Our immune systems are amazing and capable of handling so much more than we give them credit for.  But, our amazing immune systems must have the right environments in which to thrive and be the rock star that kicks bacteria and viruses to the curb.  Cold and flu season has been especially harsh in the last couple years.  We are all susceptible to viruses this time of year, whether young or old and anywhere in between, with the changing of the seasons and kids in school.

I make up a Family Survival Kit every year that includes preventative measures, products to treat symptoms that arise from colds and flu, as well as other seasonal illnesses.

As with all health information, I encourage you to do your own research and consult your family physician or a naturopath before starting any new health regimen.

Herbs to Include in Your Families Winter Survival Kit-

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is the only vitamin our bodies do not produce, so this one is especially important during seasons when our immune systems are challenged.  It’s also one of the nutrients that your immune system needs in order to function properly.  Look for an option that contains bioflavonoids (plant based anti-oxidants) for optimal effect.  It’s the bioflavonoids inside the plant that make it work.    

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We’ve all been told to drink orange juice when you have a cold, but sadly orange juice does not contain enough Vitamin C.  White blood cells need about 50 times the amount of Vitamin C that they normally would, just to be able to get rid of viruses and bacteria.  Luckily, Vitamin C is found in gummy form for the kids and hubbies who prefer them.  I have also found it online in a liquid form.

Echinacea

This immune powerhouse is available in a variety of forms, including tea, liquid herb, capsules, and tinctures.  Extracts of echinacea do seem to have an effect on the immune system, your body’s defense against germs.  Research shows it increases the number of white blood cells, which fight infections.  It is not meant to be taken for long periods of time, as it has an affinity for over-stimulating the immune system.  Taken for the duration of a cold or the flu has proven effective in reducing both the symptoms and length of illness.

Scientists from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy reviewed over a dozen studies on the effects of echinacea on people’s risk of catching a cold.  They concluded that echinacea could reduce a person’s chances of catching a cold by approximately 58 percent.  They also found that the herbal remedy can reduce the length of time a cold can last by 1.4 days.  Source-Medical News Today.

Marshmallow Root

Well-known throughout the ancient Egyptian, Arab, Greek, and Roman cultures, this herb has been used continually for at least 2,000 years.  In traditional folk practices, it was given to soothe and moisten mucous membranes of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts, and also as an external poultice.  This plant has been used in beverages, desserts, candies, cosmetic creams, and was the “root” of the original marshmallow confectionery.  Amazing right!?

A 2005 study found that an herbal cough syrup containing marshmallow root was effective in relieving coughs due to colds, bronchitis, or respiratory tract diseases with formation of mucus.  The active ingredient of the syrup was dry ivy leaf extract.  It also contained thyme and aniseed.  (Source- Karger.com) Within 12 days, all 62 participants experienced an 86 to 90 percent improvement in symptoms.  Further studies are needed to validate these findings.

Marshmallow root appears to act as an enzyme to loosen mucous and inhibit bacteria.  Lozenges containing marshmallow root extract help dry coughs and an irritated throat.

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry syrup can include ginger, cinnamon, clove, and raw honey for added germ-fighting power and protection.  Ginger has been used for centuries to relieve sore throats, alleviate congestion, soothe upset stomachs, and to promote sweating to eliminate toxins in the body.  Elderberry syrup is an age-old elixir that has been used for thousands of years for both treating and preventing the illnesses that commonly accompany the cold weather:  coughs, colds, and a mild case of flu.

I order mine online, but most health food stores carry it, especially during cold and flu season.

Slippery Elm and Zinc Lozenges

Zinc is a very common deficiency worldwide.  I get lozenges with zinc and elderberry in it and can be found in most health food stores.  They have a mild taste, so even my kids will suck on them when needed. (Note -see label for dosage instructions. Dosages are different for children, so read carefully) 

Zinc can also be found in pill form as a supplement.  We have a tin of Slippery Elm lozenges in my winter arsenal and eases that tickle in our throats and a cough.  If you can’t find them at your local health food store, check online.  For those history buffs like me, listen to this.  Native Americans would wrap the inner bark of the slippery elm around their meat to keep the meat from going bad.  The bark was later used by American soldiers to heal gunshot wounds during the American Revolution.  I just love the history of herbs!

Megan’s Top Ten Ways to Boost Immune Health

1. Give Bone Broth a Try

The benefits of drinking and cooking with organic bone broth have far-reaching effects on the immune system.  The natural gelatin, collagen, and amino acids tend to the gut, improve wound healing, and help support the health of individual immune cells such as lymphocytes.  (Source-Heather Moday, M.D.) Turns out, Grandma was right about eating that Chicken Noodle Soup after all!

2. Harness the Power of the Sun

Studies show about a quarter of the population are Vitamin D deficient. (Source-CDC)   During winter in Wyoming, with less time spent outdoors in the sunshine, this is a good vitamin to add to your daily routine.  Vitamin D not only helps with immune system function, but also has an effect on depression and energy levels, as well as hormones in the body.  Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased frequency of infection as well as auto-immune disease.

3. Daily Dose of Multivitamins

The foundation of a good multivitamin is a way to offset deficiencies created in the body, often by lifestyle, stress, and eating habits.  Multivitamins assist my littles’ growing bodies, which are especially taxed during those growth spurts.   Multivitamins help support the bones and teeth, not to mention the vitamin and mineral stores that are depleted during heavy growing periods.  I can’t stress the importance of doing your own research enough, as not all companies offer the same quality multivitamin.

Ingredient source is very important when choosing a company.  Get to know how and where they source their herbs from, how they harvest them, and their testing practices. This goes for all herbal supplements across the board.

