We swim in a soup of bacteria and viruses constantly, they are all around us, ever present – it would be so fascinating to watch them enter us and co-exist with us on a micro level , live in us and mutate with us. Also gross and weird, especially since the human body contains trillions of microorganisms outnumbering human cells by 3 to 1 and viruses are still so little understood.
I can see how panic in the face of an unknown bug is so much a product of our collective human trauma- all of us carry epigenetic memories of our ancestors burying someone dear due to an invisible enemy. Viruses are cool though – when they infect us, they have the ability to embed small chunks of their dna into our cells, changing the genetic code – in fact, 2 papers recently stipulated the Arc gene within us descended from retrovirus ancestors and may had led to consciousness appearing in humans. Viruses are basically genetic parasites that inject genetic code into hosts' cells, hijacking them to satisfy their own purposes — typically, into virus factories. The really successful ones make themselves at home and coexist with the victim in surprising symbiosis, although it's hard to get the warm and fuzzies with pathogens because they can make us so sick.
As a kid, I was always coughing and had a sore throat. Mostly bronchitis, tonsillitis and the like. My parents were young, university educated people, trying to raise 2 kids the best they knew how. We ate a regular middle class Croatian diet, which wasn’t eating junk per say , with plenty of high quality fruit, vegetables and protein ...but it did also involve lots of squishy, soft white bread, homogenized dairy and a plethora of sugar - from delicious homemade jams and preserves to Nutella and all the supermarket sweets I could beg, steal ( I was 8 ok and I learnt my lesson ) and borrow.
When I’d get sick, my parents would pull out natural Croatian remedies ( a rakija alcohol body rub for fever anyone? ) but also take me to the doctor who would inescapably give me a round of antibiotics . Yes, even for probable viruses which most definitely cannot be cured with antibiotics because they only tackle bacteria. Dear reader, I was on antibiotics all the time. My teeth were full of fillings. Eventually, I developed rotten tonsils and had to get them out.
Turning 14 saw me move countries , get depressed and unhealthy because all I did was eat ice cream and cry for a year. After a while I woke up and started to look for ways to move my body and eat well as an experiment for my mental health. Soon I was as a young model living overseas finding that sweet spot between staying fit and healthy because, let’s face it, back then heroin chic was all the rage, so wellbeing wasn’t very important to modelling agents. Much more interested in having regular periods than starving myself, wellness became a focus I have been obsessed with ever since.
When my boyfriend at the time developed skin and health issues, it made me curious about exploring natural remedies and healing modalities in an effort to help him. Yes, I have been caught perousing medical journals at 2 am and totally geeking out. No, I am not a medical practitioner, neither is this medical advice. These are tips that I have amassed in my life, experiments that worked for me and a staple of remedies I rely on when I get sick.
Everybody is different genetically - what works for me, may not work for you so please cross check any recommendation mentioned here with any underlying condition or allergy you may have. A lot of natural substances haven't been researched yet and a lot of them do not have “official” remedy status. Some may not suit your constitution. I'm just a mum who tries to live in the most holistic way possible whilst running a busy work and social life .
These are the plants, supplements, herbs and healing modalities I use to keep myself and my family healthy during cold and flu season . I'm sure so many of these are known to you all ,and I wonder how many more are out there that I know nothing about. ( Please do let me know in the comments if you know any not here listed )
-I gotta say this, even though it should be a given: let's wash our hands well people! And like wash them between the fingers and underneath fingernails , not a slight rinse : ) We unconsciously touch our face 200- 3000 times per day. I do not believe in synthetic anti-bacterial preparations however - most of these strip our skin off all the good bacteria that keep bad bugs in check and create a further imbalance in our bio field. Gentle, non toxic soap coupled with warm water is best. Let's remember, not all germs are bad for us, some are actually trying to help us.
-No shoes in the house - it's not just less germy but so much nicer to have no toxins on the carpet we sometimes lay on .
-Wash sheets and clothes in detergent with a tiny pour of eucalyptus or tea tree oil added to the wash – it helps to kill any leftover bugs and fungus and as a bonus if you forget a load in the washing machine overnight, the essential oils will prevent "the stink".
- Use a natural hand sanitiser made with grain alcohol and essential oils - I buy some in a health food shops when travelling and wipe door knobs and surfaces at home occasionally with natural antibacterial cleaning sprays. Saying this, I don't do this often, just when I am sick or looking after someone sick.
