Keeping the Upper Hand in Cold & Flu Season
The good news is, with a bit of preparation, you can often prevent winter illness from taking hold before it does! All it takes is a strong immune system!
Here are a few tips:
Most importantly (and obviously!) you’ve got to eat right!
A healthy, balanced diet is paramount to keeping your immune system in check! Stock up on fruits & vegetables with every meal and snack! Not only are they overall nutritious, being full of minerals, nutrients and fiber, the vitamin C content helps improve the immune system keeping viruses and bacteria from making you sick. Best choices are dark-leafy greens (kale, chard, spinach), brightly coloured vegetables (like carrots, beets and peppers where available) and fruit (cranberries, citrus fruits, etc). Also make sure that you’re getting adequate protein (fish, eggs, lean meats), whole grains and healthy fats (nuts, avocados, hemp hearts) to ensure adequate vitamin, mineral and nutrient balance!
Avoiding processed foods, saturated and trans fatty foods and excess sugar is key as these foods offer little to nothing in the way of nutrients, and that excess sugar feeds bacteria, thus making them stronger and better able to fight back against your immune system.
Make sure to keep exercising.
Yes, even in the cold it’s important to keep moving! Evidence has shown there is a link between regular, exercise and a strong immune system. Moderate exercise helps ensure adequate blood flow through all of your tissues which helps circulate macrophages, the immune cells that help fight bacteria and viruses. This means they are able to find and kill pathogens more quickly thus preventing them from making you sick! Just 30 minutes of brisk walking, ice-skating, yoga or a fitness class 3 times per week is all it takes!
A word of caution though, while moderate exercise improves immunity, the opposite is true of excessive exercise. More than 90 minutes of intense endurance exercise can make one susceptible to illness for up to 3 days due hormonal suppression of the immune response.
Wash your hands
It’s repeated over and over, but it’s surprising how many people still haven’t caught on. Throughout the day you’re constantly coming into contact with germs, and the best way to prevent them from getting in is to wash them away before they can. Before you eat or drink, handle food, apply make-up etc., a good scrub with soap and water will rid your hands of the majority of potentially harmful bacteria and viruses that cause illness.
Rest and Relax
Taking time for yourself and ensuring enough sleep is extremely important. Most people, adults and children alike, don’t get enough sleep on a nightly basis. This deprives your body of its healing time (which occurs while you sleep) thus weakening it and lowering your immune systems ability to fight off invading pathogens. Try to get at a minimum of 8 hours uninterrupted sleep per night. Not only will you body thank you for it, you’ll feel more alert and energetic to face the hastily approaching holiday season!
Other helpful tools
Garlic is a powerful antimicrobial and supporter of a healthy immune system, not to mention delicious! Chop garlic raw into salad dressings, add to cooked or roasted vegetables, soups, sauces, bake whole heads in the oven… the possibilities are endless!
Note: look for my "Glorious Garlic" post for more info and a super recipe!
Echinacea is a wonderful herb that, if taken right at the beginning of a cold or flu, can help to prevent it from fully taking hold. It can also shorten the duration of illness and decrease the severity of symptoms if you are already sick. Much controversy exists about when and how long this Echinacea should be taken, so if you find yourself needing it for longer than 7-10 days, it’s best to talk to your Naturopathic Physician about alternative options.
Several supplements like Vitamin C and Zinc may be helpful to prevent or fight bacteria and viruses, as well as to improve the strength of your immune system. Talk to your Naturopathic Physician about the best options for you!
Keeping the upper hand will help ensure that you and your family are better able to enjoy the winter months as well as the approaching holiday season!
Dr Katarine Holewa, ND