It’s the time of the year again. Here come the seasonal changes, and with them, the death knell of your ability to breathe for the next week. The constantly blocked nose and watery eyes, the brain fog and inability to focus on anything for more than 5 seconds, the sensation of being underwater as your ear passages close up. Time to pop antihistamines like M&Ms and shove your face into a bucket of steaming water. And if it gets worse, hey, nothing a quick dose of antibiotics cant fix.
Sound about right? If you have ever suffered from sinusitis, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I was diagnosed with sinusitis at a pretty young age, and growing up, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a cold at least once every couple of months. And this wasn’t just your regular cold. It would be accompanied by fevers and an inability to function for at least a week each time. The only way it would subside each time is after I went through a 5-7 day course of antibiotics. It wasn’t until much later, when I joined the fitness industry and learnt more about the body’s immune system and good nutrition practices was I was able to understand what was going on, and how I could address it.
Here are the 3 biggest things that I learnt that worked wonders for me in addressing my sinusitis:
[Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. These recommendations are from my personal experiences with what has worked for myself and my clients, and from interpreting articles written by people who know their shit way more than I do. ]
You might be allergic, but you don’t even know it.
I tried to make that rhyme. But yes, there might be foods that you are consistently putting into your body that are not agreeing with you, and you may not even know it. The reason is because your body’s immune system produces T-cells that dampen the symptoms that your body is showing to this food over a period of time. So perhaps the first time you ate this food, you might have had a runny nose, or a light cough, but after a while, the T-cells make them stop. The problem with this is that if you continue to consume that food on a regular basis, your immune system is constantly working to suppress the effects of that allergenic food, and is unable to muster the resources needed to fight invading bacteria/pathogens in your environment that could make you sick.
So by removing this allergenic food, your body can save its resources to fight off the pathogens and keep you from falling sick.
What this means
Now, because almost anything can be an allergen, I recommend testing your tolerance to the foods that have been known most commonly to cause allergic and respiratory issues – gluten, dairy, nightshades (tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, brinjal) and egg whites.
For me personally, it was gluten (all wheat products) and dairy. To test if said food is an allergen, you remove it from your diet completely for 6 weeks to allow your immune system to stop working overtime, and then reintroduce it. If your body is allergic to that food, it will show some kind of symptom – a headache, a runny nose, bloating, etc. If it does, you want to lay off that food group as a consistent part of your diet. No, eating a slice or two of pizza once in a while won’t kill you, but maybe switching from roti to rice for dinner would be a good idea.
All roads lead to gut health
While not nearly enough is known about gut health and how healthy gut flora influences everything from your immune function to blood pressure and kidney function, it seems for certain that taking care of your gut bacteria has positive effects on your body overall. The problem with this is that most people who suffer from any kind of sinusitis are almost always prescribed antibiotics. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against antibiotics when you need them at all, but they do wreak havoc on your gut and in turn, your immune system. This means that, while in the short term they do help your body fight off the invading bacteria/pathogen, in they long run, they also make you more susceptible to future infection.
What this means
This means 2 things:
Increase your intake of natural probiotics – Kefir, kimchi, kombucha and other fermented foods (no, beer doesn’t count). If you absolutely need to, you can consider a probiotic supplement.
Get off the antibiotics – At some point, you will need to get off the antibiotics. For me, this was initially an uncomfortable process. But the interesting thing was that the longer I stayed off antibiotics, the quicker I recovered from my bouts of sinus infections.
Exercise of any kind improves your immune system, but the type and intensity need to be appropriate to you. Exercise of moderate to challenging intensity is great at improving immune response, but overly intense exercise can actually make things worse.
Personally, I am biased towards weight training because with good technique, and a good training program, not only do you improve your immunity, but you also minimize inflammation that can be caused from beating up your joints from performing hundreds of reps as with with cardio or HIIT based training programs. Also, one study pointed out that older people with more muscle mass had more immune cells than their less swole counterparts.
What this means
Lift weights as part of a structured and progressive training program, with the goal of getting stronger and building lean muscle mass
There are a few specific vitamins that also help boost immunity, that are pretty easy to supplement with:
Vitamin C – Get your lemon juice/concentrate in either by drinking it or cooking with it.
Iodine – Most table salts contain iodine, so as long as you are cooking with it, you’re in the clear
Selenium – This one is a little trickier, especially if you are vegetarian. I would recommend getting a supplement for this one.
Vitamin D – By now, most of us know that we are deficient in vit D. Ask your doctor to recommend a dosage for you based on your blood tests.
So that’s it. Those are my top 3(ish) tips to tackle your sinusitis this flu season. Do give them a shot, and let me know what you think in the comments below!