Cold & Flu Prevention by Dr. Stephanie Karozos, MD
The days are getting shorter and there is a chill in the air, which means cold and flu season is upon us! Here are some easy, affordable ways to prevent viral illnesses and enjoy winter to its fullest.
Excessive exposure to cold weather without properly bundling up can lower your immune response, making it easier for pathogens like cold (rhinovirus) and flu (influenza) viruses to get past your immune system and multiply, causing illness. Wearing a hat, warm jacket, closed toed shoes with warm socks, and a scarf in cold weather is a great way to bolster your body’s natural defense system.
Get plenty of sleep, aiming for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night (some people need closer to 9!) to allow your immune system to function properly. Studies have demonstrated that people who do not get adequate sleep are more likely to contract a virus than people who do. For tips on how to fall and stay asleep, check out our article on sleep health.
Sweat it out
Moderate intensity exercise (30-45 minutes daily) can help get your immune proteins circulating through your body, the benefits of which can last for several hours after you have finished exercising. It also helps to improve sleep, boost mood, reduce inflammation, and improve chronic health conditions, all of which can improve your immune function.
Take your vitamins
Adequate levels of vitamin D, B-complex, vitamin C and zinc all help bolster your immune system’s response to invading pathogens. Ensure that you are eating a diet rich in these vitamins and supplementing when necessary. Your healthcare provider can check your B-12, B-6, and vitamin D levels, if you suspect you might be deficient.
Support your gut
Gut health can be affected by illness and can also impact your immune system. During times of illness, be sure to eat nutrient-rich foods and avoid highly processed or fast foods to help your body eliminate viruses effectively. Be sure you are eating a high fiber (lots of veggies and fruits) diet with the goal of having one to two bowel movements daily.
Oh no! I feel a cold coming on. What should I do?
Despite all of your best efforts, you feel a familiar scratchiness in your throat, stuffiness in your sinuses, and a chill in your body. Oh no! Here’s what you should do to nip that virus in the bud.
-Rest: Try to get 8 hours or more of sleep at night when you are sick. Your body needs rest for your immune system to function properly, allowing you to recover more quickly.
-Nourish: Care for your body by eating whole, unprocessed, nutritious foods. Heavily processed, starchy, sugary, or fried foods can cause inflammation and make it harder to heal.
-Hydrate: Drink plenty of water, adding electrolytes (preferably via an unsweetened or minimally sweetened powder) to support adequate hydration.
-Supplement: taking vitamin D, vitamin C, a B-complex vitamin, zinc, and an immune support mushroom blend can help support your immune system with any bug. Elderberry has been shown to outperform tamiflu in a study on influenza. Adding an elderberry supplement in viral illness can also potentially help you heal faster.