Do you remember the last time you started to get that “icky” feeling in your stomach and your first thought was, “Oh God! I really hope this is not the stomach flu that is going around!” Or when your child started sneezing and coughing and had those telltale watery eyes signaling that an impending cold or flu was about to be your new house guest?
As mothers, this is part of our lives. But did you know that it doesn’t always have to be SO bad? That you can sometimes prevent or definitely shorten a cold or flu? And that there are ways to squash that “icky” feeling and skip the part where you are hugging the porcelain throne all day?
Let me tell you about a few critical things to have on hand in your “medicine cabinet” to arm yourself with weapons against all that threatens to declare battle on your immune system (and your family’s). You probably won’t find all of these items at the drugstore, although I would be happily surprised if you did!
First, a brief talk about the immune system.
Your immune system is a dynamic, amazing defensive military unit protecting you against all that is foreign. Its job is to seek out and destroy anything that threatens your body. It can be weakened by poor diet and lifestyle and other factors but on the flipside, it can also be strengthened by diet, lifestyle and other factors. The latter is what we will be talking about here.
Yes, YOU CAN influence how well you fight off infections.
Given the choice, would you rather show up to a battle with no weapons, no physical training, hungry, dehydrated, and without any training in battle? Uh, NO! That’s the survivor’s answer. A survivor would choose to eat well, hydrate, get educated on military tactics, train their bodies and stock up on weapons. So why don’t we do that for our immune systems? “Because we love getting sick and having sick children to take care of.” Said no mom ever. In our present-day lives, it’s not usually only a matter of survival, it’s a matter of thriving.
The battle plan for when illness comes on fast and furious. Have these things on hand!
For “Stomach Flu” aka viral gastroenteritis:
This is a type of probiotic often recommended for treating and preventing “traveler’s diarrhea” but it is also great when you feel the stomach flu coming on. Take 1 capsule every 1-2 hours as soon as symptoms appear and until well after you feel like it has passed (you can taper down as you feel better). We use this product by Jarrow in our house and it totally works! My mom says that for her, she even feels better after the first capsule taken. It doesn’t have to be refrigerated so you can easily take it with you on your travels. Florastor is also a common brand you can find. S. boulardii is also very effective against antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
For Colds & Viruses
According to many studies and centuries of use by humans, elderberries are antiviral and antimicrobial. We make our own from this recipe by Wellness Mama, but you can also buy it from health stores or online. Elderberry syrup can be taken preventatively against colds and flu as a small daily dose BUT if an illness should strike you can take it every 1-2 hours to help your immune system fight off a virus in super record time. My mother-in-law even adds brandy to hers! I’m not complaining about taking that version, although we reserve it for adults only 😉
Bone Broth helps fight infection and speeds healing and recuperation from illness. I always make a big batch and freeze some in ice cube trays so I can make individual cups of soup or just for sipping when a cold strikes. Although it takes a fair amount of hours to simmer, bone broth is incredibly easy to make and can be done in a crockpot. Just assemble, turn on the crockpot and let it go. You only have to reset the cook time every 8-12 hours. Here is a good recipe if you are looking for one.
Zinc has been shown in many studies to shorten the severity and the duration of the common cold and is utilized by the body in many different immune functions. So stock up! Why be sick for 4 days when you could fight it off in only 2 days or less with zinc? We keep this type of zinc lozenge on hand because the kids can just suck on it instead of having to swallow a pill. As soon as somebody starts showing the dreaded signs of illness we all pop one of these in our mouths. There are many different kinds of zinc out there so when shopping be sure you get a chelated form of zinc (zinc gluconate, zinc acetate, zinc citrate).
And yes, you can take too much zinc. I wouldn’t worry if you are only upping your dose for a couple days but you will want to back off after you have kicked the cold’s butt because too much zinc on a daily basis over time is not a good thing. FYI- I have a sensitive stomach and find that on a totally empty stomach sometimes zinc can make me feel a little bit queasy.
