The Cold and Flu season, does it really exist?
The answer is yes.
Statistically speaking in the colder months there are many more admissions to hospitals because of the flu or complications from it like secondary infections such as pneumonia.
Doctor’s surgeries are inundated with patients suffering from viral cold infections. We all hear of a ‘bug’ going round, friends coming down with a virus and it knocking them out for days and if we are really unlucky, it gets us too.
On average most of us suffer from 2 to 4 colds a year, mostly in the winter.
The colder months allow these viruses to proliferate because:
1. We have lowered immunity in colder weather – the mucous membranes lining our nasal passage and respiratory tract protect us from virus and bacteria particles that we breathe in. However these membranes dry out when we breathe in cold air or spend a lot of time in heated environments, lowering our protection.
2. We spend more time inside, socialising in close proximity to others, thereby transferring viruses and bacteria’s easier, increasing the probability of catching a cold.
However, there is a mystery about these colds and viruses…….
Why is it that some people don’t seem to get sick?
To answer this question we need to understand more about microbes and our immune system.
The truth about microbes
We are constantly being exposed to microbes in our environment - We are surrounded by microbes of all shapes and sizes. There are bacteria, viruses, fungi and moulds living in our homes, at work, in the garden, on our pets, on our food and drink - everywhere!
We cannot avoid them and we cannot, and should not, try to kill them all - The existence of microbes is a part of life, a part of our entire ecosystem and essential to life on this planet.
They constantly change form - Microbes can evolve and adapt to an environment, and are extremely clever at surviving any attack because they grow and reproduce so rapidly that they literally evolve as they are being attacked.
This is why there needs to be a new flu vaccine every year, because we know the flu virus will evolve into a new strain, for which we have no antibodies. However, there is no way of predicting accurately what the new strain of flu will be in the following year.
Research shows that the efficacy of the flu vaccine is poor. Public Health England’s published data on the effectiveness of the 2017-2018 season flu vaccine shows that the overall effectiveness of the vaccine was only 15%!
We harbour microbes within us - Our human organism has a huge, diverse population of microbes which is estimated at 100 trillion! Most of these play vital roles for our health.
Our body has many non-sterile surfaces and cavities such as the oral cavity (mouth, nose, throat, sinuses), the skin, the lungs and the digestive tract. These areas are our interface to the outside world and the microbes that live in and on us protect us from pathogenic (“bad”) microbes entering our bodies.
Our Microbiome – the key to our health!
The term microbiome is used to describe the ecological community of microbes that share our bodies with us. Our microbiome is the primary defence against pathogens (viruses and bacteria) and the health of our microbiome plays a vital role in maintaining our health.
Bacteria in our digestive tract metabolise certain dietary fibres that our stomach and small intestine cannot digest. These fibres, known as prebiotics, are food for our good bacteria and help them proliferate, colonising large areas of our intestines and crowding out pathogenic (“bad”) bacteria.
The gut microbiome also creates vitamins for us such as folate, vitamin K, biotin and B vitamins such as B1, B2, B5, B6 and B12.
The gut bacteria also assist the immune system by:
producing toxic substances called bacteriocins that act like an antibiotic which kill pathogenic bacteria
producing substances that either switch off inflammatory processes of the immune system or switch them on to signal the need for repair
educating the immune system as to which microbes are friendly and which are harmful
triggering the development and release of white blood cells in the bone marrow in response to an invading pathogen
they maintain the integrity of the tight-junctions in the digestive tract, preventing the contents of the gut entering the blood circulation.
We become susceptible to colds, flus and other infections when this microbiome is out of balance. People who have a well balanced and healthy microbiome full of “good” bacteria are able to guard against invaders like the cold and flu viruses.
This is why some people get sick less often and are able to fight off infections quicker when they do!
How to strengthen your defences and prevent an infection
Gut Health – look after the microbiome in your gut.
Eat plenty of fibre – this will feed the good bacteria and help maintain the health of your colon as a whole. Fibre can be found in whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds and eating as much variety as you can in your weekly diet is important, to get both “soluble” and “insoluble” fibre.
You can also take a fibre supplement, like psyllium husk (but this is not a replacement for fibre from food).
