When we head into the winter months here in Cape Town, chances are that most people you speak to will tell you they have been ‘man down’ with the flu. First, let’s clear up one thing – a runny nose and a sore throat doth not a flu make.
The cold and the flu are different. Granted, flu symptoms often mimic the symptoms of a cold: nasal congestion, cough and fatigue but a cold is a mild respiratory illness that can make you feel bad for a couple of days. The flu however, tends to be more serious. Along with the symptoms of a cold, you can see high temperatures, muscle ache, headache, dehydration, loss of appetite and extreme exhaustion. Most flu symptoms will start to improve in 2 to 5 days but it is not uncommon to feel run down for around 2 weeks.
Research in children shows how long it takes to recover safely:
Cold 15 Days
Cough 25 Days
Sore Throat 7 Days
Ear Ache 8 Days
What’s interesting to notice is that the research says that drugs are not necessary. Antibiotics don’t help viral infections and can cause long-term problems by unbalancing your microbiome, and making you more susceptible to a whole host of health problems as well as weakening your immune system.
It is evident that people tend to get sicker in the winter months rather than the rest of the year, but why?
So, how do you catch a cold or flu? In a butterfly net or fishing net; in a mouse trap?
It’s not genes, germs or bad luck that causes you to catch a cold or flu. It’s our body’s inability to fend off the germ that sees us succumbing to symptoms. Our system becomes compromised first and then an infectious agent takes advantage of that state.
Each year the fear factor is increased, warning people of the impending viruses that naturally circulate the population and reminding them to get their flu shot. Research shows that the flu vaccine saves an average of just 0.04 days off work and said that there was no evidence to support it as a routine public health measure. Even amongst healthcare workers, it did not affect the number of laboratory confirmed flu cases, hospital admissions or deaths in patients.
Symptoms = Health
After eating tainted food, vomiting could be seen as sickness or illness. Another way to look at it is to see it as your body’s innate response trying to purge itself of toxins. It’s not comfortable but it’s smart. In our office we call it an expression of health.
A runny nose, a fever, a cough and even a sore throat are all processes that our bodies use to fight infection. They are indicators to us that our immune system is ramping up and that we would be wise to pay attention. They are expressions of health.
There are many reasons that we tend to ‘express health’ in the winter months:
- Increase sugar intake. In the winter months we tend to reach for comfort foods and drinks which for most people tend to be high in sugar (think about that hot chocolate!). Sugar becomes glucose in your body which can weaken the immune system. Gut health is also linked to immune health and sugar promotes the overgrowth of certain bacteria in your gut and weakens your immune system.
- Lack of sun exposure. In Cape Town, winter is known as ‘The Secret Season’ because between storms we have sunny days. But even though we have our winter sun, we are not exposing ourselves to it. We stay indoors, wrap up in our many layers and wear sunglasses to hide our eyes from the glare. One consequence of this behaviour is a decrease in Vitamin D levels. This powerful chemical (more of a hormone than a vitamin) plays a big role in immunity.
- Less active. We tend to hide away from the cold, wind and rain. Instead of doing our usual outdoor activities, we opt for staying indoors instead and become more sedentary. The lack of movement compromises our ability to fight infection.
Our immune system develops through each interaction with its environment. Everything we expose it to will either strengthen it, or weaken it. Colds and flus allow the body to strengthen itself.
Here are some great tips on how to beat the cold and flu:
- Follow The Philosophy of Food™. These guidelines will help you make better nutrition decisions to naturally improve your resistance. Soups and stews are great ways to up your vegetable intake! While many people become side-tracked by supplements it is important to remember the nutritional fundamentals. You can’t out-supplement a bad diet.
- Supplement smartly. Don’t waste money on the next ‘superfood’, get back to basics and get them sorted first! The main 3 supplements that you require for health and are tough get from wholefood sources are:
- Omega 3 Fish Oils – In most industrialised societies, our balance of omega 3: omega 6 fatty acids in our body is dangerously imbalanced. We tend to have too much omega 6 and too little Omega 3. Fresh food sources of omega 3 are fresh cold water fish and grass-fed meat. Vegetarian sources of omega 3 are not used well in our bodies.
- Probiotics – While our exposure to a vastly reduced number of microorganisms has been useful in some aspects, we may have gone too far. Over sterilising our environment has resulted in us becoming deficient and imbalanced in our exposure to bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. We are taught to fear these but the truth seems to be that we are evolved to live with them and that they should be included in a vitalistic lifestyle.
- Vitamin D3 – Vitamin D deficiency is more common than you think, especially in sunnier climates when we have been taught to cover up from the sun but sensible daily exposure to the sun without the use of sunscreen can help us to make all the Vitamin D we need. It is estimated that nearly 3,000 genes in the body are directly or indirectly regulated by Vitamin D and over 200 diseases are linked to vitamin D deficiency and may respond to vitamin D supplementation.
- Get moving. Movement is a nutrient for your body and one of its effects is to build a strong immune system. Yes winter is colder and we end up inside a lot but, let’s face it, it’s not as exciting being stuck indoors as it is being out in nature. If you have children and have been stuck indoors for whatever reason, you will know this; they need to get outside to run off their excess energy. So, wrap up and get outside!
- Stress. Research has shown that emotional stress has an impact on the immune system. Take some time out of your day to do something that you love; chat with friends, enjoy a meal with family, do a puzzle, play with puppies, Bible study… There are more suggestions on how to reduce stress in our articles ‘Stress – Dance Through The Chaos of Life’ and ‘Simple, Effective Stress Management.’
- Lack of sleep. During sleep your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. Your body not only relies on sleep for growth and development, your immune system also needs it to stay healthy. Check out our article on ‘Sleep and Chiropractic’ for more information.
- Boost your body’s function with Chiropractic care. Your nervous system controls all the systems in your body so a properly functioning nervous system should be a priority during flu season.
There are only four seasons in nature, none of which include a flu season.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev2010;2:CD004876. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004876.pub3/abstract.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev2013;7:CD005187. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD005187.pub4/pdf.
Wassung, Keith. Central Nervous System Control and Coordination of the Thymus & T-cell Function in The Immune System.