[Not] The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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FInding the perfect Christmas tree to take home!

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!
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Homemade Chicken Broth

  • 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.
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Beautiful berries!

  • 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!
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Spicy and delicious

  • 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.

Lucas sees to it that I get plenty of fresh air and exercise.

Lucas sees to it that I get plenty of fresh air and exercise.

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!

Laughter really is good medicine.

Laughter really is good medicine!

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CF = Coffee Fanatic

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Disclaimer: No child *actually* drank coffee during the writing of this blog post.

Hmmm, coffee.  I love it.  I have always enjoyed coffee, but ever since Lucas reached the perpetual motion stage, I have been drinking it religiously.  I need something to help me keep up with that kid.  Jaime recently accused me (on Facebook!) of being a coffee addict.  It had something to do with this headache I couldn’t get rid of until I had a cup.  I would prefer to categorize myself at a coffee enthusiast.  Maybe even a coffee fanatic.  But surely not a coffee addict…

Although I love hot coffee, I don’t need any extra heat in my life during the summer.  So lately I’ve been making a frappuccino type of coffee drink that I created with three simple ingredients: coffee, coconut milk, and raw honey. It’s very tasty, refreshing, and good for you.

Don’t put a dried flower in your coffee drink; I just thought it made the picture pretty.

Coffee has some specific cystic fibrosis related health benefits.  It is extremely high in antioxidants which boost the immune system.  The caffeine in coffee is a natural bronchodilator (a substance that helps open up the airways and increase airflow in the lungs).  Coffee may also protect against diabetes which is a common complication for CFers, especially for those of us over 30.  Although there haven’t been any recent studies, I am pretty sure consuming coffee reduces the number of Mommy Tantrums (and helps moms deal with toddler tantrums).

Honey is a healthy alternative to sugar.  It has vitamins and minerals and is high in antioxidants.  Regular sugar causes inflammation but honey fights against it.  It is antibacterial and has shown to be effective against both staph and pseudomonas which are common CF colonizers.  Many people claim that regular consumption of local raw honey helps immunize against seasonal allergies.  Honey is also very soothing to the throat which is nice for those of us who cough a lot.

The finished product.

The finished product.

To make this drink, simply combine eight ounces of freshly brewed coffee (cooled to room temperature) with four ounces of coconut milk.  Then stir in about a tablespoon of honey.  It will take a bit of stirring before the honey dissolves.  If that bothers you and you don’t mind extra dishes, you can make it in a blender.  When you’re done, pour it into a pretty glass; it tastes even better that way.  For best results, enjoy first thing in the morning.  And after lunch.  And maybe once more before dinner…

The Most Important Meal of the Day

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Eating nutritious foods is one of the ways I try to maintain my health.  I’ve made a lot of changes to my diet over the past several months and it has helped tremendously.  I haven’t seen any improvement in my lung function tests, but I have noticed positive changes in my energy level, the amount of congestion I wrestle with every day, and my ability to fight off infections.  I only got sick once this past winter and was able to completely avoid several colds my boys brought home.  That’s notable!

This study of diet came out of a frustrating situation.  You see, as cystic fibrosis progresses, bacteria colonizes in the lungs.  That means that even if I’m not sick, there is always bacteria present in my lungs.  Sometimes it just sits there relatively quietly, contributing to inflammation but not making me acutely ill.  Other times it flares up and causes acute symptoms, perhaps because I got a virus or sometimes for an unknown reason.

There are inhaled antibiotics that are used routinely to keep this colonized bacteria under control.  They are helpful because they go straight to the source of the problem.  Unfortunately, I have tried them all and cannot tolerate any of them due to my asthma (they cause wheezing, chest tightness, and lung irritation).  Out of frustration Jaime started researching natural remedies and we found there are a lot of foods out there that can help with my specific issues: inflammation, bacteria, and the need for a strong immune system.  Eating healthy was not new to me; I was raised eating all kinds of fresh and healthy foods, but the idea that I could eat certain foods to address my specific issues was new and exciting!

As I mentioned before, I cut dairy out of my diet due its links to asthma and congestion.  Then we started looking for foods that would help with immunity, inflammation and bacteria and were surprised to find many great options! I won’t write about all the foods I eat in this post, but let me tell you about my breakfast.

imageI try to eat this dish several times a week, and here’s what’s in it: coconut oil, eggs, kale, red cabbage, mushrooms, freshly grated turmeric root, chia seeds, freshly ground black pepper, and quinoa.  Here is how these foods help my body:

Eggs are high in vitamins, protein, and healthy fats.  They help me keep my weight up.

Coconut oil is anti-inflammatory, helps with nutrient absorption, is anti-microbial (kills a variety of disease-causing bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites), and helps stabilize blood sugar.  (According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 43% of adults with CF over the age of 30 develop cystic fibrosis related diabetes.  I don’t currently have diabetes but I did have gestational diabetes during my pregnancy and am careful to eat foods that keep my blood sugar stable).

Kale is very high in vitamins A, C, and K.  Getting a lot of vitamins A and K is especially important for me because they are fat soluble, meaning they need fat in order to be soaked up by the body.  CF patients tend to be deficient in them because we have trouble absorbing fats.  Kale is also high in antioxidants which boost immunity.  I’ve even read that it reduces the amount of mucus in the lungs!

Red cabbage boosts immunity, is anti-microbial, and antibacterial.  In fact, it has been shown to kill the bacteria Staphylococcus (both regular Staph and Methicillian resistant Staph), and Pseudomonas.  Both Staph and Pseudomonas common CF colonizers.  Red cabbage is also effective against the fungus Aspergillus which can live in the airways of CFers. Red cabbage improves digestion and is high in vitamin C.  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3171003/)

Mushrooms boost the immune system, increase white blood cell count to aid in fighting infection, have antibiotic properties,  and stimulate the appetite.

Chia seeds are have high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids (to keep me smart 😉 ), are high in protein, have high levels of antioxidants to boost immunity, are easily digestible, and stabilize blood sugar.

Black pepper aids with digestion, reduces congestion, is anti-inflammatory, and has antibacterial properties.

Turmeric root is a powerful antioxidant, is antibacterial, and is anti-inflammatory.

Quinoa is high in calories and in nutrients.  It has a lot of protein and a good amount of vitamins.  It aids with digestion and stabilizes blood sugar.

I’ll be writing more about diet and foods in upcoming posts.  I’m still reading and learning about it and adjusting my diet to meet my needs.  I got a lot of personalized help from my friend Erin who is studying to be a dietician and is a wealth of information.  Check out her blog here:

http://20somethingholisticliving.blogspot.com/

Jaime found a blog called “CF and Healthy,” and reading that blog was what prompted this whole study.  There is a lot of CF specific diet information and links to news articles which are very interesting:

http://cfandhealthy.blogspot.com

I admit, preparing these kinds of foods takes time.  It’s a lot more work than pouring milk on a bowl of cereal.  But I’m feeling stronger and healthier, and that makes it well worth the effort.  Health, it’s what’s for breakfast!