Stay Healthy: Getting through cold and flu season

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Top 5 tips to staying healthy this cold and flu season

It’s Fall! Pumpkins spice is everywhere! Stylish boots are back! Allergies are gone! Amazing!

It’s also time for recirculated air in offices, and for kids to return to the virus incubation factories knowns as “schools”, from which they lovingly bring home beautiful, mucusy, body-ache inducing gifts from the classroom – rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza, and rotovirus! Otherwise known as: cold and flu.

Yes, that’s right. It’s cold and flu season. Batten down the hatches, get a Costco-sized stockpile of tissues and load up on the hand santizer. Right?

Maybe.

Or, you can take action, now, before you and your family get sick. Boost that immunity and aim to stay healthy this year!

Here are the top 5 things you can do to stay un-sick:

1. Wash. Your. Hands.

Frequent hand washing is STILL one of the best ways to keep yourself from catching a bug. So, here’s your reminder to practice proper hand washing technique. Frequently. Just got home with the groceries? Wash your hands before putting all that food away. Having lunch in the staff room at work? Wash before and after eating. Been typing up that report for the last 2 hours? First of all, take a break. But also, wash your hands! (Your keyboard is probably filthy!)

Also, pick up a (natural) hand cream, and apply after washing. This will help to keep the skin hydrated and intact (read: protective immune barrier) through the cold, dry, wintery months.

2. Sleep.

I know. Another shocker. But if you’re sleeping well, and enough, LITERALLY everything in your body works better. Including your immune system. Science tells us that if you don’t get enough shut-eye, you’re more likely to get sick. Simple as that. So get to bed. The usual 8 hours of sleep is a pretty good place to start! You may need less, you may need more – especially if you’ve been on the go for a while, and maybe not taking as much down-time as you could (should) be.

Here are some quick tips for good sleep:

  • Make sure your room is dark – like, can’t see you hand in front of your face, dark.
  • Keep it cool – we sleep better in slightly cooler environments
  • Don’t binge Netflix before bed – light emitted from screens (all screens, not just the ones with Netflix, for clarity) decreases your brain’s production of melatonin, the neurotransmitter that tells your body “it’s nighttime, go to sleep”
  • Get a routine going – keep a regular bedtime, and do the same things for about the same half hour before you try to pack it in for the day (wash your face, brush your teeth, put on those footy Pikachu ‘jammies you love). Just like your laptop’s mysterious processes behind that “shutting down, please do not turn off or unplug your computer”, this routine gets your mind and body ready to shut down.

3. Eat good food.

It’s true! Surprisingly, what you eat can have an impact on your health! (heavy sarcasm.) But yes, even in the relatively short term of seasonal immunity, your diet can affect your health. So, here’s even more convincing evidence to eat your veggies, get a rainbow of colours (with a heavy smattering of green!), adequate protein and fat, and take it easy on the sugar. Ensuring good dietary intake of things like zinc, vitamin C and magnesium make for happy immunity!

Oh, and make sure to include garlic too – the more the merrier, and raw if you can tolerate it. Garlic is a natural anti-microbial, and helps to raise levels of natural killer (NK) cells. Low levels of these cells are associated with decreased ability to defend against disease. So, eat your garlic and fend off bad bugs, and another scourge of October – vampires!

4. Exercise.

Even though fall is usually the beginning of hibernation season, it’s still important to stay at least somewhat active, especially for supporting healthy immunity. When you work out, you increase blood flow around the body. This means that if you have any immune action going down (early stages of fighting a bug, for example) it increases the exposure to your total immune system, increasing your response, and fighting it off faster. Exercise also SLIGHTLY elevates our cortisol (stress hormone) to a nice, physiological level. And this can help us to keep some our immunological biochemistry nicely balanced, towards fighting off infection, rather than hosting it. BUT! Keep it light (to moderate) since heavy bouts of intense physical activity can depress the immune system.

5. Get out there and have fun.

You’ve heard that laughter is the best medicine? Well, science agrees.  Laughter – especially the really good, gut busting, “my face hurts” kind – increases your levels of natural killer cells. So, give yourself a couple minutes to watch those funny cat videos you deny you love! Or, better yet, get some face time! Social interaction also contributes to a healthy immune function. So, instead of just hibernating and staring longingly out your window alone this fall, invite a friend over to join you! Maybe they have cat videos you don’t even know about, and they could help prevent a miserable week of the sniffles!

TL; DR. (Summary)

Wash your hands, get enough sleep, eat a good diet rich in vitamins and minerals, stay moderately physically active, and watch cat videos with a friend.

