Winter is finally here, and with it comes the notion that ‘we will get coughs, colds.. and even the ‘flu’. Frequently tagged the ‘Flu season’, its like we have this belief that just because its colder, we are doomed to all fall ill.
Today I want to talk about the ideas surrounding this, as well as the factors (from a Naturopathic perspective) which should be addressed in order to minimise your family’s chances of succumbing to any of the viral nasties throughout the Winter months.
Firstly, id like to point out that our immune systems are like muscles- in order to get stronger, they need to be tested and ‘trained’ in order to adapt; The child that goes to daycare and picks up frequent little colds, will almost always be more resistant to a harsher virus, than the child who was kept at home ‘to avoid getting sick at daycare’.
We have evolved over thousands of years with our own lines of defence, and it is sad to say that just about every one of these defences are viewed as ‘symptoms of a cold’ by Western Medicine, and each of the them have had drugs designed to alleviate these symptoms:
Fever: Most of you will be aware of this by now, but fevers are designed to raise the body’s core temperature in an attempt to kill a viral infection. It is a natural response, and reducing it at the first sign with medication is counterproductive to healing. The actual temperature of a fever is not as relevant as the speed at which it gets there, or how long it remains high for.
Runny Nose: Our body produces mucous as a protective barrier for the mucous membranes. This will happen in the presence of an allergen, irritant or virus. Medications which dry this up (like antihistamines or ephedrine based drugs), are only addressing a symptom- not getting to the cause. My suggestion is to use these sparingly, if at all, and to keep them to night time only so that a good sleep is not hindered by a blocked or runny nose.
Coughing: Much like the runny nose, coughing is usually a sign that there is mucous in the lungs which the body is trying to expel. A ‘wet or productive cough’ is one that sounds like its trying to shift something, or even one that allows you to cough up white/yellow/green mucous. This is something which should be ENCOURAGED. Cough suppressants are not recommended at all, even at night time. The body needs to expel this mucous, because its spent all this time trying to build its as a barrier to encapsulate a virus or infection, and now it is trying to get it up and out.
I once met an elderly herbalist from London. He told me that he used to give all asthmatic kids herbs that would make them cough so hard, they vomited! and guess what? It cleared their chests.. ! This isn’t something I would do myself in practice, but I wanted to outline the fact that in our society today, we are so used to suppressing our body’s symptoms that any treatment like that would be deemed Ludacris. Sad really.
Dry cough: On the note of a dry sounding, raspy cough (one that is not productive)- this is not one that necessarily needs to be encouraged, but rather soothed and calmed down.. If you can not tell the difference between this and a wet/productive cough, please seek the help of a practitioner for the best advice.
So lets look at why we might be more susceptible to viruses and infections which cause these symptoms over Winter.
We are less active: Our immune system is designed to clear toxins with movement and exercise. Our lymphatic systems relies on the movement of our muscles to push our white blood cells and toxins around our body to various drainage points. By staying active through our traditional ‘hibernation period’, we are helping our immunity remain higher than if we stay sedentary.
Our lungs are also an elimination point (as mentioned above regarding coughing). Keeping active and fit helps to keep our lung function up, and prevents mucous from sitting in them and festering into an infection.
Its darker: Yes.. well that’s obvious, but the lack of sunlight in Melbourne Winter is a definite reason for less vitamin D. Vitamin D is one of our main immune boosting vitamins, and when body levels drop, inflammation can rise. (not to mention mental health issues related to low vitamin D).
We eat less fresh produce: Yes. Obvious I know, but with this comes lower dietary levels of vitamin C and the bioflavonoids- all amazing immune boosters.
We eat a lot of mucous- producing foods: Dairy, wheat, soy, bananas- and anything that you personally may be allergic to! Off the back of what I mentioned above, this mucous becomes a perfect breeding ground for viral and bacterial infections. Reduce these foods over Winter to help prevent infections.
Overall, I want to make it clear that our defences are already there and need to be encouraged, not supressed!.. and at the risk of sounding like a cliché naturopath, prevention is the worlds best cure!! So if you or your family do manage to come down with something this Winter, please try to remember that your body is doing the best it can to rid itself of this, so help it along with remedies that encourage and strengthen these ‘symptoms’ NOT supress them.
Stay tuned, I will find an old post from last year with some of my favourite home and herbal remedies which can be used to strengthen your defences. 🙂