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Dealing with a cold or flu isn’t a fun time for anyone, but it can be particularly tricky for those of us with autoimmune disease! In this article, I hope to explain to you why flu season affects those with autoimmunity a little bit differently, as well as give you some tips for getting on the path to recovery if you find yourself sick.
First, a story. When I was a teenager, I would suffer from recurring head colds that lasted all winter. At the sound of my first sniffle, mom would make me what she called a “cocktail”—a few ounces of orange juice with some extra vitamin C and powdered echinacea. For some reason, this drink always made me feel a million times worse than I did before I drank it… I would be hit by incredible brain fog, body aches and absolute lethargy. I never knew why, until recently, when I learned about the effects of immune stimulating herbs. I have an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s, that likely started in my teen years), and echinacea is an immune stimulant. Back then, mom and I used to fight because I didn’t want to take my “cocktail” when I was sick. Now I know better, realizing that some herbal remedies can cause autoimmunity to flare (sorry mom—I know you were trying to do your best!). And yes, these stimulants can affect you whether or not you are sick… see this article for more information about immune stimulants and autoimmune disease.
Another aspect that affects those of us with autoimmunity during cold and flu season is that sometimes recovery from an illness can take far longer. Think about it—our immune systems are already in overdrive. Fighting a virus can aggravate the immune system, sometimes resulting in a flare, or just a prolonged recovery period. Shortly after beginning the Autoimmune Protocol, I got the flu, and I was amazed how much progress I had lost in the month after I had recovered. I have heard this time and time again in the autoimmune community—recovering from a cold or flu can be a major setback.
So, what can you do? The good news, is that by transitioning your diet to the Autoimmune Protocol, you are increasing the nutrients that help strengthen and modulate the immune system. This would be the fat soluble vitamins A and D, as well as minerals such as zinc and selenium. The first year I did AIP I still got sick a couple of times, but in the last two years I have not been sick once. I still have days where I feel like I am “coming down with something”—maybe a scratchy throat in the morning, or feeling a little more tired than usual, but I always use some of these methods, get some rest, and I’m better by the next day. Considering how chronically sick I used to be, this is a true testament to the healing power of nourishing one’s body with these immune-strengthening nutrients over the long-term!
Here are some autoimmune-safe foods and supplements you can consider if you start to notice you are a little under the weather:
- Bone Broth (drink a warm mug with some sea salt, or use in soups and stews)
- Fat Soluble Vitamins A and D (found in FCLO and organ meats like liver)
- Fermented Foods
- Vitamin D (either in supplement form or from responsible sun exposure, if possible during where you live)
- Vitamin C
- Garlic (especially raw)
- Ginger (especially raw)
Here are some remedies and products I like to use in addition to the above, depending on the circumstance:
- Xlear (xylitol nasal spray that helps break up biofilm in the nasal passages)
- Ginger steam (heat a pot of water with some sliced ginger in it; transfer to table and breathe in steam, covering your head with a towel)
- Ginger juice/tea (juice a bunch of ginger and add a teaspoon to your tea or soup; alternately you can infuse some ginger slices in water)
- Salt (you can use a salt water gargle for a sore throat, or use some salt water in a neti-pot for nasal irrigation)
- Non-Immune Stimulating Herbal Teas (chammomile, mint)
In addition to the above, some lifestyle factors that are very important for recovery:
- Rest! Above all else, your body needs you to slow down when you are sick. The immune system does not function when we are in fight-or flight mode.
- Sleep. Make sure to get the maximum amount of sleep you can until you start to feel well again. In the week or two following an illness, continue to prioritize sleep in order to reduce chances of going into a flare.
- Lymphatic Massage. This is great for drainage in the ears and sinuses. I like this self-massage on YouTube.
- Movement. Don’t over-exercise or force yourself to work out when you are sick. Exercise is an added stress to the body, and doing too much too soon will hinder your recovery. That being said, it is important to move gently as soon as you are able, getting outside for some fresh air, maybe a short walk every day is ideal.
Ingredients to avoid or suspect (unless you have experimented and know you tolerate well):
- Medicinal Mushrooms (shiitake, matikake, reishi)
- Grapefruit Seed Extract
- Green Tea
Last but not least, the best remedy for colds and flus is preventing them in the first place! Eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that includes fish, shellfish, organ meats, and fruits and vegetables of every color to ensure you are getting ample vitamins and minerals. Don’t overdo things; give your body rest when it asks for it and make sure you are getting quality sleep.
What is your best cold and flu remedy? Have you had a similar experience as I have with either immune-stimulating herbs or in taking a long time to recover?