Food as medicine · Natural remedies · Pregnancy · Uncategorized

Pregnancy Safe Cold/Flu Prevention

Hey there! It’s been a while (again). August was pretty busy on the personal level, but look what we did!

We are now the proud owners of a 23 acre farm! This is a brand new adventure for us. Up to this point, the closest we’ve been to self sufficiency was growing some of our own vegetables. Now we are so dedicated and determined to be as close to our food source as possible, so we will be raising them ourselves! We don’t have any animals just yet but first on the list will likely be chickens. Super excited!

So anyway…

September is upon us! What does this mean? Well for us, it means that school is back in session. It also means fall, and that cold and flu season is right around the corner. Of course one could argue that cold and flu is not just one season, but for all intents and purposes, let’s just agree that we are talking about fall and winter when temps drop and people are much more prone to falling ill. Thankfully, there are ways to support your immune system and reduce your chances of catching a virus (common cold is a virus too) even if you are exposed.

Get plenty of these

Vitamin D – This vitamin plays a huge role in many areas of our health, immunity included. Vitamin D’s role in the immune system is to literally strengthen it. Amy Myers, MD says, “Vitamin D turns on key peptides in your immune system that trigger a strong anti-microbial response, allowing you to quickly and effectively fight off invaders before they can develop into a full-blown infection.” This sounds pretty important to me when it comes to warding off illnesses. The best way to stock up on vitamin D is with sun exposure without sunscreen, preferably mid day when your shadow is shortest. Depending on your location, fall and winter may not be an easy time to snag vitamin D from the sun, so it’s ideal to really build up your vitamin D stores in the spring and summer. Foods with vitamin D would be optimal, such as cod liver oil, sardines, salmon, and eggs. Vitamin D needs to be in balance with vitamins A and K, so leaning on foods for these vitamins is best. If supplementation is necessary, be sure it is vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), and ideally it’d be a combination supplement with vitamins A and K.

Healthy fats – I feel like I mention the importance of consuming enough healthy fats on pretty much every post. No different here when talking about immunity. Here’s why: every one of our cells is housed in fat. Literally. The cell membrane is made of a phospholipid bilayer. The lipid part of that word means fat. So the fats we consume, aka the fats we provide our cells with for use, is what will make up the cell membranes. If we consume damaged fats or not enough healthy fats, the integrity of the membranes will be compromised. They will be weak and flabby. These kinds of membranes don’t do a great job at keeping viruses out of our cells, and when viruses cross the cell membrane, that’s when we get sick. So load up on healthy fats like butter, coconut oil, and whole fat dairy (if tolerated) to ensure healthy cell membranes. Fun fact: saturated fats make up 55-65% of the cell membrane’s structure. Just one more reason NOT to fear healthy saturated fat.

Water – Water is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the American population, yet it is one of the most important. We can live for weeks without food, but only days without water. One of the big roles of water is keeping things flowing in the body, like lymph. The lymph system helps flush out toxins and other unwanted materials from the body. There is no pump mechanism for the lymph system so water is vital to make sure it is able to flow properly. Aim for half your body weight in ounces of water. So if you’re 150 lbs, aim for 75 ounces of water daily. If you typically drink far less than that, increase your daily amounts slowly to allow your body time to get acclimated and you don’t end up running to the bathroom every 20 minutes. Don’t forget, it’s important to remain hydrated throughout the winter too when the air is dry!

Vitamin C – This is a pretty well-known immune booster. However, I think most people just run to the drug store for vitamin C which is most likely ascorbic acid. Unfortunately this is not a great source of vitamin C. I love how Radiant Life Catalog describes the problem with ascorbic acid, with it being like shopping for a car but settling on just a steering wheel. Ascorbic acid is just one part of vitamin C, but not the whole picture. There are several different kinds of cells that make up the immune system and many of them depend on the presence of vitamin C in order to carry out their tasks. Foods with vitamin C include bell peppers, citrus fruits, strawberries, and broccoli. A whole food supplement can also be helpful. Two excellent sources for this are the powder or capsule by Pure Radiance, or the capsule by Garden of Life. They are both whole food vitamin C, and not simply ascorbic acid. You can read more about ascorbic acid from The Health Home Economist here.

Probiotics – The gut is about 70% (maybe more) of our immune system. The role of probiotics is to help the beneficial bacteria in the intestines increase and thrive. Having healthy gut flora is key to many aspects of overall health, including a strong immune system. Probiotics can also increase the life of IgA (immunoglobulin A), which is an antibody in the mucosal lining of the gut and acts by inactivating bacteria, viruses, etc. While there are many pill forms probiotics (of varying quality), you can also head to fermented foods and drinks for beneficial bacteria. Kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, or kimchi are good examples. *When purchasing fermented foods, be sure to check the ingredients label. Some will have Polysorbate 80 which is a gut irritant. Others may actually be pasteurized following fermentation, which totally defeats the purpose. 

Zinc – Zinc has been known to help fight off colds, but it can also aid a bit in prevention altogether. Zinc can interfere with a virus being fully able to access our cells to replicate and cause illness. Food sources of zinc include oysters, meat and poultry, eggs, and nuts. Zinc is also really important for stomach acid production. This is necessary for cleaning our food of unwanted materials while it’s in the stomach, as well as proper digestion to prevent irritation in the intestinal lining which could contribute to leaky gut and allow viruses and bacteria to escape back into the body.