Avoid processed foods – including refined sugars that feed bad bacteria, refined carbohydrates, and other artificial additives that can have an adverse effect on gut bacteria.
Take a good probiotic – you need a probiotic supplement with a wide spectrum of bacteria and with a viable high dose.
Avoid the following, because of their negative effect on your good bacteria:
chlorinated or fluoridated water (can harm the good bacteria in your gut)
non-organic commercially produced meat (may contain antibiotics)
antibacterial soap (kills good bacteria and the bad)
antibiotics, unless required for a bacterial infection (will eradicate large colonies of your good bacteria)
Other ways to protect yourself
How to ease symptoms and shorten an infection
When your body has been invaded then a battle commences. This battle is what produces the symptoms of a cold or flu:
Our defences kick in and will induce a fever in order to kill the pathogens.
Our mucous membranes produce mucous, full of substances that prevent the pathogen from multiplying, or as a result of the pathogens toxin release.
Our lungs will produce mucus as a mechanism to cough up any pathogens.
Our heads will hurt perhaps due to dehydration as our body uses up far more water when fighting an infection.
We may have nausea, vomiting or gas and diarrhoea as a result of the infection or the fight between the good and bad bacteria.
Why do people get affected differently?
Each strain of pathogen will have different modes of infection which is why we may find we have similar symptoms to someone else who is also infected.
Often, however, we are affected in different ways and this variation in symptoms is caused by our own general level of health and disposition. For some of us an infection tends to go “straight to the lungs”, for others it affects appetite and digestion and others are more feverish.
Antibiotics – are they the answer?
Most colds and flus are actually viral infections and cannot be treated by antibiotics.
Broad spectrum antibiotics will destroy and damage your microbiome, making you more susceptible to infection.
More and more bacteria are becoming antibiotic resistant.
Whatever the symptoms or the type of pathogen, it is vital we support the body’s process of fighting it.
Rather than taking over the counter medications that suppress the symptoms that are part of your immune system’s reaction and part of the recovery process, we should use natural means to help our bodies fight the infection.
12 Top Tips for Fighting an Infection Naturally
Avoid sugary and junk food - these can also suppress the immune system.
Vitamin C – this is used up very quickly when you are fighting off an infection and our bodies don’t store it so we need to take it in fairly big doses regularly throughout the day.
Zinc – this has been shown to reduce the length and severity of symptoms through supporting white blood cell activity and production.
Garlic – it has to be raw! It contains a very powerful antibacterial and antiviral natural substance, allicin. Make lots of garlic butter! Eat 2 raw cloves several times a day. Warning – other than the obvious smelly breath you may also get a sensitive stomach and gas. Ease up if it’s too uncomfortable.
Probiotics – take a good broad spectrum, high dose probiotic (link above)
Hydrate – drink lots of water throughout the day; your body needs it to help fight the infection. You can squeeze the juice of a lemon into some warm water for extra vitamin c and the antibacterial/antiviral properties of lemon.
Drink fresh green juice – homemade not manufactured. Here’s a great recipe and how to.
Manuka honey – a powerful antibacterial/antiviral, have it in hot honey, lemon and ginger tea or eat a few teaspoons a day. Make sure you get an authentic true Manuka honey.
Olive Leaf Extract – this is one of the most effective remedies I have taken for any kind of infection. It’s antiviral and antibacterial.
Antioxidant supplement – a good quality antioxidant will supply a variety of antioxidants as vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that support the immune system in fighting off pathogens. This fight produces a lot of free radicals that damage healthy cells.
Rest and sleep – there is no greater medicine. Once you have been infected by a pathogen you have to surrender to it and allow the body to fight. Rest is the only way you can free up the energy for this. However I do recommend short walks, fresh air and sunshine, but wrap up warm!
Epsom salt baths – very restorative for the aching muscles.
Essential oils – there are so many that can help. Menthol ones that open up the passage ways, antibacterial and antiviral ones to inhale and kill of microbes, soothing ones to help you sleep. Here is a link to a menu of them.
There are times when the infection can overwhelm our ability to fight it and this is when we need to seek medical help. Some examples are Sepsis, Kidney infection, or Appendicitis. Generally any infection that generates high fever sustained over a day or longer, and in the case of children always be aware of any signs that a serious infection is at play, as it can overwhelm them very quickly.