No matter how solid your immunity may be, you can still get taken out by a flu virus from time to time. Immunity isn’t just a result of diet or genetics alone but is a result of your lifestyle, your gut health, your stress levels, and more.
What Is Immunity?
The term “immunity” is used quite broadly and even vaguely at times in order to cover the ever-evolving topic of the immune system. Generally, when we speak of immunity, we are referring to the immune system which is all of the organs, cells, and molecules that are responsible for keeping foreign bugs, germs, and viruses from invading the body. We have white blood cells in lymph nodes that are ready to respond when invaders do become known, not entirely unlike EMT’s dispatched when help is needed at the scene of an accident. (1)
The immune system responds to dietary choices, lifestyle habits, and numerous other triggers within the body. We can get “run down” in a general sense, from excess stress and lack of sleep to eating too much sugar or processed foods. When this happens, the ability of the immune system to effectively respond to viral invaders can be diminished.
9 Ways to Bounce Back from Viral Infections
The reality is that even if you live an immune-perfect lifestyle, sometimes you can still get sick. When this happens, there are several things that you can do to speed your recovery time and shorten the virus’s hold on your body. Here are nine of the most effective ways to kick that cold or flu virus to the curb.
Perhaps the most obvious tip, getting enough high-quality sleep is essential if you want to heal. The body repairs and cleanses while you rest, so cutting your precious sleep hours short when you’re sick is a huge mistake.
When you enter deep REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, your body releases proteins known as cytokines. These help fight off infections. (2) You need these inflammation busters acting in full force while you’re trying to fight off a virus or sickness of any kind.
Aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night, but when you’re sick, add extra naps, go to bed earlier, and don’t underestimate the value of a few days to just lie around and conserve energy.
Hydration is always essential for health, but when you have a cold or the flu, you need the extra fluids to help flush the virus from your body. Even though you may feel crummy, your body is busy fighting the viral invaders, and this involves most of your major organs.
Drinking water is essential, but you can also rely on the water content of vegetables and fruits. The best produce to eat while you’re sick includes:
- Leafy greens
- Citrus fruits
Eat them raw, cooked, and even added to smoothies. This is the perfect time to cook up a veggie-packed soup since bone broth and chicken stock are both immune-supportive ways to hydrate when you’re under the weather.
3. Gut Health
The root of all health lies in the gut, and consequently, so does much of the immune system. While many things can alter the bacterial balance of the gut, excess sugar intake is a fast way to cause immunity problems. (3)
If you’ve come down with a viral infection, boosting gut health isn’t an overnight fix, but it will help ensure that you don’t pick up a secondary sickness shortly after recovering from the first one. The best ways to build the “good bugs” in your gut include:
- Eating fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchi
- Eating prebiotic foods, like artichokes, garlic, and onions
- Staying hydrated
- Taking a high-quality probiotic supplement
- Drinking bone broth
- Taking collagen
When you’re already sick, adding hard-to-digest foods to your diet can actually slow down your healing process since your body diverts more energy to breaking down or metabolizing these foods.
Fighting off a sickness means avoiding stimulants like alcohol, sugar, and caffeine, and focusing on nourishing, nutrient-dense foods like broths, soups, vegetables, fruits, and liquids.
If part of your sickness means you’re stuffed up or having trouble breathing, there are natural ways to help open the airways in your nose and throat. Dilute eucalyptus or tea tree essential oil with a carrier oil, like coconut. You’ll just a single drop of essential oil for a tablespoon of carrier oil. After mixing together, you can dab these under your nose, or just on the inside of your nostril to help open your airways. It works as the same concept as the vapor rub that can be rubbed on feet or chest, and this oil blend is perfect for that, too.
Not only can tea tree and eucalyptus help you breathe better, they’re also antiseptic and antibacterial.
Other ways to improve breathing when you’re sick include hot washcloths over the face and neck, using a neti pot, or taking some extra steaming showers.
The anxiety of not being able to breathe well can cause some to feel even more agitated during sickness, which can increase stress and slow healing. Add some deep breathing to your daily routine to help pipe some calm back into your brain.
6. Skin Care
The skin is your body’s largest and most porous organ. It’s not uncommon to experience dry skin during sickness, or feeling clammy and dull from fever. Caring about dull, lifeless skin might just seem like vanity, but the truth is that pampering your body’s biggest organ can help to promote healing and an improved mood.
Take a hot bath or a steaming shower, massage your body with a coarse salt or sugar scrub, or soak in Epsom salts or a mineral bath.
Dry brushing is another great way to help promote immunity. Since the lymph system in your body doesn’t have a natural way to move, dry brushing can help to energize that system as it collects and sends infections and other toxins out of your body. Using a natural fiber brush, use strokes that point in the direction of the heart. Legs, arms, abdomen, and back are all excellent places to brush. Not only will you stimulate your lymphatic system, you will feel invigorated by shedding dead and dry skin from the body.
Hydrate with coconut oil, avocado oil, or your favorite natural moisturizer when you’re done pampering for a silky soft finish.
7. Acupuncture and Pressure Points
Being in bed and resting a lot can have some downsides, especially when it comes to joint stiffness. Aches and pains from the flu can also make you feel like you’ve been hit by a semi.
Acupuncture and pressure point massage are two ways to help improve blood flow throughout the body, which can have an immune-boosting effect.
You can also practice some gentle yoga to help move blood and oxygen through the body.
Inflammation from sickness can cause anything from aches to brain fog. Having your mental ability take a hit thanks to the head-stuffiness from the cold or flu can be a real downer. Combat this by boosting your antioxidant intake from fresh vegetables and fruits, and don’t be afraid to supplement with some extra antioxidants, most notably, vitamin C. Since it’s water-soluble, it’s safe to supplement with, especially during times of immune distress.
9. Naturally Disinfect
Cold and flu viruses can live on hard surfaces, so while you’re working your way back to health, you’re also going to want to disinfect the high contact surfaces of your home.
While your first instinct might be to go for a conventional bleach or aerosol product, there are many natural sources that can kill cold and flu germs, without adding chemicals or toxins to your house. Thyme, eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint, lavender, and lemon essential oils are all great cleaning options and can be combined with water or even vinegar for an extra cleaning boost.
Additionally, changing your sheets, pillowcases, and blankets often can also promote faster healing. You can add two to five drops to your laundry detergent for a disinfecting boost without the chemicals or fabric-damaging nature of bleach.
Even the healthiest folks come down with viral infections from time to time. How you handle your sickness and the immediate days following can have a significant impact on your immune system. Also, remember: viral infections don’t respond to antibiotics, so taking them unnecessarily can just sabotage your gut health and further reduce your immunity.
With the helpful tips we’ve collected here, you can nourish your body when you’re under the weather, and also live a preventive lifestyle to hopefully sidestep that next virus (or three).