Hopefully these tips help to keep you healthy and sniffle-free this season! If you’d like even more support in keeping your immune system in fighting shape, book an appointment for a thorough assessment of the factors that may be keeping you under the weather, and help on how to feel better!

How to: Let your food be your medicine

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Diet

Dietary recommendations are complicated things. There’s really no one diet that will work for everyone. Which is why my answer to the question of “what should I eat?” is the ever frustrating (but typical naturopathic) phrase: “it depends.” It really does. Do you have arthritis or inflammation? Do you have a leaky gut? Do you have an autoimmune condition? Hormonal imbalance? Are you pregnant? Breastfeeding? All of these things have a massive impact on the specific foods that may help you feel better or make you feels worse. Everyone is so unique in their dietary needs and tolerances that it’s truly impossible to supply specific dietary advice that will feel good for everyone. However, let’s talk advice and recommendations anyways! Because even though the specifics of diet can be complicated and highly individual, there are some general ideas that mostly everyone can feel better doing.

Here are general recommendations, ways of approaching the diet and your food, which are supportive of a healthful way of eating. So, here it is: what to eat and how to eat it.

What to eat:

 “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Michael Pollan, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”

  1. Keep it simple. Eat FOOD. REAL food. Avoid food-like substances. Choose things that came from the ground, off of a tree or plant, or used to be an animal (if you eat meat)
  2. Avoid things your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food (Yogurt tubes? Bits of high-fuctose corn syrup with food colouring in the shapes of fruits?)
  3. Avoid long lists of ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce, or lists of ingredients at all (Brussels sprouts don’t have labels)
  4. Be a fringe-shopper – stick to the perimeter of the grocery store (don’t even walk past the brightly coloured packaging and health claims on boxes that you find in the aisles of the grocery store)
  5. Avoid anything that won’t eventually rot (I’m looking at you, packaged snack cakes…)

How to eat:

  1. Eat in a calm and relaxed environment, and take time to participate in your meal; eat, don’t “feed”
  2. Chew your food. If you don’t have time to thoroughly chew, see the previous point.
  3. When eating, focus on eating. Avoid eating while watching TV, reading, driving, or working. Socialize, but avoid intense interactions while eating.
  4. Time of day is important – try to eat your morning meal within an hour of waking, and avoid eating late at night.
  5. Don’t overeat. Eat until you feel about 80% full, then stop eating. Wait for 10-15 minutes to see if you’re still hungry – it takes some time for the brain to realize that the stomach is full.
  6. Eat food to nourish yourself – maybe that means salads and lean protein to get your fuel for energy, but it might also mean peanut butter toast because you had a bad day and want something comforting, or a cupcake because you’re participating in a birthday celebration and you’re enjoying the heck out of it. We as humans are more than mechanical nutrient extractors, and the parts of ourselves that aren’t the physical body need nourishment too.

References: 

Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

Introduction to Nightshades – is that vegetable a pain?

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What are nightshades?

Nightshades are a family of vegetables, technically referred to as Solanaceae. Some of the more common members of the nightshade family include: zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers (all of them, including chilies, and spices like paprika, however, not black pepper – that’s in a different plant family), and potatoes (but not sweet potatoes). There are also a few toxic plants, light Belladonna (aka Deadly Nightshade) but, you should be avoiding those anyway.

So, what’s the big deal?

In short: alkaloids. In order to defend themselves against bugs in nature, these plants produce bug-killing molecules called “alkaloids”. Most of the time, this is not a problem for humans. But, it can become a problem if the human has an auto-immune condition (like rheumatoid arthritis or some types of hypothyroidism, for example). It can also become a problem for some people if their gut is not in the best shape, since the bug killing alkaloids may be able to kill some of the helpful bacteria that live in your gut. So, if your gut is already “off”, this might push it even farther from a state of balance. In the other cases, it may cause symptoms of the auto-immune disease to worsen, leading to flare-ups.

How do I stop that from happening?

One way to do it is to eliminate them from the diet altogether. For some people, this works, but for others, a future without potatoes or chili is too dire to imagine. What can be done in these cases is a temporary elimination of nightshades, more than likely alongside a few other inflammatory foods as well. During the time you’re taking a break from those foods, it’s a good idea to work on healing the gut, and make sure there is a good amount of helpful bacteria stationed there. Then, you can methodically reintroduce the nightshades one at a time and see if you react (with a worsening of symptoms). You may react to some, or none at all, or you may find that you can tolerate a smaller amount without aggravating your symptoms.

If you think you might have a problem with nightshades, or other dietary triggers, you can book a visit with Dr. Kelly.