Yes, the thing you use to pour water up your nose. Kind of. Actually, it’s a saline (salt and water) solution and technically you pour it up and through your nose but since your head is over the sink the saline solution is actually going down…ok I’ll stop. Just watch this video if you’ve never done it before. It sounds way more complicated than it is. All you need is a neti-pot (like this one), warm water and non-iodized salt.
Neti-pots are great at preventing infections from entering the nasal membranes by flushing and cleaning these delicate tissues. But you can also use one if you already have symptoms. The saline solution helps thin excess mucous, open nasal passages, and reduce inflammation.
What to use for battle wounds (aka bruises, scrapes, and cuts). Have these things on hand:
This homeopathic formula is a gift from the gods if you have little ones. I keep a tube in my purse at all times. Apply as soon as possible to bumps and potential bruises and you may not ever see the bruise appear. You can’t apply if the skin is broken and bleeding. This stuff is like magic. We have always used this one, but there are other great brands out there.
Most people know and use this as sunblock, as I do. However, I also LOVE having it on hand for other first aid needs as well! Did you know that zinc oxide improves wound healing, can help prevent bacterial infections, aids in the recovery of burns and damaged tissue, and lowers skin irritation due to rashes (including diaper rash), allergies and inflammation?
A while back my preschooler had this nasty dermatitis rash on his top lip. You know the one kids get when they can’t stop licking their top lip or around the mouth? The only thing that helped him recover was zinc oxide. I actually used the Badger zinc oxide face stick (it’s a sunblock product) but it was amazing. No more rash. Keep it in your purse! I use it on everything! Seriously, everything.
How to prepare for battle. Use the following daily to thrive and boost your immune system.
Vitamin D strengthens your innate immune system but studies show that almost 2/3s (if not more) of the USA adult population is deficient in Vitamin D! This can be due to not enough sun exposure, diet, and fat malabsorption (vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin). Also, if you live above 37 degrees north latitude (the northern two-thirds of the USA) you really can’t make any vitamin D from about October-April by just exposing your skin to the sun.
What to do? Supplement. Make sure you are getting at least 2,000IU (there are many studies that show more is needed) of vitamin D3 daily, especially in the winter months. I actually take 4,000IU daily and my 4-year-old and 7-year-old take 2,000IU daily. Make sure you buy Vitamin D3!
I don’t care how healthy your diet is, you can still get benefits from filling in the gaps with a good quality multivitamin. I love the multivitamins and minerals made from whole foods. They are better absorbed and contain the natural forms of the vitamins and minerals. Read more here on choosing a multivitamin. I take a whole foods based multi for women by Vitacost and my kids take the Garden of Life Vitamin Code Kids chewable multivitamin.
First and foremost I think the good bacteria that basically run our bodies should be taken by way of food (or you could eat dirt). BUT, sometimes you do need to supplement – like when the stomach flu hits! Aim for at one food source of probiotics daily. This can be from yogurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut (I LOVE Farmhouse Culture), kombucha, lacto-fermented veggies, kimchi, and more. If you feel adventurous, make your own probiotic-rich foods with various ideas here. Aim to have one of these sources in your fridge at all times and keep a good quality supplement form of probiotics on hand for the days or weeks when you need a little extra.
There you have it, a fairly short list of what to keep on hand in your “medicine cabinet”. Here is a summary to recap:
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Elderberry syrup
- Bone broth
- Zinc oxide
- Vitamin D
- Multivitamin and mineral
I’ve kept this list to only the items that are “tried and true”, magic bullets, or miracle workers in our home (and for everyone I’ve recommended them to.) Have I missed one of your “must have on hand” items? Share in the comments below. I would love to add a few more to this list!
Systematic review and meta-analysis of Saccharomyces boulardii in adult patients
Black elderberry – The most antiviral substance known to man
Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses
The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.
The Bountiful Benefits of Bone Broth: a Comprehensive Guide
Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro.
Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection.
Zinc—One of the Best Supplements to Help Fight Cold and Flu
Vitamin D and the Immune System
Time for more vitamin D
Nasal Saline Irrigation and Neti Pots
Zinc Oxide Benefits for Protecting Your Skin from the Sun + More!