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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Preventing the dreaded Lurgy

The season of change is upon us, the very first day of autumn we got a frost. I was a bit put out since we haven’t had the benefit of a summer worth mentioning so diving straight into autumn feels a bit rude to be honest. If I were older I’d be wearing my lavender comforter, curlers and shaking my fist at the sky. Okay well let’s be honest I’m doing it now.

Bugs, coughs and colds always seem to strike when the weather changes. There are a million and one home remedies to be tried when the dreaded lurgy hits but in my books prevention is better than cure. Your body has an immune system so use it! Here are some proven prophylactics which work by helping the immune system to function properly and do its job!

Echinacea will not significantly shorten the length of most upper respiratory tract infections, it does have an effect of 1-2 days but the real power of Echinacea is in prevention. The activity of Echinacea is to promote your natural killer cells and by taking a 12 week course through the bug season you can really up your chances of staying virus free. The dose has to be high though and from a reputable supplement maker as low doses or poor quality supplements will not work. Echinacea is not recommended in pregnancy but is not contraindicated during breastfeeding. In some cases echinacea may cause a rash in young children but stopping intake will clear the rash.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a vital supplement for our immune system and in NZ many people are not receiving optimal doses. This is in part due to our low latitude which prevents us from being exposed to enough sun in enough concentration. We exacerbate this a little with the whole slip slop slap concept and of course in winter everyone is dressed up from neck to toes. The best Vitamin D is free and the best way to get this is exposure to the sun, outside (not through glass) on large sections for skin for 15-20 minutes. If you bake for too long then your levels will actually decrease and if you only expose small areas of skin you won’t generate enough. If you spend a lot of your day indoors, you live in upper or lower latitudes and you use a lot of sunscreen or clothing then a Vitamin D supplement is a wise idea. Anything from 1000iu a day to 10,000iu a day is acceptable and is considered a therapeutic dose which is what you need for immunoprotective levels. Most people tend to sit in the middle at doses of about 2000iu.Vitamin D is rarely found in foods though it is available in oily fish, eggs and liver.
Studies show that Vitamin D triggers and arms the body's T cells, which are the cells in the body that seek out and destroy any invading bacteria and viruses. These cells rely on vitamin D in order activate and they would remain dormant, or‘naïve’ to the possibility of threat
In one of the largest and most representative studies of the association between vitamin D and respiratory infections, people with the lowest blood vitamin D levels reported having significantly more recent colds or cases of the flu.
Vitamin D passes through the breastmilk so if you are breastfeeding and taking Vitamin D your baby will receive the benefits. In the states Vitamin D drops are often recommended. However if your baby gets small doses of sun and plenty of booby milk from a mum well fortified in Vitamin D they are not essential, they can also be a bit of a
booby trap.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin which means that we excrete it by peeing, this means that we can very easily run at sub-optimal Vitamin C levels if the amount we consume is less than what we excrete. Some studies show that up to 25% of children are lacking in Vitamin C. As vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant it is a good idea to ensure Vitamin C levels are high. Studies have shown taking a daily dose of Vitamin C can reduce the chance of catching a cold but more significantly reduce the length of a cold. The most marked results were in people who are under high physical stress such as athletes and children. Kiwifruit is a fabulous natural source of Vitamin C and is absorbed more easily than supplements. Unfortunately at this time of year kiwifruit are usually imported, better sticking to kale, brussels sprouts, thyme parsley and broccoli. Not sure the kids would agree, luckily chewable Vitamin C is cheap and tasty. For nurslings, they will receive the benefits of Vitamin C through your breastmilk.