4. Get Out There & Hustle

Aerobic exercise stimulates the lymphatic system, which, in turn, revs up the immune system and keeps things flowing.  It helps increase your body’s natural virus-killing cells.  Exercise also has many other health benefits for the body including maintaining a healthy weight, cardiovascular benefits, and natural mood boosting abilities.  Don’t overdo it though, overstraining during exercise can actually have the opposite effect, increasing your chances of getting sick.

5. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Washing Your Hands

As soon as the kiddos get home from school, I send them straight to the bathroom to wash their hands with soap and water.  A good rule of thumb is to have your children sing the Alphabet song while washing to make sure they are washing long enough to be effective.  This is especially important during cold and flu season.  I also wash their backpacks and lunch boxes regularly, as they come in contact with germs every day.  Our kids leave their shoes by the door, too.  This reduces the transfer of germs to the carpet we lay around and play on.

Staying home when sick is also very important in preventing the spread of the illness to others at work and school.  The statistics speak for themselves, and are provided to us through the CDC (Center for Disease Control) website.  Check it out!  Even I was surprised by how high the percentage of reduced illness from handwashing really is.

6. Drink Plenty of Fluids

Dehydration can occur at any time of the year, not just summer.  It is crucial to the immune system as our bodies are made of 60 percent of water, on average.  Coffee and pop drinkers especially can become dehydrated because caffeine has a naturally dehydrating effect on the body.  The rule of thumb is to drink one glass of water for every cup of coffee to offset the dehydrating effects of caffeine.  Illness also depletes our bodies of water. Children and the elderly are most susceptible to losing minerals and vitamins.

7. Cut Down on Sugar

I know this is especially excruciating during the holidays, but it really has made a big difference for my family’s health and our dentist bill, too. Cutting out high amounts of sugar has multi-level benefits including a shrinking waistline, not to mention staving off pre-diabetes, headaches, and depression.  For as long as 4 to 6 hours after eating sugar, our immune system is still in recovery mode.  For me, it was easier to ease my way out by first cutting back and then gradually cutting all sugars, except for natural sugars.

It’s estimated that a blood sugar level of 120 reduces your immune system by up to 75%!

8. High-Quality Probiotics Help Gut Health

Probiotics are live bacteria, or yeasts, found in fermented foods or supplements that, when consumed, take residence in the gut and improve health.  Gut health is the number one place to start to get on track for a healthy New Year.  Getting your gut bacteria healthy is one of the most important things you can do to get and stay healthy.  If your bacteria are sick, so are you!  Your gut wall houses 70 -80 percent of the cells that make up your immune system.

The immune system depends on our gut health to aide elimination and make sure toxins don’t loiter around in the body too long and cause problems.  Look for a probiotic containing at least 30 to 50 billion colonies and at least eight strains of bacteria.  Changing up the type of probiotic is important over time so your body is introduced to as many different strains of good bacteria as possible.

70-80% of your immune system is in your microbiome, your body’s bacteria, which help your body with just about every process, including helping you to digest your food, think clearly and even maintain a healthy weight.  Source-Christiane Northrup, M.D.

9. Find Time to De-stress & Get Enough Rest

Research shows that prolonged periods of stress can impair your gut bacteria and make you susceptible to infection.  Getting enough sleep is also so very important.  A lack of zzzz’s is actually harmful to your body’s immune system.  Studies show getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night has multiple health benefits from hormone balance to weight loss and even improved memory.

I am still working on trying to get the recommended amount of sleep, by the way.  At times, it can seem nearly impossible with long work hours and small children in the home.  I’ve found that it helps to stick to a pretty strict bedtime routine.  That way, I can make sure everyone is in bed and asleep in a timely manner, getting all the rest they need to be as healthy as possible.  And, the rule in my house is no screen time before bed.  Recent research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) suggests that the use of light-emitting electronic devices–tablets, e-readers, smart phones, TVs, and laptops–in the hours before bedtime can negatively impact one’s overall health, alertness, as well as the circadian clock, which synchronizes the daily rhythm of sleep to external environmental cues.

German psychologist and pioneer of humor therapy Dr Michael Titze points out that studies have found that children can laugh up to 300-400 times a day, but by the time they’re adults it reduces to less than 15 times a day, if at all.  Herbal teas are a great way to de-stress and unwind at the end of a chilly day.

10. Herbal Tea

Herbal teas are a great way to de-stress at the end of a blustery winter day, or perk up during a dreary afternoon at the office.  I have a special fondness for the Republic of Tea Dandelion and Vanilla tea, which supports the liver.  The Traditional Medicinals Wellness Teas brand has many great herbal teas including, Throat Coat, for when the kiddos get that sore throat during the school week.  The Feel Better Blend by Art of Tea is also a really good one to have on hand.  It features a blend that uses traditional Ayurvedic and Western herbs and botanicals that help rebuild wellness from within.  My kiddos even like to drink it!

So, fear not if the sniffles catch you or your family off-guard this season.  Stock up on the items your family needs ahead of time, so you have them on-hand when the time comes. Be proactive about your family’s health and plan ahead for options to utilize before having to make that call to the Dr.’s office.  Preventative health practices will save you time and money in the long run.

Winter in Wyoming can seem to last forever.  I set aside those months to learn a new skill, read a new book series, or take a new class.  I make it a point just to get out of the house and be around other people.  You might be surprised to know that laughing and having fun can also have an immense and positive impact upon your immune health and your perspective.     

By: Megan K. Huber for  82717
Photos by Megan K. Huber

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