We've heard it a thousand times, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'. But when it comes to being sick, or worse, having our kids sick, or even worse yet, having all your kids sick at once, this prescription is as good as gold.
Exposure to bacteria and viruses is not the cause of illness. We are exposed to harmful germs daily. Our bodies' response to them is what determines if illness will occur. Some measures we take are about avoiding exposure, and others focus on building our immune response. The two go hand-in-hand.
Starting with those stratagems which are easiest to implement, following are some of the measures we employ in our quest to prevent illness as much as possible:
- Stay well hydrated. Drink plenty of water to keep mucous membranes wet. Wet noses (not necessarily runny), wet eyes, and a moist mouth will repel germs, whereas dry ones allow the germs to stick like glue. If you are waking with a sore throat and dry cracked lips, you are not drinking enough. (The recommended amount to drink is half your body weight in ounces of water daily, which for my Little Napoleon would be about three ounces a day. Grin.)
- Exercise daily. (Please don't ask me if I really do this.) The lymph system has no pump like the circulatory system, so the only way it can move the good stuff (lymphocytes and antibodies) and the bad stuff (bacteria and viruses) where they need to go is through our muscles contracting and pumping it around. Hence, folks who exercise have higher immune function.
- Get fresh air daily. (Sounds like a no-brainer, but for homeschool Moms, it is sometimes a challenge.) Get yourself outside, and get fresh air inside as much as possible. Open windows-even in winter for a short time. Stale air is full of toxins, which stress the body's systems. Stale air is typically very dry as well, which goes back to point number one about dry mucous membranes.
- Wash hands frequently and properly. Use hot water and soap, and keep rubbing for 20 seconds. This is about as long as it takes to sing the first verse of Amazing Grace, or if you're Doodle, the first line three times over. The hot water and soap will help wash off the germs, but you don't want to kill them. Antibacterial soaps are a leading cause of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains of germs. Don't use them if you want to be healthy. What doesn't kill them makes them stronger, and since we don't wash our hands under a microscope, we don't want to take chances.
- Bathe properly. That means not too much bathing, and not too much soap. In studying, I found that decreased exposure to bacteria may be spurring the rise of modern-day illnesses such as asthma, allergies and auto-immune diseases. Also, our skin has an acidic oily layer that is the biggest chemical barrier to infections, because it is inhospitable to most harmful germs. When this layer is washed off with soap, it does us no good. So wash your hands with soap, but try to avoid it on the rest of the body.
If you can stomach it, you can let them eat...well, you can read it yourself here.
- Get enough rest. Tired bodies have tired immune systems. If you are worn down, you will be more likely to get sick. I try to be proactive about this by not allowing us to be over-extended. Instead of waiting until we are already coming down with something to rest, I make it a priority all the time. Good, deep sleep allows our bodies to release interferon, a powerful immune-enhancing compound that is especially helpful with fighting viral infections.
- We avoid antibiotics at all costs. Anti means against, and biotic means living organisms...these things kill living organisms-the good and the bad. (Until I started studying immunity, I had no idea how important 'good bacteria' were. I will explain more about this later.) When something does the work for you, it makes you weaker. Every time we use antibiotics, our bodies lose an opportunity to grow stronger. Studies also show that for a normally healthy person, the use of antibiotics lengthens the duration of illness, and the likelihood of recurrence.
- We drastically cut our intake of sugar. We don't drink juice, soda, Kool-Aid, etc. Studies have shown that after ingestion of even a teaspoon of sugar, immune function is depleted for up to six hours. This goes for even healthy sugars like raw honey, sucanat, real maple syrup,and even...fruit juice. Whole fruits do not have the same effect on immunity. For us, this looks like not serving pancakes with maple syrup before church or on Town Day, when we will be exposed to a lot of new germs.(Not to mention how it helps Little Napoleon sit still in church better.)
