Cold and flu season comes in waves throughout the year. Around holidays, events and usually when we’re stressed or take some time to relax. At Selph, we want to make healthcare preventative, rather than reactive and part of that is understanding the signs of being run down, before they advance.
For this reason, this blog post is guest written by Selph Naturopath, Sarah Benna Doyle, as she outlines suggestions and her opinion on what to do when we feel a cold coming on and some ways to remain healthier moving forward.
What should we do when we feel a cold coming on?
“First and foremost, rest. I know it’s popular to want to soldier on. Don’t do it. All the pushing doesn’t serve you and it doesn’t serve those around you. The common cold often caused by rhinovirus is the one that makes you sneeze and sniffle and it is highly contagious!
The flu is most often caused by influenza A and B. The flu is associated with more severe symptoms and more potential for serious complications such a pneumonia.
Your symptoms are actually caused by your immune system not by the virus itself. Your body has detected something that doesn’t belong has begun to protect you.
If you have a cold, you may be experiencing:
- Sore throat
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Tiredness/ fatigue
- Poor concentration
The flu will often have more sudden onset with more intensity as well a fever and/or chills.
This is also why you should stay home, whether influenza or rhinovirus, while you’re sneezing and sniffling in attempt for your immune system to deal with this virus, you are spreading it around.
When we have these symptoms we often reach for medication to take our symptoms away and make us feel better- antihistamines, decongestants, cough suppressants, NSAIDs or anti-inflammatories. We are often so quick to treat the symptoms we ignore the cause which is the crux of natural medicine and naturopathy.
Inflammation, heat, pain and swelling in this situation is completely normal and helpful, it is your first line of defence to protect you. You get a fever because a virus cannot survive and replicate at higher temperatures.
The sneezing, sniffling and watery eyes are the release of histamine from your mast cells to fight the virus as well other inflammatory mediators called cytokines and compliment proteins, similar to calling in the Calvary for reinforcement. If we are taking drugs that stop this from happening we are actually stopping our immune system from doing its job. What would be more helpful would be to support your immune system and give it the resources and ammunition it needs to get the job done and rest, this response requires a lot of energy.
Because these are viruses you cannot take antibiotics for treatment. The need for antibiotics actually happens as a complication or a secondary infection from a cold and flu viruses. While your body is busy fighting off the initial infection other ‘opportunistic’ bacteria can join the fight and host a sneak attack.Thats where the pneumonia complication comes in, it is a bacteria, this is also why immune compromised individuals are more at risk if they get the flu.
To recover quickly from a cold or flu without complications you need to have a robust immune system. You develop a robust immune system by providing your body with the building blocks it needs to respond effectively and efficiently, not just when you have a cold but all year round.
It is also perfectly normal for healthy individuals to get a seasonal cold or flu, think about it like a training camp for your immune system!”
Self Care essentials for cold and flu
Netflix and Chill
Rest and more rest! Work from home when you’re not feeling 100% and notice when you may need to take some time off. We’re big believers in a mental health day.
Second to iron, zinc is the most abundant trace mineral in the body and unlike iron it can’t be stored and has to be taken in by food daily. Zinc is crucial for the development and function of our immune system at all levels. Zinc has antiviral activity and acts as an antioxidant to help mitigate the effects of inflammation during a cold. Zinc has lots of other important jobs in the body, it is involved in over 300 body functions. Vegetarians, vegans and those eating a standard Australian diet are at higher risk of deficiency. Zinc supplementation should be under the advice and supervision of a professional because you can take too much.
A note on iron: pathogens use iron to replicate, because of this our body has an inbuilt system to sequester iron and make it unavailable during infection. If you are on iron supplement you may want to contact your healthcare provider to discuss if you should pause supplementation while infected.
It is a water soluble vitamin and is not stored in the body and must be eaten daily in adequate amounts. Vitamin C deficiency is common in Western population with a resurgence of scurvy seen in Australia as a result of low fruit and vegetable intake. This nutrient is a potent antioxidant which accumulates in immune cells and is necessary for the immune system to mount and sustain an adequate response against pathogens while avoiding excessive damage to the host. It comes in and mops up after our immune cells have gone to battle.
Infections impact levels due to enhanced inflammation and metabolic requirements meaning our need increases.
Get your vitamin D levels checked, low vitamin D levels are associated with increased susceptibility to infection, and our levels fluctuate during the year with lowest levels in winter at the height of cold and flu season. You need adequate levels, not just enough. Recent research has discovered there to be vitamin D receptors on almost all immune cells suggesting it has anti-infectious affects and modulates the immune system.
Eat well. This means soups, broths, fruits and vegetables and lots of fluids. Nutrient rich, easy to digest foods will take the pressure off your body systems while providing the essentials to focus on the invading virus.
There are numerous herbal medicines in the naturopath tool box to help support your immune system and manage symptoms. One of my favourites is ArmaForce from BioCeuticals and it has a pregnancy friendly version.
Note: A disclaimer
A cold or flu should be self limiting and you should recover within 7-10 days. You should see your doctor if symptoms persist or increase in severity, this includes if you:
- Have trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Prolonged fever
- Are immune compromised (chronic health condition, elderly or under 5 years of age)
- Become sensitive to light
- Experience neck stiffness
While these tips are helpful suggestions, if you’re experiencing any symptoms, we recommend you make an appointment with your healthcare practitioner.
If you’d like to book in an initial consultation with Selph Naturopath, Sarah Benna Doyle, you can follow this link.