It doesn’t happen often, but yes, I get sick too. We all do.
This time it was the perfect storm of causative factors. I went to New Orleans with my family to celebrate my sister’s
21st birthday. (I wasn’t joking when I said I have four siblings 20+ years younger than me.) We had a blast but it was not the healthiest of trips.
First, my favorite style of food in New Orleans is the gumbo and etoufee. However, they are made with a roux, which is wheat flour and butter. I’m intolerant to both of those things but when I’m in NOLA I eat them anyway because they are so delicious. And it was shrimp season, so shrimp and alligator sausage gumbo – yum! I took a bunch of digestive enzymes so I escaped the belly ache but my immune system, which has targeted wheat and dairy products as invaders, was under full attack. Our immune system has choices on what to focus on. While mine was focused on attacking my food sensitivities, the virus-fighting army was ignored. This “shift”, as immunologists call it, can last for 2 weeks.
Second, the alcohol. It was a 21st birthday celebration after all. I drank a cocktail (or few) every night. I usually only drink once a month, maybe. Alcohol is sugar and sugar suppresses the function of virus-fighting immune cells. It blocks the
immune cells from recognizing the virus, interferes with vitamin C’s actions (see below) and causes stress. It also disrupts the microbiome balance in the gut. Probiotics (the good guys) help protect the gut barrier, so viruses don’t get in. They even secrete their own anti-microbial substances to fight off invaders right there in the gut. Plus alcohol taxes the liver, which manufactures proteins, which in turn makes some immune cells.
Third, lack of sleep. We had some late nights seeing music and I never sleep that great in a hotel. I was tired by the end. Lack of sleep decreases immune function faster than it affects well-being, mood and social skills.
Let’s recap. We’ve got an immune system busy fighting allergies, lots sugar from the alcohol, and lack of sleep = me catching a cold. The day after coming home to Boulder I felt icky. So what did I do to fight it off? Naturally I went back to gluten-free, dairy-free as soon as I stepped on the airplane home, as planned, before I even felt sick. I’m ok with cheating for a few days, but I always return to the diet that makes me feel best asap.
My 6 Nutritionist Recommended Remedies for a Cold:
- Get more Sleep. I cancelled evening meetings and rescheduled early morning meetings. I made sure I slept for 10 hours the next 3 nights. Sleep is the time to rest and repair. REM sleep increases fever. Fever is a sign that the immune system is winning the battle. It’s a body-wide response to the virus-fighting chemicals secreted by the immune cells. It speeds up the repair process and increases interferons, special substances secreted by immune cells which stop viral replication.
- Amp up the Vitamin C. I took 1000 mg of vitamin C every hour for 2 days. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and it’s antiviral and antimicrobial. It enhances the immune response and stimulates interferons (see #1). It can also help to decrease inflammation which occurs as my virus-infected cells die off (a result of my immune system’s attack). I skip the Emergen-C because it contains sugar. (Note, vitamin C is dosed “to bowel tolerance”. If you experience loose stool reduce to the amount you’re taking.)
- Kick in Wishgarden’s Kick Ass Immune. This combo of immune activating herbs includes Echinacea which blocks virus replication in cells. I started taking this when I first felt the inkling of a symptom. Then continued to take it multiple times a day for 2-3 days. The sign that you’re taking enough is that you’ll go through an entire bottle in a couple of days. We always keep some on hand. Side note, if you have an autoimmune condition, Echinacea may not be good for you, check with your healthcare professional.
- Guzzle the Throat Coat tea. This cold came with a sore throat so Throat Coat’s blend of slippery elm, licorice and marshmallow was very soothing. My glands swelled a little, but that’s a good sign, here’s why: when a virus invades the captain immune cell takes a piece of the virus to an immune cell council meeting. This meeting takes place in lymph nodes (glands in my throat and other places). At this council meeting immune cells sample the virus to see who has the equipment necessary to fight it. When an immune cell is identified as a match it clones itself into an army, all equipped to fight that virus. The lymph nodes swell up as the army builds. It’s a good sign, they found a match and are creating a highly specialized army to fight that specific virus (and memory cells, see below). This process can take a few days which is why colds and the flu can last up to a week.
- Eat vegetables including bitter greens. We have bitter and sweet taste receptors in our gut, lung, sinuses and brain that influence cell function. The bitter receptors, stimulated by bitter foods, detect harmful bacteria and secrete antimicrobial substances to fight it. Sweet receptors, you guessed – it stimulated by sugar, suppress this action. Bitter foods turn on bitter receptors to help fight infections and sugar turns on sweet receptors while turning off bitter receptors and decreasing the fighting action. Bitter foods include dandelion greens, arugula, tot soi, mustard greens, ginger, collard greens, wasabi, watercress, turnip, radish, and turmeric. I choose Organic Girl Super Greens since they’re pre-washed and ready to go. I ate raw in salads and sautéed since the greens are hearty enough to handle some heat. Plus vegetables contain vitamin C (see #2)
- Eat hot soup. It’s easy to digest, felt good on my throat and the heat broke up sinus congestion. I was a big fan of the chicken vegetable and curry vegetable at Alfalfa’s Louisville. I added extra turmeric since it’s a bitter food and anti-inflammatory.
If you’re building your winter health arsenal I also recommend zinc, vitamin D and mushroom glycans to fight colds.
In a couple of days I felt much better. Plus I was happy knowing that my immune system made memory cells. What does that mean? Each time your immune cells go through the cloning process in your lymph nodes, not only are they creating an army to fight now, they are also creating memory cells of that exact virus. So if I come into contact with it again, my immune cells will already be familiar with it, won’t have to go through the multi-day cloning process, and can attack it right away. I’ll feel no symptoms, if everything else is running smoothly. So next time you get sick, rejoice in that fact that you’re making memory cells and you shouldn’t get sick from that specific virus again.
Disclaimer: Nutrition therapy is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, prescription, or cure for any disease, or as a substitute for medical care. Jen Marshall and Stacy St Germain are not licensed medical providers. Nutrition plans are not intended as a substitution for traditional medical care, nor should be interpreted as medical advice, but instead is an adjunctive and supportive therapy.