- Dietary Supplements- these are things we include in our everyday diet to strengthen our immune systems:
- Vitamins-We do not use vitamin supplements, only whole foods. Studies have shown isolated nutrients (and especially synthetic ones) do more harm than good.
- Cod liver oil- Nourishing Traditions says it confers 'resistance to infectious disease in children'. We buy it lemon-flavored, and there is no special way to take it...just chug a spoonful with dinner. This has been instrumental in curing one of our children of asthma.
- Virgin coconut oil- The Coconut Oil Miracle says that the fatty acids found in coconut are powerful natural antibiotics, killing bacteria like streptococcus and staphylococcus. Besides being the only oil outside of butter that we use in cooking, we also put it in smoothies for snacks and hurry-up breakfasts. Another yummy way to supplement with this is to melt a spoonful in a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate.
- Raw garlic-this Italian girl is thrilled that garlic is part of a healthy lifestyle! We eat it regulary in salad dressing, pasta sauce, dips, etc. Our favorite way to have it is on pasta tossed with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper with raw garlic put through the garlic press. Even the Littles eat it this way a smidge, and the big kids like it with plenty of garlic, (although no one likes as much as Mom!). Garlic can stimulate the activity of the white blood cells, which attack foreign organisms (viruses, bacteria, and yeast). Also, garlic increases the activity of the T-helper cells (immune cells which are central to the activity of the entire immune system). Dragon breath for a good cause!
- Elderberry Extract- we take our homemade Elderberry syrup every day during cold and flu season. Studies about elderberry extract have proven it to offer strong protection against respiratory viral infections. Here are instructions for making it yourself, or you can buy Sambucol. Elderberry has no contraindications, and can be taken continually (unlike Echinacea) without harming immune response.
Throughout my studies, and now, my experience, the most important thing I have come across to support and strengthen the immune system is healthy bacteria in our digestive systems! I cannot stress this enough. The good bacteria in our digestive tract kills the harmful germs we come into contact with while they are in our digestive tract, before they enter our bloodstream. The lack of healthy bacteria in our bodies these days is why food poisoning is so rampant. E. Coli is naturally occurring in our bodies-it is just when it gets out of balance that it wreaks havoc. I found that strong immunity depends upon the bacteria in the digestive system being in balance, with the 'good' bacteria outnumbering the 'bad'. Everything under the sun kills the good and causes the bad to proliferate, especially stress, conventional farming methods, and the over-processed, high-sugar content of the standard American diet.
In organic farming, the healthy bacteria we need in our systems are naturally on the fruits and vegetables we grow. Modern farming practices kill the bacteria, causing us to be way under-supplied with the good bacteria or 'friendly fauna'. Thus, our need to supplement our diets with these bacteria. A healthy whole foods diet will help to keep the bad bacteria in check, but we have to be sure to eat the good. How we do that is by making and consuming traditional lactic-acid fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and old-fashioned lacto-fermented pickles. (This dietary change has also been instrumental in curing one of our children of asthma. Thank you, Father!)
We eat at least one of these foods daily (it only takes a smidge) to keep those bacteria in balance. A yogurt shake, a tablespoon or two of sauerkraut with our sandwich at lunch, a few pickle slices with dinner...it is very easy to do. If you want to know more about the effect of the digestive system on immunity, read Restoring Your Digestive Health by Jordan Rubin. If you want recipes and instructions for making these lacto-fermented foods, read Nourishing traditions by Sally Fallon. They are truly simple to make-needing nothing more than a knife, a jar, some salt, some water and a vegetable. The kids have been talking about posting a blog tutorial about making lacto-fermented vegetables, so we may do that soon.
In closing, I just want to state that YHWH (God's name in Hebrew) is sovereign. He alone controls whether we and our families will experience illness. Knowing that He expects us to be faithful stewards of the health that He has bestowed, these are the measures that we have been led to take.
Well, these and the old stand-by:
'You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose.'
At least not while he's sick.
P.S. If you haven't already, you may want to read Battling Illness Naturally Part One ~ The Why.