-Stay away from chemical cleaning solutions that kill 99.99% of bacteria, because they kill the good bacteria too. Again - it is the good bacteria in us and around us that keep the bad bacteria at bay. Using things that kill ALL bacteria promotes bad bacteria mutating into superbugs. Cleaning with natural products and essential oils is incredibly efficient, good for the environment and as a bonus, smells delicious too. Which brings me to…
-A jumbo bottle of eucalyptus and tea tree oil is a must in my house - great for diluting and using on wounds and bites , as well as against mould and pathogens. You can also make your own hand sanitiser by combining rubbing alcohol with antibacterial oils. One combo I love is Four Thieves' oil. The fable goes that during the 15th century bubonic plague, four thieves were caught robbing sick and dying victims in their homes but not getting sick themselves. In exchange for sparing their lives, the thieves gave up their secret - by combining clove bud, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus, lemon and rosemary oils together they made a synergetic combination of oils into a uber strong shield. New research supports these pathogen killing superpowers . I buy therapeutic grade so I can add 1 drop to a glass of water and drink it, diffuse it into the air , inhale it over a steaming bowl, as well as dilute some in carrier oil and rub it into the soles of feet. Oregano oil is also a very strong oil I take a little of when I get sick. Please treat oils with the respect they deserve , they are very powerful and can be harmful to small children and pets so do your research well.
-What we eat directly impacts on our health. We would all really like to circumvent this and pretend like it's not true, because boorrrring ammmiright? How good would it be if we had a pill allowing us to eat and drink anything we want? The truth is, no pill can replace a full spectrum rainbow diet of fresh produce - the foods we eat, literally make the cells of our body. We are constantly regenerating cells -new skin every two to four weeks, liver every 150 - 500 days, stomach and intestines every 2-5 days, lungs every 6 weeks, bones every 10 years - an ongoing process of dying , sloughing, creating and building. When cells split in 2 , they need all the right nutrients to do the process correctly - if they do not have the right stuff, they make suboptimal or abnormal cells. The old saying : “ We are what we eat “ isn't just some old wives tale - it is scientific reality.
- One of the biggest western medicine breakthroughs in the last decade was discovering the gut/brain connection and an understanding that the intestine is the seat of immunity. This perhaps clarifies why some people are more susceptible to illness than others – their “garden” (fancyful word for the intestine) is perhaps less rich in beneficial bacteria. This may sound like bad news but it is actually good news because it shows we have some power over shaping our immune system.
-As a "lucky" beneficiary of the heterozygous MTHFR mutation , I try to live an 80/20 lifestyle because I find it directly impacts on my energy. 1 in 2 people have some version of this gene mutation so it’s a pretty common condition. Generally, even though I allow myself cheat exceptions at times, I try to avoid all gluten, most dairy, processed food and sugar because it creates dis-ease in my body - now that I am so much more in tune I can notice dips in health immediately after eating these foods because these molecules are hard for me to methylate. Sure, the prospect of a hot croissant in Paris is never going to be a no in my books, but when it comes with an inflammation and an autoimmune response , imbibing often isn't fun. As far as the immune system goes, it really shouldn’t be attacking itself whilst simultaneously trying to fend off an intruder. It is already trying to quell a cytokine storm caused by a virus so it doesn’t need us putting any more fuel on the fire. When I am sick, I avoid any “treat” and go 100% clean . If I want my immune system to operate optimally, I need to abstain from anything my body may regard as the enemy.
-On a sick day, I'll start my day with 2 large warm glasses with water, lemon and turmeric, followed by maybe congee , or soft boiled eggs . I’ll simmer a large pot of organic chicken soup, with plenty of bones on the chicken ( I like wings and necks best with some liver in there too ) and a little apple cider vinegar ( to leech the minerals from the bones ) for 3 hours , then drain the bones out and add loads of veg, including garlic and ginger . Collagen in chicken soup is so healing to the gut - this is the mainstay of my convalescing diet and I’ll make a lot, freeze half and store the rest in the fridge. Basically, it is a pretty bland diet of soups, veggies and a little meat, long cooked for easy digestion. I don’t really eat red meat when I am sick - it feels heavy when I'm down , and in my personal experience , it makes any illness I contract last longer. I do make an exception for long cooked bone broth soups and always have some lamb or beef bones in my freezer.
-Sugar gets the heave ho in our house when ill, especially processed sugar, but also brown sugar, agave, dried fruits, sweet chocolate, alcohol and white carbs - simple sugars like these feed bad bacteria in the gut, which disrupt the immune system in turn. The only exception I make is for raw honey. Ayurvedic practitioners believe honey should never be heated and now we know honey has it’s own antibacterial properties and has been found to co-regulate the immune system. Sometimes, I’ll chop up a bunch of fresh garlic ( 2 or more cloves per person ) , leave it to sit for 15 minutes to activate enzymes and healing properties , mix it with some honey and spoon feed it to my family ( it definitely keeps vampires from our door! ). Fresh herbs and spices are great in meals because they are so packed with good nutrients. I try to eat warm and light foods and avoid anything too cold or too heavy and oily or anything that is too Yin (cold) energetically - things like too much fruit, ice, juices etc. The only exception is sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented veg because they are so rich in probiotics and important for good health.
- Dairy is a no go when coming down with something as it increases my mucus production but fresh and hot ginger, lemon, honey tea is drunk by a bucketful, as well as chamomile , rosehip and tulsi teas. My mum always sends me marshmellow root tea for my daughter as it is an old country cure for coughs and helps with her asthma.