There is plenty of evidence which shows that prophylactic doses of probiotic foods and supplements can stave off bugs. Probiotics form part of one of your largest immune system organisms the gut intestinal tract. People who have had antibiotics or who are in poor health, benefit from taking probiotics to help bolster their immunity. If you find probiotics expensive then some naturally probiotic foods are yoghurts, kefir, miso, tempeh and special probiotic cultures such as scoby (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). All of these foods can be cultured at home for reasonable costs and a little care and attention. Studies have shown even children as young as 6 months benefit from probiotic intake. Younger infants will receive the benefit of probiotics indirectly via breastmilk, this is by increasing the immunoprotective qualities of the breastmilk. In one double-blinded, placebo-controlled study of 62 mother-infant pairs, it was shown that administering probiotics to the pregnant and lactating mother increased the immunoprotective potential of breast milk, as assessed by the amount of anti-inflammatory transforming growth factor in the milk. It is not recommended to feed probioticsdirectly to your baby if they are under 6 months as there are no studies showing safety or efficacy.

Zinc is an essential trace element for immunity and it is also a nutrient that many people are deficient in. You can test for deficiency by placing some liquid zinc on your tongue, if you cannot taste it then it is likely you are deficient. Zinc plays an important role in the production of immune substances made within the thymus gland. Taking a regular dose of zinc has been shown to reduce instances of common illnesses and antiobiotic dependency. The best form of zinc supplementation is in oral lozenges or liquid zinc though it can be found naturally in pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and (gasp) dark chocolate. The best way to protect zinc levels in infants is to have sufficient zinc whilst pregnant and during breastfeeding. It's important to note that bottle fed infants may have lower levels of zinc than breastfed infants.

Some studies have shown an almost 60% reduction in colds when garlic is taken on a regular basis.The component responsible for the distinctive garlic smell is called allicin, this is also the component that has been attributed with bug busting capabilities, which means it is vital you do not purchase deodorised garlic supplements. The best way to take garlic is crushed and raw or lightly cooked. This releases the largest amounts of allicin and sulphur compounds. Garlic is a powerful antimicrobial, antifungal and antibiotic. It also lowers cholesterol which is a lovely adjunct to lurgy prevention. Luckily garlic is delicious and can be added to many foods. If anyone tells you that taking garlic will put baby off of your breatmilk you can tell them that's a load of hooey, a study has shown that babies PREFER garlicky milk. If taking garlic is a chore for you then you can make this garlic honey. If garlic breath is an issue you can always chew a bunch of parsley which freshens your breath and is rich in Vitamin C.

Honeyed Garlic

Peel 1 whole head of garlic
Cut into slices
Put into sterile container
Cover with liquid honey
After 2-3 weeks the garlic will have 'cured'
This mix has a shelf life of approximately 3 months

You can use the honey in hot drinks or simply have it by the spoonful, the garlic slices can be swallowed like tablets. This option is easier on the palate and the gut than taking whole cloves raw.

This may seem elementary but since hydration not only keeps your mucosal zones moist and functioning well, it is also essential for cellular processes and the excretion of toxins from your body. A hydrated body is a well defended body.

This may seem elementary but since hydration not only keeps your mucosal zones moist and functioning well, it is also essential for cellular processes and the excretion of toxins from your body. A hydrated body is a well defended body

HygieneThe main barrier against infection is our skin, the weakest areas are the mucosal openings where bacteria can enter our systems. Think nose, mouth, eyes and.. well you can figure out the rest. One of the main roles of these mucosae are to stop bacteria viruses from entering the body and infecting us.
People often think that hygiene means sterilising everything, I personally am not a big fan of sterilising everything as I think for the most part bacteria is a natural part of our existence and that it helps us develop healthy immune systems free from allergies. However when it is bug season a little extra vigilance in hygiene is a good idea. This means washing your hands with hot soapy water after each toilet trip or after journey out of the house. Washing hands before meals is also advisable. Normal soap and hot water is fine, don’t bother with antibacterial soaps. Not only are they no more effective than soap and water but they also help breed resistant bacteria, they are also bad for you and the environment.

Another pro tip is to avoid nose picking, now everyone does it (don’t lie you do) but if you’re trying to avoid getting sick then sticking germy fingers up your nose can introduce germs which now have direct access to your upper respiratory system. Nose picking can also upset the mucosal system and in some cases open up the skin making you more susceptible. Use a tissue or if you absolutely must, wash your hands before having a good old dig. For the brave of heart you can use a netipot to clean your nose out. For little children this is the equivalent of washing the nose out with saline. Here is a video of neti pot use, yes it looks alarming but as a recent convert to ‘netipotting’ I can seriously say it helps a lot. People who suffer from seasonal allergies also swear by them. You just can’t do it parked at the intersection in your car.

