Thursday, March 26, 2015
Last week, I started to feel a bit of a scratchy throat coming on. Shortly thereafter, that was followed by a cough and a cold, then fatigue, headaches, and all-over body aches. And of course, with flu season in full effect here, my first thought was, "Uh-oh, here it comes." I was bracing myself for what was probably the start of a respiratory infection. All the typical signs were there.
Also, due to the crazy back-and-forth weather we've been having here lately (Mother Nature can't make up her mind whether it's winter or spring!), it's no surprise that lots of people in this area have been getting sick. The weather here has just been insane. We got SNOW on the first day of spring. Yes, that's right. You heard me correctly. I said, "Snow." Mother Nature clearly has an ironic sense of humor. ;) As I joked earlier on Facebook, "This year, it's been more like, 'March comes in like a lion who then changes into a lamb costume, successfully infiltrates enemy lines, and then proceeds to eat the entire flock.' Hahaha."
And before that we had what felt like endless snow, and, not surprisingly, after a while, lots of people started cracking jokes about it, myself included. I posted: "If this snow doesn't start melting soon, I'm going to start putting up wanted posters that say, '$1000 reward for any information leading to the apprehension and arrest of Punxsutawney Phil. Wanted for criminal conspiracy with Mother Nature, in connection with the petty robbery of spring weather.' ;) First day of spring, my @$$!!!! Hmmmm. I wonder what groundhog meat tastes like?! ;) JUST kidding." :-D Yeah, we'd all pretty much had it, so when spring briefly peeked its head out from underneath the melting snow piles and finally gave us some lovely sunny 65 degree weather, many of us were so ecstatic about it that we went straight outside to celebrate. I know I certainly wasn't the only one who went outside to exercise that day. :-D
And then it got cold again. And it snowed. And then people got sick. And then, well, you know the rest. :)
Since several of my friends were feeling absolutely miserable from flu, sinusitis, bronchitis, etc. (and the luckier ones escaped with only a slight cough &/or cold), I gave them some recommendations for things they could do or take to help them fight their respiratory illnesses, including fish oil pills and other supplements, medicinal teas, etc., and also sent one of my friends a TLC package filled with several of these flu-fighting 'goodies.' We both followed similar regimens (and so did her husband, who'd also gotten sick), and after a few days, we were all gradually starting to feel better (knock on wood!). I've also put together different variations of this regimen in the past, but this most recent combination of remedies seemed to work the best thus far. So, in order to help others who are trying to beat respiratory infections, I'm going to post that regimen here very shortly. As a legal disclaimer, please note that I am not suggesting that you following the below regimen, only that this is what I do because it works for me and some of my friends, and that, in any event, you should always consult a physician before following any new health regimen.
Since I'm in the business of helping people get (and stay!) healthy, not surprisingly, I spend a LOT of time reading about nutrition, exercise, and general health related topics in general, immersing myself in medical science journals, white papers, clinical study reports, and other source materials. My job, as I see it, is not only to distill this information so that it's of optimal use to others, but also to show people how to apply it to their daily lives in the most realistic, effective way possible. And likewise, that was one of my primary goals in writing The Athlete's Cookbook, to write a practical, succinct, action-oriented book that shows people how to use food in very specific, scientifically sound ways to improve their athletic performance. Simply put, I applied my knowledge of the biochemistry of food to help people achieve three different goals -- endurance, strength, and fat-burning. Each goal has its own distinct program, complete with corresponding nutritional overviews, meal plans, recommended food lists (Top 10 Healthiest Fats/Carbs/Proteins/Fat-Burning Foods, etc.), eating and workout schedules, and recipes. The book provides a straightforward framework that's uncomplicated and easy to follow, one that doesn't require any prior knowledge of cooking or food. Every recommended nutritious food I list in the book has a matching recipe that seamlessly plugs into the appropriate corresponding nutritional program(s). And since I created the nutritional programs and the recipes with busy athletes in mind, the book contains quick and easy, delicious recipes with easy-to-find common ingredients. Everyone's so busy these days, and athletes still need to train for multiple hours on top of that, so it was essential to keep things simple and quick.
With regard to the above approach to nutrition, exercise, and general wellness issues, I employ similar methods when it comes to helping loved ones who are feeling under the weather: I read all of the source material from the scientific and medical establishment that I can get my hands on, and if I read general articles on these topics, I do my fact-checking to make sure that this information is up-to-date and comes from reputable sources. Then, I base my "plan of attack" on the most useful and relevant information I've gathered. And if new scientific evidence from reputable sources comes along, I'll research it thoroughly and then, after evaluating its usefulness and applicability as a solution to a specific issue, will consider altering my plan to incorporate these new findings. Since scientists are constantly making new and exciting discoveries, prevailing scientific wisdom can change a lot in light of new evidence gleaned from these discoveries, and so it's important to stay current with all of these scientific breakthroughs and remain flexible and open to new evidence from reputable sources.
