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No matter how awesome our immune systems are, inevitably, we all get sick at some point. Eating clean and exercising will give your immune system a natural boost, but sometimes your body just gets caught off guard. Next thing you know you are waking up with that ever-so-slight tickle in the back of your throat, and you’re a little more tired than usual. You know right then that there are two options: Either you fight off this cold successfully, or the mucus monster takes over.

1. Incorporate detoxing superfoods.

Bring in particular foods that have intense detoxing properties like parsley, cilantro, blueberries, and dandelion tea.

Switch out a few cups of my green tea throughout the day and replace it with dandelion tea. It’s filled with B vitamins designed to amp up detoxing methylation pathways. Add blueberries, cilantro, and parsley to a morning smoothie.

2. Go adaptogenic.

These natural plants and herbs are all designed to bring balance to whatever system you're targeting. No matter what symptoms you are dealing with, chances are there’s an adaptogen for that

  • Maca: packed with vitamin C
  • Ashwagandha: traditionally used to boost the immune system after being sick
  • Astragalus: has antiviral and antibacterial properties

3. Target vitamins and supplements.

These can be taken orally or the best route is Vitamin C via IV therapy for 100% absorption. 

  • Echinacea: This herb has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of the common cold.
  • Vitamin C: This immune booster has been found to reduce symptoms by up to 30 percent. Take anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000 mg per day.
  • Zinc: This nutrient's main role is to increase white blood cells and fight off infection, and it can actually increase vitamin C’s immune-boosting properties when taken together. About 75 mg per day has been shown to help your body fight off a cold faster.

4. Go crazy with the essential oils.

These concentrated liquids have been used for thousands of years due to their intensive healing abilities. These are three you can diffuse when you start feeling under the weather:

  • Tea Tree: This oil is antimicrobial, antiviral, and has antifungal properties.
  • Eucalyptus: This amazing-smelling oil is antimicrobial and an amazing decongestant. 
  • Frankincense and myrrh:  The synergistic antimicrobial benefits of these two oils are second to none. 

5.  Drink bone broth.

There’s a reason why grandma’s chicken noodle soup became such a famous cold and flu remedy, and it's especially helpful if you are fighting off a stomach virus. Bone broth contains gelatin, glucosamine, glycine, and minerals that help heal your gut from the inside out. The root of all disease begins in your gut, so feeding your digestive system with this food medicine will help you get you back to 100 percent.

What if you do not get better naturally? What about Antibiotics?

Antibiotics—or medications given to patients to kill bacterial infections—are prescribed more than 154 million times every year. And of those many millions of prescriptions, a staggering 30 percent are unnecessary, according to the CDC. Some reports even say that number is more accurately 50 percent, which is a statistic that should make us all take pause.

Why? Because there are many consequences to taking antibiotics—especially when you don't really need them.

For starters, using too many antibiotics has caused an epidemic of antibiotic-resistant infections. Bugs like MRSA—a bacteria that resists many common antibiotics—are spreading like never before, in part, because of our overuse of antibiotics. There are also many direct side effects to antibiotic use. Astonishingly, 14,000 Americans die each year from severe diarrhea caused by these drugs, and many more have irreversible damage of their skin, nerves, and tendons from antibiotic use. In addition, there's an important question that remains largely unanswered: What are antibiotics really doing to our immune systems?

We know that antibiotics disrupt the microbiome—the trillions of good bacteria in our gut—which is also conveniently where 75 percent of our immune system resides. Just a single use of antibiotics can cause changes in the microbiome, especially in the diversity of gut bacteria, and this is bad news because bacterial diversity is essential for our optimal health. The antibiotic ciprofloxacin, for example, has been shown to reduce the bacterial diversity by around one-third. While a majority of bacterial diversity eventually recovered after the round of antibiotics, some species still hadn't recovered six months later.

This is when antibiotics are actually useful (if not lifesaving).

So now that we've covered some of the dangers of overprescribing antibiotics, it's important to also recognize that there are many cases in which antibiotics are useful, and these drugs have saved many, many lives. It's all about distinguishing between when they're actually needed and when they're not. So when are antibiotics appropriate, exactly? If you're concerned you have an infection it's important to see a doctor to determine the nature of your illness, as some can be threatening. Here's what you should know about the two major categories of infection:

Viral infections.

Upper respiratory infections such as the common cold and the flu (influenza) are caused by a viral infection—not bacteria. Sinus infections and eye infections (pinkeye) are also almost always caused by viruses instead of bacteria. Remember, antibiotics kill only bacteria, so it's important to know what type of infection you're dealing with because they won't be effective against anything viral.

Bacterial Infections.

Now that we know that antibiotics should be used only for bacterial infections, we still have to remember that there are a ton of different kinds of bacterial infections, so it's really a case-by-case basis. (And should be evaluated with the help of your doctor.) In general, most ear infections resolve on their own after a few days. Urinary tract infections can cause painful and difficult urination, and while many cases also resolve on their own, antibiotics can be helpful. Some skin infections—especially those that are red and inflamed—will benefit from antibiotics.

How to support your body if you have to take antibiotics.

If you've gone through the necessary channels and you—and your doctor—have determined that you do have a bacterial infection, there's no reason to panic. In fact, there's a lot you can do to give your body a little extra TLC while you're on antibiotics. Here's where to start:

1. Antioxidants.

Antioxidants are essential for optimal immune function, eating up free radical compounds that make us sick. And while our meals should be our primary source of antioxidants, there are some key players that I often add to an immune-balancing regimen:

  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC): NAC is a powerful antioxidant and a precursor to glutathione, one of our body's most potent natural antioxidants. In addition, NAC has been proved to be an effective natural antibiotic, beneficially regulating biofilms. Biofilms are basically bacterial protective slime and the cause of persistent bacterial infections.
  • Pterostilbene: This antioxidant is found in foods like blueberries, almonds, and grape leaves. This compound is chemically similar to resveratrol, but researchers are finding that pterostilbene is even more potent. Some studies show that pterostilbene is four times more bioavailable than resveratrol, and it has also been shown to increase the NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) molecule, which produces anti-aging effects.
  • Curcumin and Turmerone: I could not talk about antioxidant sources without covering the active ingredients in turmeric, curcuminoids and turmerones, which are great for reducing the negative effects of antibiotics.

2. Probiotics.

For most people, I suggest taking quality probiotics, but this becomes especially important if you have to go on an antibiotic. This may seem contradictory, but studies have shown that they are effective during a round of antibiotics and also can reduce some of the antibiotic side effects.

3. Bone broth.

Bone broth is one my favorite food medicines to nourish the primary home of your immune system—the gut. If you don't want to make your own, Bonafide Provisions is great because it's handcrafted the same way it has been for centuries: in small batches. It's also in the frozen section in the health food store, meaning all that real food goodness is preserved. None of that shelf-stable broth in a carton!

Blog post excerpts incorporated by William Cole, DC