Oral Hygiene
This gets its own subheading because it is worthy of note. How do germs enter the body? One major route is through the mouth. One way of preventing a virus from making its way past first base is to keep the mouth clean. This means promoting good oral health, brushing your teeth is a good start and using salty mouth washes to rinse and gargle with. Flossing regularly and
oil pulling help keep your mouth free from breeding bacteria. And no kissing! (just kidding)

The dreaded tickle
So what happens when despite your best efforts you wake up one morning with the dreaded tickle? If you are taking Echinacea or Vitamin C you can increase the dose, most
good brands of Echinacea will have a prophylactic dose and a therapeutic dose. Your body can only absorb a limited amount of Vitamin C at a time, when faced with an impending cold most naturopaths will recommend of taking 500-1000mg of Vitamin C hourly until you reach bowel tolerance. This is a really nice way of saying when your need to poo becomes a little more urgent. You certainly won’t get a dire rear but you will notice a difference. Another option is to take a booster dose of Zinc as soon as you feel the tingle.

Live manuka honey
Using honey for a sore throat has been time honoured technique to soothe the scratchies and stave off the bugs. All honeys contain an enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide which is a proven antiseptic with antibacterial properties. However in New Zealand we have Active Manuka honey which differs from normal honey because of the additional existence of non-peroxide antibacterial activity (The Unique Manuka Factor) which doesn’t lose it’s potency when exposed to heat and light (which other honey does). Manuka honey is a powerful antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiinflammatory and antiviral. As such it is an excellent first line defence when you get that little tickle which tells you a bug is coming. It also helps soothe a super sore throat. Honey is not recommended for children under 12 months of age as their gut flora is not developed enough to defend against botulinum spores. However infant botulism is very rare with zero reported cases in NZ. The New Zealand recommendation is no honey under 6 months of age. If you wish to know more about botulism risk in NZ this
document is a great read

Salt and turmeric gargle
Turmeric is an ayurvedic remedy and is a strong anti-inflammatory, in addition to this it has antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Applied topically it can instantly soothe a sore throat and kick back any germs which are lingering in the throat. A home made gargle made with 1 tsp of turmeric and 1 tsp of salt to ½ cup of warm water is your best defence once you realise you have been exposed. This can be quite tingly and not particularly tasty, but a gargle done every hour on the hour can stop a throat infection in its tracks. It can also be very soothing on sore throats.

If all else fails and you feel that the lurgy is on the march leaving you defenceless, you can always try my super nutritious chicken soup guaranteed to knock most bugs on their butt.

Sian’s Super Soup

Bake some chicken frames or pieces of chicken in the oven
Saute 2 grated carrots
Add 1 cup red lentils
Add 1 fist full of thyme, more if available
Top up with water - about 3 litres
In a separate pot boil the bones of the chicken (pull the meat off of the chicken pieces first and use in sandwiches or add to the soup just before serving) with a little apple cider vinegar. This helps to draw the minerals out of the bones.
Pour the chicken stock into the soup and simmer for a short while.
Season to taste with Himalayan rock salt
Just before serving stir in at least 3 heads of garlic crushed and a couple of cups of parsley.

This soup is a reprise of the traditional chicken soup with the added punch of the minerals from the chicken bones, allicin from the garlic, antimicrobial properties in the thyme and Vitamin C in the parsley. Thyme is a fabulous remedy for upper respiratory tract infections as it helps move mucous as well as a power anti microbial to fight infection. Thyme inhalations are a great way to fight persistent coughs. If you want the soup to pack a bit of extra punch then you can sprinkle some chili flakes on top or add a pinch of cayenne.


There is no doubt in my mind that prevention is better than cure when it comes to the common cold, however immune systems don’t work if they don’t get a chance to. Becoming obsessed with avoiding colds may do more harm than good. While they may be inconvenient and uncomfortable the common cold can help boost your overall immunity.

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