Back in 2016 I got sick over Labor Day weekend, and then proceeded to be sick fairly consistently until the end of April 2017. I was sick more in that 8 month time frame than I had been for the last decade combined. I lost track, but I think I had something like 3 severe upper respiratory infections, which all started with gnarly sore throats (but not strep – that comes later!), a couple more minor colds, a nasty (NASTY) stomach bug (while on a business trip!), and then strep throat – TWICE – in the first 4 months of last year. As I sat in my neighborhood walk-in urgent care on a Saturday morning in late-April, hooked up to an IV that would deliver me 2 liters (yes, 2) of hydration I badly needed thanks to my strep throat (hurt so much to swallow I guess I wasn’t drinking enough, plus I started throwing up, which apparently can be part of strep), I thought to myself . . . WTF!?!?! HOW did I get here? How did I go from being super-healthy-energizer-bunny-can-power-through-anything to this . . . SICK PERSON? Why has my immune system forsaken me? So I went in search of answers. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and neither is the internet. Even advice I share given to me from doctors might not be right for you, so go see a real doctor. These are just a few things that helped me/that I hadn’t realized that I wanted to share.)
– I have 2 preschool-aged children – Can’t do anything about that because I love them, so I guess they can stay, germs and all.
– I don’t sleep enough – This is thanks largely to #1, and often getting woken up in the middle of night or early in the morning for some reason or another. While I can’t do much to control that, I do have more control over what time I go to bed, and I was going to bed too late. A study done at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who averaged fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night – even if they said they felt well-rested – were almost THREE TIMES as likely to get sick as those who got 8 hours or more of sleep per night. That stat blew my mind. So I have been trying to make it a priority to get 8 hours of sleep, and, since the end of April I really haven’t been sick. Also, I just generally felt better – win-win.
– I drink too much coffee – Now this is largely due to #2, but basically mainlining caffeine all day long just perpetuates the problem. Drinking coffee late in the day definitely affects how you sleep. So then you don’t sleep well, and the next day are exhausted so you drink even more coffee, and the nasty cycle repeats again and again until your body can’t take it anymore and you end up sick. This is a hard one for me to write because, well, I LOVE COFFEE. I love it. I want to drink it all the time. And the problem was, I did. So I’ve been trying a “No coffee after 12pm” rule, and I think it’s helping. I seem to be sleeping better and waking up feeling more rested. Ideally, I would like to turn this into a “Just 1 coffee in the morning” rule, but baby steps people. (Update: since writing this I got pregnant so I have been sticking to 1 almond milk latte in the morning and, after an initial adjustment period, I do feel better).
– Handwashing/hand sanitizers – Did you know that you are supposed to wash your hands with soapy lather for at least 20-30 seconds for the soap to do its job? Neither did I (hence I never did) – it’s longer than you think. And sometimes a sink and soap aren’t readily available (ie. on your morning commute when you can’t get a seat on the subway and have to hold on to one of the bars, then finally get a seat and sit down and immediately touch your phone, which you later hold up to your face not realizing your phone is basically now a petry dish of subway germs). Fun statistic: apparently adults touch their face 15 times EVERY HOUR. And every time we do we are transferring germs from our hands right where they want to go (eyes/nose/throat/ears) to make your life totally miserable. So I started keeping a hand sanitizer in my purse so I could use it on the subway, before I eat, when I’ve wiped boogers off my child’s face for the 7th time, anytime I’m/we’re traveling, etc. I also use it (or Wet Wipes) on my kids hands after they’ve been at the playground, as that’s a huge breeding ground for germs too. And when we are traveling I always use them to wipe down the seats, armrests, tray tables, whatever my kids will touch. I know this paragraph makes me sound like a crazy germophobe and I’m not, I swear, but I am definitely more cautious after having been sick for 8 months straight. Plus, people can be disgusting – I was reading this Cup of Jo article last week and happened to see this comment below and it has haunted me ever since. And now you will think of it every time you get on a plane too – sorry, but seriously read this:
“I was recently on a flight sitting diagonal across from a man who was BLOWING SNOT ROCKETS into his hand and then opening the seat pocket and smearing the snot on the inside wall of the seat pocket. It was SO. EFFING. DISGUSTING that I had to move. I sat there and watched him smear snot everywhere as well as pick buggers and flick them in the pocket. Never in my life have I seen such a disgusting display. So life lesson: Never take anything out of, or put anything in the seat pocket in front of you.”
