Photo credit: jamelah e. via Flickr/BY CC
I felt it last week. That tickle at the back of my throat when I woke up in the morning. Before I knew it I had a full-blown, head-stuffing cold. The kind where you can’t smell or taste anything, and you can’t stop blowing your nose. Yep, that was me.
Four or 5 years ago, I would probably popped a severe cold and flu capsule everyday and night until this passed. Now I take a different more holistic (and kind to my body) approach. And, surprise, instead of being out of commission for several days, I was feeling myself in just a day and a half.
Here’s my routine for when I am feeling under the weather. Hint: a chicken soup recipe is involved.
1. Be Kind to YourselfRather than pushing through and “toughing-it-out” the way I used to do, I accept that I am not going to get everything done on my to-do list. I know this is not always realistic and I struggle with the thought that I am “wasting my day.” But I try to be kind to myself and allow some things to slide. (Hence, this later-than-usual blog for March!)
It is important to let go of stress to allow the body to concentrate all its energy on healing. I avoid strenuous exercise and opt instead for a walk or two if the weather permits. I also make sure I get enough sleep. I take a nap if I need it, and make sure I get to bed at an early hour.
2. Try to Eat WellWhen I'm sick, it is hard to think about eating well too!
Sometimes I feel like indulging in comfort foods; or, sometimes it's just the opposite, I have no appetite at all. But my goal is to feed the body life-giving nutrients to help it heal by eating lighter, healthy foods. Lighter foods such as soups, cooked vegetables, and unprocessed foods are easier for your body to digest. The less energy my body uses to digest food, the more it has to devote to the immune system and getting me back to normal.
It is also good to avoid dairy products, as they cause the body to produce more mucus. This is an easy one for me. I stopped eating dairy years ago due to my allergies. Sugary foods like cakes and cookies are also good to avoid, as sugar tends to weaken our ability to fight off illness by decreasing the number white blood cells that help fight off infection.
When I started avoiding dairy, sugars, and wheat, my sinus infections all but disappeared.
I like to have my freezer stocked with last minute foods, especially for times like these. When I am sick, the last thing I feel like doing is spending time in the kitchen preparing food. Having some backup foods come in handy.
Soups are good for this. Not only are they easy to thaw and heat (instant gratification,) they are easy to digest and a way to get needed nutrition if you have lost your appetite due to your stuffy head.
Many studies have been done that indicate that one soup, chicken soup, really does help fight a cold! Some even suggest that chicken soup may be just as good (or better) than over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.
In one such study conducted in 2000, Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska Medical Center analyzed blood samples from volunteers after consuming chicken soup. The findings showed that after the test subjects consumed chicken soup, the most common type of blood cell involved in the body’s inflammatory response (neutrophils,) were less active. Dr. Rennard surmised that by inhibiting the inflammatory effect of these cells, chicken soup helps reduce upper respiratory congestion and other cold symptoms.
Even if science has yet to definitively prove why chicken soup is good for us, chicken broth with vegetables contains lots of healthy nutrients that your body needs in order to heal. It also helps you stay hydrated and tastes good.
By the way, the study also noted that commercial soups varied in their effectiveness, but don’t worry if you don’t have time (or desire) to make soup from scratch. It's easy to combine ready made ingredients in a pinch. For a quick chicken soup I always have a carton of chicken broth in my pantry. I just heat the stock and simmer with some chopped onion, carrots, and celery. Perched, frozen brands are great for this. For a bit of protein you can add some leftover chicken, or drizzle in a raw beaten egg while the broth is boiling for “egg drop” soup.
You can also check out my recipe for “Grandma’s Chicken Soup” for a quick easy recipe.
If you are feeling more ambitious, you might also try the recipe below “Buffalo Chicken Soup with Ranch Dressing.” This creamy soup is great whether you have a cold or not, but it also has a bit of chili paste that will help to help clear up those nasal passages.
By the way, if you do find yourself cooking for more than yourself (or aren’t able to convince your spouse or a friend to stop by with a prepared meal!) be sure to wash your hands regularly so you aren’t accidently sharing your cold germs with them.
3. Drink UpWater is always critical to help hydrate your cells so they can do their jobs, and is great for flushing toxins from the body. I try to drink as much as possible and shoot for a goal of 8 glasses a day. When I am sick, it is especially soothing to sip on a cup of hot water with a bit of lemon juice and cinnamon. The lemon, spices and steam all assist in loosening up the mucus. You might even try a dash of cayenne pepper instead of the cinnamon.
Bone broth is another good option to sip on throughout the day. You can also simmer some vegetables in it to have a light meal.
Tea is also a great beverage for when you are ill. In addition to keeping you
hydrated, many contain antioxidants that help fight inflammation, and the heat helps loosen congestion. I love varieties such as decaffeinated green tea, peppermint, clove, or licorice teas. Avoid adding sweeteners, but if you are looking for a bit of sweetness in an otherwise dreary day, a spoonful of honey is good.
4. Use a Neti PotI started doing nasal rinses years ago to help relieve those terrible sinus infections I mentioned earlier. Once I got past the gross out factor of pouring liquid into my nose, I began seeing the benefits of this simple procedure almost immediately. When I am sick, I do this as often as needed to clear my nasal passages so I can breath again, sometimes up to 4 times in one day.
