which increase when you are ill. It has been shown effective in preventing and helping address acute upper respiratory infections (especially when combined with zinc).10 11 Since it’s been shown that acute infections will rapidly deplete vitamin C, larger doses are most effective when you’re sick. 12
For best results, choose a whole foods-based vitamin C such as Garden of Life Vitamin C and PRL Vitamin C. Check with your doctor for dosage. It’s also a great idea to eat vitamin C-rich foods such as mangoes, peppers, broccoli, citrus fruits, and brussels sprouts.
Vitamin D (aka “the sunshine vitamin”) is critical for maintaining immune function 13 and helping you heal faster. It modulates the innate and adaptive immune system and deficiencies are associated with a greater risk of infection. The best way to get your daily dose is to expose yourself to sunshine without sunscreen. Try sitting out in a lounge chair while drinking a nice cup of tea or lemon water. For best absorption, experts recommend going out for 20-30 minutes at high noon when the sun is strongest.
Finally, zinc is very effective for fighting off colds and flu. It can help soothe sore throats when taken as a lozenge or liquid and plenty of studies have shown it can significantly shorten the duration and severity of the common cold when taken within 24 hours of symptoms.
You can supplement with Vitamin D3/K2 if desired. Vitamin D3/K2 has been shown more effective in raising blood levels than D3 alone.15 Vitamin K2 acts as a synergistic nutrient, shuttling the calcium that D3 frees up to your bones.16 17 Zinc is also responsible for supporting a normal sense of taste and smell.18 The National Academy of Sciences Engineering Medicine suggests the safe daily upper limit is 40 mg, though the studies on zinc and colds suggest even 13-14 mg daily is enough.19 If you’re unsure, check with your doctor or practitioner. Here is a whole foods based zinc option.
Consider taking Quinton Isotonic
This seawater liquid mineral supplement gives the cells a highly bioavailable mineral-rich bath. It supports recovery from fatigue, reduces inflammation, supports the body’s ability to eliminate infections and is like liquid gold for your biological terrain! Take one vial before bed on an empty stomach for more restful sleep.
Take a detox bath
We’ve covered this at-length in Our Favorite Detox Baths article, but below are the cliff notes.
Fill a tub with very warm water, as warm as you can comfortably enjoy based on your body temperature. Plan on 10-40 minutes to soak. Get out of the tub slowly in case of dizziness. If you get dizzy whilst in the tub, slowly cool it down by adding cold water and get out very slowly.
Add in any of the following to boost detoxification and speed healing:
- 2-3 cups epsom salts
- 2 cups epsom salts + 2 cups baking soda (cut this recipe in half if you have eczema or any other skin condition/rash as it may cause irritation.
- 1 cup epsom salts + 1 cup baking soda + 1 cup sea salt
For fevers, we love iodine baths. These should be taken at lukewarm temperature to prevent overheating:
- 1 cup sea salt or Morton’s Pickling Salt + ¼ cup iodine (like liquid potassium iodide).
- Soak for 20-40 minutes for adults and 10-30 minutes for children.
Most importantly: listen to your body and get help if you need it!
When we nourish, detoxify, destress and take care of ourselves regularly, common illnesses usually pass quickly and uneventfully. However, if your symptoms become severe (shortness of breath, fainting, bleeding or extreme pain) or you just can’t get back on your feet after a reasonable amount of time, be sure to seek medical attention. And if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, always consult your doctor or midwife about the best way to care for yourself.
Blessings of health and healing as we move into this new phase of the year together!