Of course, most of us who are concerned about health right now are focusing on the possibility of COVID-19 infection. But we don’t want to forget about the usual culprits at this time of year — colds and flu. And the truth is, having one of these can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to COVID infection. So, let’s talk about how to avoid and treat them.

And one way to think about this is to treat infection like an attacking army.

The first thing to remember is, don’t expose yourself to the attacking army: Follow the normal guidelines to avoid contracting any contagious, airborne disease. Wear masks when appropriate, maintain social distancing and avoid crowded spaces no matter how much you miss going to visit family, to bars, or to church.

Next, keep your guard up by strengthening your immune system. Here are some major points on how to do that.

♦ Don’t smoke. Smoking lowers the body’s immune response, slows healing and weakens the respiratory system. A weakened respiratory system is more likely to contract colds, flu OR COVID-19.

♦ Get enough sleep. More and more research demonstrates that inadequate or low-quality sleep is just as destructive to the human body as smoking or other unhealthy practices. A healthy adult human should get from seven to nine hours of good quality sleep each night, just to maintain good health and a strong immune system.

♦ Eat a healthy diet. Reduce your intake of processed foods, eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and cut back drastically on adding sugar or eating foods that contain added sugar. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Some foods such as mushrooms and garlic, have demonstrated antiviral properties when added to the diet.

♦ Boost your immune system with specific supplements. Vitamin C, Vitamin D, B-complex vitamins, zinc and selenium are all powerful immune-boosting supplements. And don’t forget herbal supplements. Herbs such as elderberry (capsules or tea), echinacea (capsules or tea) and astragalus (capsules) are shown to strengthen the human immune system, too.

But sometimes, no matter what, the attacking army breaks through, and we get sick anyway. At that point, we need to take active measures, but we can do that, too!

If you have a tickly cough, there are herbal concoctions you can make at home to aid with that. One such is an herbal syrup that contains, among other things, cinnamon, ginger root and orange peel. The full recipe and instructions are found in Rosemary Gladstar’s excellent book, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health.

Along with coughs, often comes sore throat. Simply gargling with warm salt water (1/2 teaspoon to 8 ounces of water) can soothe and moisten sore throat tissues, as well as loosening phlegm that may accumulate and become a breeding ground for more infection.

A cup of hot chamomile tea with the addition of ¼ teaspoon of marshmallow root powder (not the white, sweet, puffy things you buy at the grocery store, but actual marshmallow root) can be a great soothing drink. Chamomile is anti-inflammatory and contains antioxidants, as well as helping to boost the immune system. The marshmallow root helps provide a soothing coating to inflamed throat tissues.

Do you have trouble gargling and need something different? Try this: ¼ cup of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of honey and ¼ cup of warm water. (If you have it around, you can substitute vodka or other spirits for the water.) Administer this, two or three spritzes at a time, to the back of the throat.

Stuffy nose? Chamomile again! Make a strong brew of chamomile tea, and inhale the steam through your nose while it is steeping. Also, if you have an essential oil diffuser, a few drops of peppermint oil and tea tree oil are great to use in the diffuser. The peppermint oil will help open sinuses, and the tea tree oil has antiviral properties.

My own experience in the past has been that, with flu and some colds, we also sometimes get body aches and pains. You can make your own muscle liniment or rub by combining grapeseed oil or almond oil as a carrier, with a few drops of eucalyptus oil, tea tree oil, clove oil, cypress oil and peppermint oil. I use a rub like this regularly when I overdo things and have sore muscles.

As always, these are recommendations and possibilities, not prescriptions. I am not your physician and encourage you to discuss these recommendations with him or her to be sure you have no allergies or other conditions that may keep you from safely using any of them.

My desire, as always, is to give you more information and help you make choices that will bring you good health.

Anthony Burton, Ph.D., owns and operates Spectrum Holistic, is a Reiki master, EFT (tapping) practitioner and a certified meditation teacher. Find out more at www.spectrum-holistic.com.

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