I use a squeeze bottle filled with a tepid water solution containing a bit of salt and baking soda. Pharmacies sell single use packets for this. The saline solution helps to rehydrate your nasal passages and sinuses, loosen and clear mucus, and flush out bacteria and germs. In the case of allergies, it also flushes out pollen grains and other allergens so your body doesn’t launch a full out immune response (itching, sneezing, stuffy nose and sinuses.)
5. Take Some Extra Vitamins and SupplementsJust a Note: This is my routine. Everyone is different. As with all supplements, if you are taking any medications, are pregnant or nursing, always consult your physician before taking any herbal supplements. While generally tolerated well, they could interfere with the action of your medication.
I generally take Vitamin C at the first symptom of a cold. I usually take 2000 mg at once and continue to take that everyday until cold symptoms are gone. Vitamin C is water-soluble, so what your body doesn’t use will be excreted. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, taking a higher dose of this powerful antioxidant helps the body deal with the oxidative stress of a cold. He also recommends taking from 200-500 mg daily if you are feeling fine.
Last week, I also stopped by the drug store and picked up some zinc. You can buy zinc lozenges that slowly dissolve in your mouth, but I don’t like the sugar or sweeteners that they contain. Instead I picked up some zinc tablets. Dr. Axe recommends 50-100 mg/day. I took one 30 mg tablet in the morning and one at night until my symptoms subsided. Note: Zinc can interfere with the action of some antibiotics. If you are taking antibiotics or other medications, you should check with your doctor before taking it.
Another go-to supplement that I keep in my medicine cabinet is astragulus. This herbal medicine is an adaptogen that has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Adaptogens are plants that can help our bodies adapt to stress, improve energy levels, and, in this case, help us bounce back more quickly from a cold.
You can drink astragulus as a tea, but I like to use a tincture. Dr. Weil recommends making a tea by boiling three to six grams of dried root (found in Chinese or some health stores) in 12 ounces of water three times a day. A kitchen scale comes in handy here! As a tincture, he recommends using 20 to 60 drops three times a day. I usually add 3 dropperfuls of the liquid into about 4 ounces of water, three times a day for 3 days. After that, I take 3 dropperfuls in the morning for 2 or 3 more days, just to get my system back on track.
Ashwaganda is another adaptogen that helps with stress and boosts the immune system. This shrub’s root and fruit have been used as medicine in India since at least 6,000 B.C., making it one of the oldest known medicinal herbs.1 I usually take one or two capsules (450 mg extract in each) for a few days when I am feeling sick. I will also add them into my daily supplement routine if I am feeling particularly stressed.
6. Essential OilIf I am feeling particularly congested, I use Eucalyptus oil to help clear my nasal passages. Remember Vicks Vaporub that your mom put on your chest when you were a kid? One of its key ingredients is eucalyptus oil (along with camphor and menthol.)
Dr. Axe, a leading expert in the use of essential oils, suggests that “Eucalyptus works as an expectorant and helps cleanse your body of toxins and harmful microorganisms that can make you feel sick.” 2 He suggests placing several drops of the oil in a diffuser in your bedroom before going to bed. Another way to get benefits is to add 10 drops to a bowl of boiling water, place a towel over your head and inhale the steam for a few minutes. The oil works with the steam to loosen mucus and congestion, and quiet a cough.
Well, there you have it! That was my routine for a few days, and believe it or not, I do believe that it helped speed my recovery.
Hopefully, you won’t fall prey to this cold that has been going around, but if you do, I hopeyou try some of these techniques to ensure you are back to your normal energetic self in no time.
I would love to hear what routines you use to heal yourself when you fall ill. Do you have any other suggestions that might help others?
Yours in Health,
Buffalo Chicken Soup with Paleo Ranch Dressing
This recipe is adapted from paleomg.com. I was looking for something to bring to the big game that was fun but healthy! Our team may not have won but this was a hit!
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time :50 mins
2 tablespoons cooking oil such as light olive, coconut, or avocado oil
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
4 medium to large white onions, well chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups cauliflower florets
4 cups chicken bone broth
2 tbsp Thai red curry paste (use more or less depending on how spicy you like your soup)
sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Breast meat from 1 rotisserie chicken, pulled and shredded
chopped green onions, cilantro and/or parsley, for garnish
Paleo Ranch Dressing (I make my own, it's easy! Get recipe here, or try one like Primal Kitchen Avocado Oil Ranch)
1. Heat oil in a dutch oven or other large soup pot. Add onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, and sauté until onions are translucent.
2. Add cauliflower and chicken broth to pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until cauliflower is very soft. Add curry paste, salt and pepper.
3. Using a stick blender, blend contents of pot until smooth and creamy. Add shredded chicken and return to stove. Heat on medium low until chicken is warmed through (about 10 minutes.)
4. Ladle hot soup into individual serving dishes. Swirl in 1-2 tbsp of Ranch Dressing, green onion, and parsley if desired.
Cat nap: Andrew E. Larsen via Flickr/BY CC
Chicken Soup: essgee51 via Flickr/BY CC
Cup of Green tea: ih via Flickr/BY CC
Neti pots: Susan Schroeder via Flickr/BY CC
Oil diffuser: Your Best Digs via Flickr/ BYCC