So, given the above, what I offer below is an overview of the respiratory infection regimen that has worked for me and others, a compilation of remedies based on current scientific findings:
- 3000 mg (3 g) fish oil pills. Look for burpless, purified fish oil capsules that contain at least 1 g of EPA and DHA combined (per serving). (It's very important to take the purified kind, since unpurified fish oil can contain undesirable, i.e., toxic, levels of mercury.) Please be aware that, in general, recommended daily dosages can range anywhere from 500 mg to 3000 mg (3 g), depending upon a variety of factors (individual's age/weight/body chemistry, whether it's for a specific use, i.e., treatment for a condition, vs. general usage, and the recommending body, i.e., specific medical organization/professional, etc.), so it's always a good idea to consult a doctor first to determine the exact dosage that is appropriate for you. Case in point: I take 4000 mg but again, this dosage has been specifically prescribed for me by a licensed, board-certified physician. In fact, you should consult a doctor if you are thinking about taking any more than 3000 mg. Too much fish oil, like almost anything else, can be harmful (i.e., it can actually increase the risk of stroke, etc.). So, in other words, 3000 mg is generally considered safe for most individuals, so that's why I'm not listing any more than that here. This is what I would recommend to a friend who's trying to fight a respiratory infection, but again, to protect my hide, I'm going to advise you to first consult a physician, regardless of what I list here. :)
The Omega 3s in fish oil pills (and other Omega-3 rich foods) really help to ramp up your immune system. According to a study conducted by Britain's Institute of Human Nutrition and School of Medicine, Omega 3s increase the activity of phagocytes, i.e., cells that protect the body from infection by eating harmful foreign particles, bacteria, and dead or dying cells. There's also research showing that Omega 3s increase airflow and protect lungs from colds and respiratory infections. [Sources: Cell (research journal) (7/3/13), Cell (3/28/13), Nature (scientific journal) (3/7/13. Prevention (12/12/13); Daily Mail (3/8/13), Everyday Health (3/8/13).]
(If you can't take fish oil for some reason, microalgae oil supplements are a decent vegetarian alternative, since their Omega-3 fatty acid composition is very similar to that of fish oil and it's also got a low risk of pollutant exposure.)
- Protein. Protein keeps your immune system strong, so make sure you are eating enough protein, especially when your immunity is compromised. And while you're at it, you can get both Omega-3s and protein by eating oily high-protein fishes such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, tuna, etc. Try to eat fish twice a week. [Sources: PubMed, ScienceDaily. Further reading: SFGate.]
- Multivitamins. Multivitamins cover a lot of bases. Preferably choose one that meets the RDA for the specific vitamins and minerals that play a key role in immune system function (i.e., vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin E, selenium, etc.) There's still some debate as to whether or not zinc and vitamin C actually boost immunity. As for herbal supplements, there's a lot of disagreement on efficacy. For example, the verdict's still out on echinacea as to whether or not it has any effect upon colds. Some in the medical science community say it works, while other say it's hype. Same goes for astragalus, ginseng, etc.
It's great if you can get a lot of these vitamins and minerals from fresh healthy foods, but taking a multivitamin will ensure that you cover all your bases. It's also a practical choice, i.e., so won't have to eat 500 lbs. of kale just to meet multiple RDA requirements for various vitamins and minerals (Lol!). For example, while one cup of kale meets and exceeds the RDA for vitamin A (133%) and vitamin C (134%), you'd have to eat an awful lot of kale to meet the RDA for calcium (1 cup = 10% RDA), vitamin B-6 (1 cup = 10% RDA), magnesium (1 cup = 7% RDA), and iron (1 cup = 5% RDA). Of course, you could eat different types of foods to cover those other bases, but then you'd have to map out your daily food intake by nutrient, and then calculate how much you'd have to eat to meet each RDA. And on top of that, there are other considerations like portion sizes, daily fluid intake as well as daily RDA (and ratio) of the different kinds of essential proteins, carbs, and fats. Even if you spend the time to calculate everything and create your own meal plans -- or hire a nutritionist to figure everything out for you, there will obviously be times when you're going to veer off course from your menu plan, due to personal whims or unforeseen circumstances. So, that's yet another reason to hedge your bets with a multivitamin. It's just extra insurance. :)
- Make lifestyle improvements to boost immunity. For example, take steps to reduce stress, eat healthy food, try to get 8 hours of sleep, drink lots of liquids (even more than usual when you are sick), frequently wash your hands with antibacterial soap (&/or use hand sanitizer), take the necessary time to rest so you can recover more quickly and regain your energy while you are coping with the fatigue associated with flu, exercise regularly but be careful not to overtrain, etc. If you're not feeling overly rundown, provided the infection hasn't already traveled to your chest, even a short 30-minute walk can boost your immunity. However, if you're already in the thick of a serious respiratory illness (chest cold, productive chest cough, body aches, etc.), it's best to take a break from exercise and get adequate rest so you don't weaken your already compromised immune system. In that scenario, exercise usually does more harm than good. The body needs rest at this stage. As a running coach, I advocate the "neck rule": So if you have symptoms occurring above the neck (stuffiness, cold, sneezing, etc.), it's typically fine to exercise, but if it's anything below the neck (bronchitis, chest cold/cough, body aches, etc.), then you definitely need to take some time off from exercise and rest. Anything more than a minor cold and it can quickly escalate into a more serious situation impacting your lower respiratory tract and lungs. As the saying goes, "If it's in the chest, rest."
- Medicinal teas. For starters, if you go to the tag cloud on the right sidebar of this blog and click on the herbal tea tag, you'll find several homemade medicinal teas that I use in conjunction with some of the above-described remedies to beat various respiratory ailments. On a related note, up next is my newest medicinal tea recipe, "TLC" Tea, which I'll post in a bit.
The above regimen is by no means an exhaustive list. In any case, my first course of action is to try to beat respiratory illness symptoms early on, by natural means whenever possible, as the over-reliance on antibiotics and other drugs can lower your resistance to them, not to mention that the repeat usage of antibiotics contributes to national/global antibiotic resistance, which is a serious public health concern. That being said, of course, if one's condition doesn't improve, it's best not to wait too much longer to see a doctor and get a prescription for the appropriate medication (like a Z-pack or other medicine). Typically, the earlier you hop on a respiratory issue and throw your entire arsenal at it (including what's in your cupboards and fridge!), the easier it is to get rid of it.
Hope these tips will help you stay well, so you can enjoy the lovely spring weather we're having today. It's 70 degrees here!! Time to go outside and enjoy it. :-D