Do these more

Sleep – Getting adequate rest is essential in staying healthy. This is the time for repairing, recovering, and naturally detoxing. Without enough sleep, as studies have shown, the immune system suffers which can pose a problem for when it comes time to fight off a bad guy. It may be necessary to change up your nightly routine a bit to ensure sleep is a priority. Pick a bedtime an hour earlier than you’ve been doing. Turn off electronics two hours prior to that time. The blue light from screens can interrupt sleep by affecting your cortisol levels that should naturally decrease at night, allowing the melatonin to increase so you can sleep. (Fun fact: This is especially important for nursing mamas because melatonin actually goes into breastmilk and can help baby sleep as well.) If it is absolutely imperative to be in front of a screen at night, it can be very helpful to invest in a good pair of blue light blocking glasses. Turn off wifi at night as well. Don’t eat too close to bedtime. This will force your body to choose digestion over detoxing which would put any “housekeeping” on the back burner.

Hand washing – Don’t forget about this old fashioned sickness prevention! It can be a huge help in preventing spreading illness if something is brought home. Just remember, steer clear of the antibacterial soap with triclosan. The FDA recently banned triclosan in hand soap, but there may still be some available. Triclosan has been shown to contribute to creating resistant bacteria. Simple soap and water is just as effective at cleaning the hands. We personally like Seventh Generation and Young Living Thieves hand soaps.

Exercise – This is a little tricky because exercise is definitely part of a healthy lifestyle, but if you overdo it, you can do more harm than good. Regular exercise can help flush toxins out through sweat and breathing, and improve overall health. On the contrary, too much exercise (and this could mean workouts being too long, too intense too often, and inadequate recovery time) can end up draining the body of key nutrients and increasing cortisol (the stress hormone) which can affect sleep quality and time. This study shows elite athletes (like marathon runners) had the highest instance for sicknesses, particularly upper respiratory infections. Those that were sedentary were second, and moderate exercisers got sick the least. So aim for a moderate exercise routine for optimal immune function. *During pregnancy and shortly into postpartum, be sure to check with your healthcare provider to be sure exercise is a safe activity for you at this time.

Rest and digest – This catchy little phrase is what we need to remember when sitting down to eat in order to keep our digestion in tip top shape. How does this possibly affect immunity? If we aren’t digesting our food, and we are allowing undigested food to pass into the small intestine, we are promoting damage to the intestinal lining, better known as leaky gut. If leaky gut is present, it allows surviving harmful bacteria and viruses to escape the intestine and circulate back to the body, instead of being eliminated as they should’ve been. To get into rest and digest mode, be present for every meal. This means turn the TV off, put work aside, put the phone down. Take a few deep breaths prior to eating to calm yourself, and be sure to chew each bite thoroughly.

Limit or avoid these

Refined sugar/starches – Sugar is inflammatory to the body, and causes imbalances among gut bacteria. It also decreases the effectiveness of white blood cells, which are an imperative part of the overall immune system.

Alcohol – Alcohol, without a doubt, suppresses the immune system. It also depletes the body of magnesium, which is needed to deal with stressors, and it’s dehydrating, which contributes to lowered immunity.

Damaged fats – As mentioned above, our cells are housed in fat. So we should make it a priority to consume only healthy fats and not damaged ones like canola oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, or damaging healthy fats by cooking with ones that should not be heated such as seed oils, fish oils, and nut oils. The last thing we want is to cause our cells to have flabby membranes. This can contribute to sickness (among other things) because viruses make their way into our cells, replicate, and then wreak havoc. So a strong cell membrane helps to keep the right things in and the wrong things out. These fats also contribute to inflammation. Sickness like the flu or colds are types of inflammation, and having the body depend on damaged fats would lead to a tough recovery.

Stress – It’s long been known that chronic stress can suppress the immune system. For optimal health, it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of stressors in your life as best you can. If that’s not possible, try to increase the recovery time. Set aside time daily for self-care, whatever that may look like for you. Things like meditation, prayer, baths, naps, and journaling are all good examples, but aim for whatever helps you to recharge and relax.

Why didn’t I include essential oils or elderberry syrup on this list?

Two really common immune boosting remedies today are daily doses of essential oils and/or elderberry syrup. Many people will recommend these for daily use, but I just can’t do that. The idea of deliberately using something every day, even though totally natural, to boost the immune system just doesn’t sit well with me, personally. It’s manipulating the body in a way that may or may not have long term effects. Think about it…it’s similar to using caffeine as an energy booster. We know that you will get a boost from caffeine, but over time, it drains the adrenals. What are the long term effects of daily use of immune boosters? So far, they’re unknown, and I find that worrisome. The methods I’ll be sticking to are those listed above, which basically round out an overall healthy lifestyle, and not just immunity. If you do choose to incorporate essential oils into your immune boosting regimen, please find a certified aromatherapist or naturopath that can guide you on safe usage, especially during pregnancy. 

As for using elderberry syrup during pregnancy, there is mixed information. Some sources claim it to be safe, while others say it’s not a great choice. The most recent information I can find is that while the immune system tends to be lowered during pregnancy and fighting off illnesses is more of a task, the flu virus is an exception. The immune system can end up over-reacting to the flu during pregnancy and since elderberry also boosts the immune system, this may not be a good choice at this time. 

Outside of pregnancy, elderberry syrup can be very useful during times of known exposure like when you’ve come in contact with someone fighting off a cold or flu, or if there’s something going around your child’s classroom. In these cases, dosing with elderberry syrup for 4-5 days (and then stopping) can be very effective. Elderberry syrup is not recommended for babies under one year since the syrup is to be made with honey.

Sometimes even our best efforts can’t ward off the ick. So stay tuned for a near future post on all natural cold/flu remedies.

In good health,


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