Heal Thy Common Cold & Flu

Posted by Romy Lawson on

Ah yes, Winter is here baby. And everyone is dropping like flies. It’s the time of year where every second conversation contains the words “Yeah, there is something going round at the moment”.

How often do you feel that when you are sick it is often the result of a perfect storm of a particularly stressful time, not eating well, not enough sleep and of course the change of seasons.  

It’s usually this perfect storm which creates this state of dis-ease.

There is a pretty well-worn belief that getting sick is a sign of poor immunity. Which in a way it does signify that your immune system is at a point where it lets infections take hole.

However, I’d would only start to say you have a sluggish immune system if you are getting sick more than once a year and it’s not resolving in a reasonable amount of time. If get sick once a year and it’s a couple of days then sounds like your body is just telling you that it’s time to slow down.

Viral cells are continuously evolving and mutating, so the reason we usually catch it year after year is because it’s a new virus that our body hasn’t come into contact with yet.

 Colds & flus are the result of a self-limiting infection of the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract (URT) which causes an inflammatory cascade causing those classic signs & symptoms- runny nose, snot, sore throat etc.

Beginning to incorporate the following things particularly leading into the colder months can help to reduce the risk and the severity of those pesky colds & flus.


Medicinal mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms have been used for thousands of years medicinally. The most commonly known medicinal mushrooms include shiitake, reishi, lion’s mane, turkey tail, chaga & the oyster mushroom.

They have a number of active therapeutic components including polysaccharides (carbohydrate chains) & proteoglycans which have been shown to either boost an underactive immune system or and down-regulate an overactive one.

The most common medicinally active ingredient among mushrooms is Beta-glucans.

When it comes to fighting your common cold, mushrooms can help by:

  • Down-regulating inflammation
  • Helps with the growth, maturation & proliferation of white blood cells (WBCs)
  • Carbohydrate chains feed the microbiota as a prebiotic, which protects mucous membranes and prevents bad bacteria from attaching to our intestinal or respiratory lining
  • They boost secretory IgA (sIgA)- This antibody guards the cellular wall of our gut and respiratory systems. If you have low levels of this, it can mean that you’re at an increased risk of infection.
  • Play an anti-bacterial role

It’s really easy to incorporate medicinal mushrooms into your diet from cooking a mushroom ragout or using a therapeutic powder such as one from SuperFeast, or one that has been prescribed by your health practitioner.

I use Superfeast and add a 1/2 -1 tsp into my coffee or hot chocolate, and is something that you can give to the whole family (amount vary according to age and size).    


Avoid the sweet stuff

For the most part we should limit our intake of refined sugars due to its inflammatory nature, its low nutrient density and its role it plays in a number of chronic conditions.

And the story is no different when it comes to getting sick... or not.

When you are sick, you should really steer clear of the white stuff as it actually competes with Vitamin C for incorporation into immune cells. Immune cells are heavily saturated with Vitamin C, and when people first think of the cold they automatically reach for the Vitamin C.

The by-products of excessive sugar and high blood sugar levels can hinder the natural inflammatory response needed to help stop the bad bugs. You can you think of your WBCs like Pacman, moving around your body eating up potential threats. Sugar interferes with their normal fuel source rendering your white blood cells (WBCs) drunk and unable to engulf the bad bacteria.

Sugar basically lowers your first line of defence, increases your susceptibility to infection as well as reduces your ability to rid yourself of it.


Boost your Bugs

Lining our gut and respiratory system are important barriers called mucous membranes. These are protected by a few different mechanisms, but one important factor is our normally residing bacteria in our gut and respiratory system, known as the 'Microbiome'.

These bugs work together to crowd out any unwanted visitors and stop them attaching to these membranes which causes infection and inflammation.

Your respiratory system and gut microbiota have their own distinct microbial communities which you want to be really diverse! Diversity increases protection and crowds out the potential baddies.

It's kind of like trillions of bouncers manning the front door to the club and keeping out anyone who looks like they're going to cause trouble.

