Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays (Lucas’s contagious delight, crackling fires, Christmas carols, glowing candles, fond memories of popcorn balls and felt stockings), but this time of year is rife with germs, colds, flu, and all things scary for those of us with cystic fibrosis. During cold and flu season last year I required antibiotics only once (in February) after a seven month antibiotic-free streak. It has now been ten months since I’ve been on antibiotics and I’m hoping to continue adding to that number, even through these winter months. I made some changes to my health routine last winter that seemed to have a big impact. Here are some tips to help you get through cold and flu season unscathed!
1. Get plenty of rest and sleep. Sleep is by far the most important factor in my health maintenance routine. I do best if I have nine hours a night. I can get by on eight, but any less than that for an extended period of time means trouble. It’s easy around the holidays to lose out on sleep, whether you’re shopping, going to parties, or getting ready to host family. Even though it’s a busy time, try to make sleep a priority. Your body will thank you.
2. Eat a healthy diet. God has given us many wonderful foods in nature that can help protect our bodies against infection and can fight off illnesses if we’ve fallen victim to a virus or bacteria. In general, eating a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and cutting down on processed and sugary foods which cause inflammation will help you stay healthy this winter. Here are my favorite infection fighting super foods that I eat during the winter:
- Homemade Chicken Soup: Chicken soup really is healthy. It clears up congestion and reduces inflammation. Chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine which is released when you make soup. Cysteine thins the mucus in the lungs which helps the body to heal from a virus or infection and helps us CFers fight our daily fight against congestion. Thanks to some advice from a friend, I have recently started making my own chicken broth with the bones and leftover parts of a whole chicken. I fill a large soup pot and simmer the bones, skin, and whatever meat is leftover for about 12 hours. At that point, I add some onion, carrots, celery, a few bay leaves, a tablespoon of peppercorns, and a little salt and let it simmer for another 12 hours. I then strain out all the solids and freeze what we won’t be using immediately. We have been adding this broth to many soups, stews, and other dishes that call for chicken stock. It tastes great and is very nutritious!
- Cranberries: Cranberries are in season right now and are a super healthy fruit. They are extremely high in antioxidants, second only to the blueberry. They are very low in sugar. I eat them raw for maximum nutritional value (yes, raw). Because they are very sour, I drizzle them with honey. They are still tart but once you get used to them, I think you will like them! Cranberries can be frozen right in their bags. I buy and freeze enough to get me through the winter months.
- Cruciferous Vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables include vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and kale. This family of vegetables is very high in calcium, various vitamins, disease fighting antioxidants, and other phytochemicals. (Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventative properties. Antioxidants are phytochemicals). My two favorite veggies from this family are kale, which has also been shown to ease lung congestion, and red cabbage which is anti-microbial and anti-bacterial. Red cabbage is effective against both staph and psuedomonas (common CF bacterias).
- Ginger: Ginger is soothing to the stomach. It is also rich in antioxidants and has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Using fresh ginger will give you the most benefit. I grate it to make tea and use it in stir fry. I also eat candied ginger. This does have added sugar so I just eat a few pieces each day. I warn you, it can be very hot, but I like it!
- Garlic: Garlic stimulates the immune system. Garlic has a phytochemical called allicin which is powerfully anti-bacterial and anti-viral. It is effective against psuedomonas. In spite of my anti-garlic upbringing, I now cook with fresh garlic on a regular basis (sorry Dad!). I also take a garlic supplement during cold and flu season.
- Turmeric Root: Turmeric root is another immune-boosting root that is rich in antioxidants and has potent anti-inflammatory properties. I often grate turmeric into my scrambled eggs, put it in soups, or make tea from it. You might want to try my friend Erin’s recipe for turmeric, black pepper, and honey or maple syrup tea (click here for the recipe.) It’s very soothing! (Side note, black pepper is also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and reduces congestion).
3. Drink plenty of fluids. Stay well hydrated! If we got sick when we were little, my mom would set the timer and we would have a drink every half hour. That may seem like overkill but fluids are so important. Water flushes waste and bacteria out of our systems and staying hydrated will give your body the energy to fight off infections. I have found that my mucus seems thinner if I’m drinking enough water too. I try to drink eight glasses of water per day in addition to my other fluids (coffee♥, orange juice, and coconut milk).
4. Wash your hands often. This is kind of a no-brainer but it’s important to get those germs off your hands, especially if you’ve been out and about. I also keep my fingernails cut short because bacteria loves to hide under the nails. I try to avoid touching my face, too, so that the bacteria that is inevitably on my hands doesn’t get into my eyes, nose, or mouth.
5. Get some fresh air and exercise. Exercise helps your immune system to fight against infections and strengthens your whole body. Getting outside gives you needed exposure to natural sunlight and boosts the spirits. Even if the cold air is hard to breathe, staying out for a few minutes will be beneficial.
6. Laugh! Staying joyful and upbeat lowers stress and helps to keep infection at bay. It’s easy to get nervous during cold and flu season. After all, a simple cold is rarely simple for those of us with chronic lung disease. But try to push those fears away. Do the very best you can to take care of yourself. Then relax, smile, and enjoy this wonderful time of year!