Surviving Cold and Flu Season – a special guide for Autoimmune Overachievers

Favorite tips for surviving cold and flu season

I created a new term…Autoimmune Overachievers.  So tired of being called a ‘patient’ since I’m not all that patient, or a ‘sufferer’ since I am choosing NOT to suffer, or even a ‘person with autoimmune disease’ because that’s really too long. I’ve decided to be an overachiever.  And you can be one too. Seems to fit the bill, doesn’t it?

  • Immune system on overdrive?  Check.
  • Inflammation out of control?  Check.
  • Taking extra care to plan things out so you can manage your energy and strength?  Check.
  • Always thinking a few steps ahead to make sure you’re not borrowing wellness from tomorrow?  Yep.  Overachiever.  Own it.

Please note that this title DOES NOT give you permission to do all those things.  It’s just a description.  Please remember my last post on the importance of rest.

Back to my topic, however, the cold and flu season is upon us.  Getting sick can really be a major setback to someone with an autoimmune disease.  The introduction of a pathogen into your system sends you into a full-scale immune response, and that can irritate existing inflammation and push you into a flare, or at the least, put you in bed for a few days.  What do you do?

Well, the herbalist side of me suggests you get out some echinacea and take it throughout the season to boost your immune system.  However, the autoimmune specialist suggests that you ignore that advice.  When you’re an autoimmune overachiever, the LAST thing you want to do is boost your immune system.  You want it to take care of those pesky little pathogens, but you’d like it to leave your organs alone, thank you very much.  The overall immune boost you get from the traditional herbs like echinacea, usnea, garlic, and astragalus might just make you feel WORSE instead of saving you from that cold.

What do you do then?  Certainly no one can afford to be set back for several days with a cold or flu.

My first advice is to be vigilant about washing your hands.  Actually washing them with soap and warm water for 20 seconds – not the wave your hands under some water thing.  People everywhere have cold and flu viruses.  They touch doorknobs, handrails, car doors, items on store shelves, plates and silverware at restaurants, money, and electronics.  Chances are, if you touch something in public, someone with a cold or flu also touched it.  Save yourself from the most common means of transmission and wash your hands often – always before eating!  And, be careful about touching your face with dirty hands.  Hand sanitizer is ok in a pinch, but with the toxic load that brings, you may want to pass.

Make sure your nutrient stores are topped off.  Fighting off a virus will use up the body’s stock of essential nutrients quickly – especially zinc, selenium, vitamin C, and iron.  The best way to get these vital nutrients is through food.  Zinc is probably the toughest, as the best bioavailable sources of zinc are oysters, which don’t make everyone’s favorite food list.  But, beef, lamb, and pumpkin seeds also have zinc.  Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, and I suggest you have four or five of them daily.  Vitamin C is found in citrus fruit and even in the rind, so you can add the rind to your herbal infusion for a boost.  Also found in hibiscus tea and rose hips – a key part of my Holiday Hibiscus Tea! (My Deeply Rooted clients can order this in my webstore) Iron is found in high quality protein and leafy greens.  My primary advice holds just as true in this season as in any other season – eat foods that ARE ingredients, not foods that HAVE ingredients.

It’s also critical to make sure you are listening to the messages from your body and taking the time to get the rest you need.  An over-tired body is far more susceptible to illness than a rested one.  You tend to sleep more in the darker months anyway, so let yourself have a few extra minutes where you can.

If you DO find yourself bitten by the flu bug, then I suggest you take some elderberry syrup.  My recipe is a good start. Elderberry is a great antiviral, antimicrobial, and antioxidant.  Elderberry has been shown in some research and some other research to increase the inflammatory cytokines (IL-1 beta, TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-8), which could be problematic for some overachievers.  That’s why I recommend it only as an intervention once you have a virus.  Your immune system is already activated to deal with the pathogen, and the antiviral activity in elderberry may be beneficial for clearing it faster.

As with anything, I always recommend that you give it a try and see what it does for you.  Start low, maybe ½ to 1 tsp at a time, and work up to a tablespoon three to four times a day.  Note any symptoms in your tracking log and enjoy the experiment.  And well, I’m not a doctor, so know that this information is here for your education and information and you should always talk over any herbs you want to take with your physician.

I also suggest that you have some good chicken broth – not the kind from a can, but some good broth that comes from cooking chicken bones (and some meat, too) in water for several hours.  You can cook it ahead and freeze it for just such a situation.  Try for 8 oz a day or more.

Getting sick is never any fun, and it can set back overachievers more than the general public. It requires a little forethought, but you can keep yourself well this season.

Feel like you need some more guidance? Connect with me and we’ll talk about your specific situation.