Saccharomyces boardie (SB), which is actually a yeast has been shown to stimulate sIgA production which increases your protection from infection similarly to medicinal mushrooms.

Other particular strains such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) have been shown to stimulate your immune system as well as reduce the duration and severity of colds.

Always opt for practitioner probiotic products to ensure quality of your product.

Food is the #1 way to increase your microbial diversity and this is through adequate fibre levels and a diet rich in prebiotic foods.

Basically we want to consume 40+ different kinds of plant foods each week. This can include nuts, seed, fruit & veg, spices & herbs. When you break it down its only about 6 different plant foods a day, that’s only two per meal!

Nanna’s chicken soup/ veg soup

I feel like chicken soup is part of the fabric of growing up and getting sick. Most people would reminisce about their mumma or nana making up a warm broth filled with goodness. Also known as Jewish penicillin, it has long been used as a staple in treating your cold or flu.

In more recent days, bone broth (bones cooked for minimum 24 hours) is something that you’ll find in a number of households to help kick your cold.

Bone broth has been shown to include a number of amino acids including cysteine & glutamine which are needed to help fuel immune and intestinal wall wells. Cysteine has been shown to help break down mucous and aid its clearance (Mum & Nan always did know best!).

A nourishing bowl of soup can help improve hydration, which is integral to optimal lymphatic system function (an important aspect of your immune system which helps identify and clear potential pathogens). And the heat from the broth can help accelerate mucous clearance.

Don’t forget to pimp your broth with ginger, garlic, turmeric, chilli to really get your immune system firing.

Of course if you don’t eat meat, then opting for a veggie broth using an organic miso paste or adding good quality protein like legumes or tempeh is a fab way to fight those bad bugs and incorporate all those gorgeous immune boosting foods.


R & R

The “soldier on” mentality when it comes to beating the common cold just ain’t cutting it anymore.

When it comes to preventing sickness and recovering from it quickly, a little R & R is where it’s at.

 Had a big weekend? Minimal sleep? And then bang, your throat starts to get scratchy, your nose starts to run! Sound familiar?

In a recent research article, sleep has actually been found to have a bi-directional relationship with the immune system. Immune activation has been shown to initiate an inflammatory response which can disrupt sleep, in turn sleep and a lack of it has been found to hinder immune function and increase inflammation which can increase your susceptibility to infection and the severity and duration of it.

So get snoozing peeps! I give you permission to lie in bed a little longer on these cold mornings, or hit the hay a little earlier if it means you’re hitting your sleep quota.


Reference List:

Albert Sanchez, J. L. Reeser, H. S. Lau, P. Y. Yahiku, R. E. Willard, P. J. McMillan, S. Y. Cho, A. R. Magie, U. D. Register, Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 26, Issue 11, November 1973, Pages 1180–1184, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/26.11.1180


Besedovsk, L., Lange, T. & Haack, M. (2019). The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. Physiology Review, 99(3), 1325-1380. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00010.2018.


Ibarra-Coronado, E.G., Pantaleon-Martinez, A.M., Velazquez-Moctezume, J., Prospero-Garcia, O., Mendez-Diaz, M., Perez-Tapia, M., Pavon, L. & Morales-Montor, J. (2015). The Bidirectional Relationship between Sleep and Immunity against infections. Journal of Immunology Research, doi: 10.1155/2015/678164

Musynska, B., Grzywacz-Kiselewska, A., Kala, K., Gdula-Argasinska, J. (2018). Anti-inflammatory properties of edible mushrooms: A review. Food Chemistry, 243, 373-381


Newsholme, P. (2001). Why is L-glutamine metabolism important to cells of the immune system in health, postinjury, surgery or infection? Journal of Nutrition, 131(9)


Son, S., Hwang, I., Han, S.H., Shin, J., Shin, O.S. & Yu, Je. (2017). Advanced glycation end products impair NLRP3 inflammasome-mediated innate immune responses in macrophages. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 292 (50), 20437-20448


 Photo by Dominik Martin on Unsplash


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