– Homeopathics/supplements – A lot of this stuff has questionable benefits, but 2 things in particular have made an incredible difference for me:
- Oscillococcinum – hard to pronounce but this stuff REALLY works if you take it at the onset of symptoms. They sell it at basically every pharmacy now (in the same aisle where they have Airborne, Zicam, etc.)
- Allicin pills – allicin is a component of garlic that has broad-spectrum antibacterial qualities, and it also helps to fight viruses. In a British study, volunteers who took a daily 180 mg allicin supplement got 63% fewer colds over a 12 week period than those taking a placebo. I started taking these whenever I felt like I was coming down with something and it seemed to nip it in the bud. Actual garlic cloves contain less than 10 mg of allicin, but even eating 2+ cloves a day could provide some health benefits (but you might smell a bit 😉 ).
– I don’t consistently exercise – This has been the hardest one for me to change, but it’s also super important for immunity. Apparently, it takes at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise to sweep white blood cells, key immune system components that are stuck on blood vessel walls, back into circulation so they can go where they are most needed (according to an article in Prevention Magazine). Exercise is also one of the best ways to manage stress (although just thinking about going to the gym is stressing me out as I type this but that’s only because I’m out of shape), and stress has been proven in countless studies to weaken the immune system. I know all this, but with a full-time job, 2 young kids and never feeling like I’ve gotten enough sleep (because usually I haven’t), this is the first thing I put on the backburner. But I am making a conscious effort to change this, because I KNOW it will positively impact my health, how I feel, how I look, how I feel about how I look, how well I sleep, etc. and serve as a much better role model to my kids who I want to grow up believing that staying physically fit is an important part of their life and overall health. It’s also great to have moderate exercise as part of any healthy pregnancy. So, knowing that I am prone to set my alarm at night with good intentions and then hit snooze 5 times until I jump up late for work and/or a child needs me, I booked a trainer once a week for the next 2 months to help me get back on track (and she has some app that I check in on that will apparently track if I’m doing my “homework” on my own). I just started this past Monday – I’m still sore from our first session so I guess so far so good? Wish me luck.
– Start your morning with lemon water – If you google this a ton of hits come up singing the benefits of this morning routine, from GOOP to the Cleveland Clinic to just about every health and wellness site. So, I finally decided to start doing it too. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into warm water and drink when you wake up, waiting 30 min ideally until eating breakfast. It provides a power punch of vitamin C, aids in digestion, helps keep the body more alkaline, can prevent kidney stones, provides needed hydration, etc. – the list goes on! So far so good – I like how it tastes and it’s a nice little ritual to start my day. [UPDATE: My mom is a dentist and sent me this comment after reading the post: “To protect your teeth from enamel loss from the lemon water rinse your mouth with a baking soda/water mix right afterward and don’t brush your teeth for 15 minutes. The acidity softens the enamel.” Thanks mom! xx]
– Get your flu shot – Especially this year – H3N3 is not something to mess around with.
So, this is what I have been doing and I hadn’t gotten sick once (EVEN with sick kids and a sick husband) until last week when I finally succumbed to an awful sinus/head cold plague that had been going around my office for about 2 months. But I have really noticed such an improvement in my immune system, so while obviously nothing can work 100% of the time, I think this stuff has really helped me a lot and I hope this helps you too! And if you have any other tips that you have found helpful PLEASE please share them in the comments! I’m always looking for more health tips, home remedies, etc.
Wishing you all health, happiness and a wonderful 2018!