HYDRATION- Our body is made up of up to 60% water. We need clean, fresh water regularly to function well. In times of illness extra mucus is being produced to expel germs so we need additional water - lukewarm or warm and preferably not in a caffeinated form. Please try to find a good filter for water - one that takes most of the cleaning chemicals out. Water is so important for good health that this investment will pay major dividends down the line.
NETI POT- good for clearing out nasal passages, bad for feeling sexy. Add a small teaspoon of salt to lukewarm water and flush the nasal cavity a few times per day.
SUPPLEMENTS AND HERBS :
-B vitamins get rapidly depleted during times of stress and are needed for a host of immune processes. Anyone with a MTHFR mutation should only have methylated versions as the others are toxic
-Vitamin C is so incredibly powerful in fighting viruses and stocking up on this is a must. I like to buy bio versions of this, so it has co-factors like rutin, and take a lot ( up to 20 grams ) when I am sick. Basically, unless you have got mild diarrhoea, your body hasn’t had enough vitamin C. Last time I had the flu, I was taking 15 grams a day and my body was just gobbling it all up like it was no thang. I prefer citrus fruit though and will often have 2x lemons squeezed in water with honey multiple times per day when sick. I have been known to have 15 lemons a day when sick - make sure you use a straw when drinking lemonade because it can really damage your teeth.
-Vit A is rapidly used up during fevers and illness - it is so necessary to supplement this vitamin when ill - I like to have mine in cod liver oil form ( because I love it when my kid hates me : ) ) - be careful of over supplementation as vit A can be toxic in very high dosages.
-Probiotics strengthen my good bacteria army, which fortifies immunity
-Additionally, I visit my local naturopath and get them to mix me up some immune boosting herbs, usually a mix of AHCC, Echinacea, Elderberry, Astralagus, Andrographis, Olive leaf and Licorice. These herbs are pretty potent, bitter and horrible tasting, but oh my do they work.
- I have also used the Chinese medicine combination called Xuan Bi Tang, a mixture of Stephania and Blue Aractylodes when I have had a major chest infection. These herbs are really powerful , for example Stephania was used to treat Ebola. Check with your Chinese doctor if these are right for you.
A NOTE ON FEVER - People, please stop freaking out every time the body raises a fever! Fever is not a part of illness, it is a very natural way our body deals with killing germs and detoxes itself. Stop fever phobia and concentrate on making the person with a fever comfortable instead by providing plenty of electrolytes. ( a natural electrolyte recipe here because Gatorade, is full of colours and sugar which are a no no ). Lowering a fever can lead to a prolonged illness and should only be lowered if an adult’s temperature runs higher than 40C for a prolonged period , or a child’s over 38.9C for 2 consecutive days. The only exception is babies - if a baby develops a high fever , it must be taken to the emergency department immediately.
CHEST INFECTION – I have many natural chest rubs that utilise pine oils akin to Vicks Vapour Rub that I have used on myself and my child during times of laboured breathing and chest pain. As well as rubbing 4 thieves oil into the chest, mustard packs can also be beneficial.
SUNSHINE - Sunshine is so important. It generates Vit D , modulates our immune system and makes us feel better . The sun in Australia is very strong, but slathering ourselves with most sunscreens won't get us the Vit D we need because it blocks the UV rays necessary for the production of this hormone. When I want to get therapeutic sunshine , I first shower and apply some coconut or olive oil on my skin and then go out in the middle of the day sun for only a very short period of time. Please do not bake and know your skin’s limit, it's not a tanning competition. Cover your face and chest with a hat. Some people will only need 7 minutes in the hot sun, some 15 and some with darker skin longer than this. This is an absorption exercise- we shouldn’t feel too hot and definitely not burn .Vitamin D is an oil soluble vitamin and needs time to absorb into the body – the next time you shower only clean your pits and feet with body gel, so you don’t wash all the goodness away . When there is no sunshine, use Vit D sprays or cod liver oil.
SLEEP AND REST: No, we cannot get better whilst running 1000 miles per hour. The body needs us to stop and recuperate. No vitamin, medicine or magic potion can replace good, solid sleep and rest. If the body says stop, we need to listen and stop.
MIND / BODY CONNECTION AND PLACEBO : Ok, we all know that one person who freaks out whenever there is some virus going around and thinks that they will get sick straight away - and are proven right. Then there are those humans that seemingly walk through life like Lazarus, unperturbed and unsinkable by the trifles of human fragility. We know for a fact that the placebo effect is a real thing .Whilst we grapple with our understanding of the invisible factors around this phenomenon, it doesn’t hurt to apply Louise L Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life positive affirmations , do Whim Hoff breathing techniques or look into Joe Dispenza meditations. New research shows that mindfulness meditation can positively influence epigenetic changes in our body
I also love Dr. Bruce Lipton's work, as in this clip, in which he explains how to never get sick again.
Most of all friends don't panic – it lowers the immune system . I have a feeling there will be enough toilet paper for everyone.
My Empirical Life is not affiliated with any brands or paid to talk about the methods and products mentioned in this article.