Monday, September 26, 2011

Autumn (aka Cold and Flu Season)

Fall is my favorite season.  I love the way the air feels and smells.  I love the apples and pumpkins.  I love the changing foliage and falling leaves.  I love Thanksgiving.  I love that the sun doesn't come up until after 7am (which means that Owen sleeps a little later in the morning).  But, there's one thing I hate, hate about this time of year.  Everyone's children are sick!

Honestly, it makes me not want to leave the house.  I just want to stay at home with my hand sanitizer and a bottle of lysol, hiding away from all those evil little germs.  But, since this is impractical (and might drive me slowly insane), I've come up with a nutritional defense plan to fight off the germs and keep us all mostly healthy!  Since the season of disease is just starting, I can't yet vouch for its effectiveness, but I can and will keep everyone posted.

Step #1 - Eat Healthy
Okay, so this one is kind of obvious, but it is the first step.  A healthy diet, full of fruits, veggies, grass-fed and free-range meat and eggs and dairy, and fish is going to be your basis for a healthy immune system.  Think of it this way.  Every single cell in your body was created from what you put in your mouth.  Are those white blood cells going to be their strongest if they are made up from potato chips? Probably not.

One of the biggest enemies of your immune system is sugar.  Sugar depresses your immune system.  It keeps it from running on all cylinders.  Avoiding sugar is probably the best single thing you can do to boost your immune system.  This means not just avoiding sweet snacks, but cutting out all white flour products (which your body reacts to just like sugar) and limiting other highly-processed carbs, like potato chips.  This foods are going to slow down your immune system and make it much less effective.  This is mainly because of the effect of insulin on your white cell production, from what I understand.  But, sugar also compromises the flora in your colon and allows bacteria to flourish there.  Which leads me to point number 2.

Step #2 - Load up on Probiotics
Up to 85% of your immunity is in your colon.  Keeping a healthy gut is essential to a healthy immune system (and probably to mental well-being also).  Let me give you a little explanation of the way the gut works.  (Now, I'm no expert, but this is from what I understand.)  Your colon has a lining of healthy bacteria that protects your body from viruses, parasites, and bad bacteria.  Without that healthy bacterial lining, these invaders easily cross from your colon into your blood stream, causing all sorts of problems.  When you eat poorly, have a diet lacking these good bacteria, or are on an antibiotic, your gut flora becomes compromised.  

So, where can you gets these little creatures that your gut needs? Lots of places.  Probably the least beneficial option is through supplements at the health food store.  They usually only have one or two strains you needs, and you'll pay a lot for them (like $30-50 for a month-long supply for just one person).

Yogurt is a fantastic option, but be wary of sweetened yogurt.  Like I said, sugar damages your immune system, so it isn't really helping anything.  You can buy plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with some fruit or fruit juice. My kids like apple sauce mixed into theirs.  Real the labels, however.  Some of the cheaper brands will only contain one strain of bacteria, while others will have as many as five.  Go for the higher number.

Raw milk has probiotics (as does breast milk, which is one reason why infants have a heightened immune system).  

The best option we've found for getting lots of probiotics is kefir.  Now, many of you have never heard of this before.  Let me explain.  Kefir is a probiotic drink made by letting "grains" of probiotics and yeast sit in either milk or water for a period of time.  Milk kefir is much like yogurt, only runnier and less sweet.  I tried making milk kefir and I was a complete failure at it, so I tried my hand at water kefir.  Water kefir is an effervescent (aka fizzy), probiotic drink, made from kefir grains and sugar water.  I'll post longer about this another time, but basically it tastes like homemade soda with a thousand variations and flavors.  It's almost free to make, and it's quite tasty.  Since we started drinking it about a month ago, none of us has been sick.  I'm hoping that's a good sign.  I've read that kefir contains as many as 30 different strains of probiotic bacteria and yeast.  Thirty! You can buy water kefir grains from Cultures for Health and start making it yourself!

Step #3 - Cod Liver Oil
So, our last step in our plan is to take lots of cod liver oil.  We have some chewable cod liver oil tablets that Owen loves.  Evan gets a 1/2 teaspoon of the liquid stuff.  Lots of vitamins A and D.  People have been swearing by the stuff for centuries, and who am I to argue?

Step #4 - Bone Broths
Bone broths are made from cooking bones in water for several hours, allowing the vitamins and nutrients to be released into the water.  Chicken stock, beef stock, and fish stock are all bone broths.  These real stocks cannot be purchased from the store.  The store bought stuff is not real and usually contains MSG.  They aren't hard to make though and are certainly worth the nutritional benefit, which includes calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sulfate, fluoride, collagen, and more! (In fact, ladies, there's even been research that the collagen in bone broths will reduce and remove cellulite! I'm serious! I've read about several people who have tried it successfully.)  Google "bone broth" and you'll be able to find countless recipes.  Use it as stock in soup recipes.  Chicken stock is called "Jewish Penicillin", because of its miraculous effects on fighting off colds and influenza.    

So, we'll see how this works!  Like I said, we've been healthy now for a month, ever since we started drinking the kefir.  That's pretty exciting.  Owen usually stays sick this time of year.  Post about water kefir coming soon!

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