Dr. Hillary Roland, ND
Natural Cold & Flu Prevention Tips
It’s a magical time of year with lots of merriment. Yet while November and December are prime time for family and social engagements, they also are prime time for cold and flu viruses. Here are 6 natural ways to avoid getting sick this holiday season.
We are officially deep into the holiday season. Trees are decorated, menorahs have been lit, and Christmas carols can be heard in every store. It’s a magical time of year with lots of merriment. Yet while November and December are prime time for family and social engagements, they are also prime time for cold and flu viruses.
As we march our way through the holiday season — spending time with friends and family all while mingling with the myriad germs — here are few things you can do to keep yourself healthy:
1. Wash your hands As you move about doing holiday shopping and attending holiday parties, you’re constantly coming in contact with germs. I don’t mean to turn you into a germaphobe, but handrails, handshakes, and money are all covered with germs.
Wash your hands when you arrive somewhere new, just before you leave, and especially before you eat. Washing with soap and water for 20 seconds can eliminate the germs on your hands and prevent them from spreading.
Pro tip: sing the happy birthday song (in your head, or out loud – totally up to you!), which takes about 20 seconds. If you don’t have access to soap and water use an alcohol based hand sanitizer.
You also can give hugs instead of handshakes. Since hands are the part of your body covered in germs, you are much less likely to pick up more (or spread yours) when you give a hug. Bonus: giving and receiving hugs helps to reduce stress!
2. Eat Healthy Foods The holidays tend to be a time when we indulge in alcohol and sugar treats. Unfortunately, eating sugar can suppress your immune function for 5 hours after consumption! Yes, really. So try and limit the sweet treats, alcohol and fruit juice.
Meanwhile, foods high in phytochemicals like fruits and vegetables are full of compounds that help your immune cells do their job to the best of their ability. So even if you’re indulging be sure to include some veggies in every meal no matter what.
Have a hard time eating enough vegetables? Get some tips for easy ways to eat more veggies every day.
3. Manage Your Stress While the holidays can be filled with joy and fun, they also can be extremely stressful. Whether it’s a full schedule of holiday events, family drama, or financial concerns almost everyone experiences some level of stress during the holidays. Stress hormones like cortisol dampen down immune function and increase your risk of getting sick.
So it’s important to carve out some downtime and nourish the parasympathetic nervous system. Even meditating for 3 minutes every day can have a huge impact in keeping your nervous system calm. Here are 10 easy ways to find the pause button in your life.
Setting healthy boundaries (knowing when to say no) and getting regular exercise also go a long way to keeping your emotions and immune system healthy.
4. Get Plenty of Rest
The holidays are often a time where you go, go, go. There are often expectations to meet, parties to attend, family to visit, special dishes to prepare, cookies to bake, cards to write, gifts to buy, presents to wrap, and more.
Yet this constant hustle and bustle is out of sync with your body’s natural rhythm for this time of year. Winter should be a time of introspection and experienced at a slower pace than all of the end-of-the-year commitments allow. Plus, your t-cells (a particular immune cell) decrease when you are sleep-deprived, which makes you more vulnerable to invasion by the viruses that cause colds and flus.
Be sure to schedule time for rest, and set aside hours or even days with nothing or little to do. Go to bed earlier to ensure you get adequate sleep. Most importantly, if you feel like you’re coming down with something, stay home. Give yourself permissions to skip out on your commitments and take it easy so your immune system can work its magic. Bonus: you won’t risk spreading those germs!
Side note: it’s okay, healthy even, to say no. You don’t HAVE to do all the things. Do less. Make new traditions. Or just give yourself a break. Remove things from your "TO DO" list that don’t bring you joy.
5. Support Your Immune System
A number of vitamins and herbs help keep our immune running in tip top shape including:
Vitamin D – an essential nutrient for white blood cell function.
Vitamin C – a potent antioxidant, vitamin C supports barrier functions to prevent infections from entering our body; it also accumulates in white blood cells to help them attack invaders.
Zinc – protects cell membranes of healthy cell during the inflammatory process, which allows for quicker recovery after illness. A zinc deficiency interferes with the production of white blood cells including neutrophils, NK cells, and decreases function of other virus and bacteria killing cells.
Medicinal mushrooms – mushrooms like shitake and maitake can speed up and white blood cell activity and increase their number. This super charges your immune defense systems to help keep infections at bay.
Probiotics – studies show that taking probiotics regularly can decrease frequency and length of respiratory infections.
6. Fight Viruses
The following herbs have been shown in research to help stimulate the immune system and destroy viruses. They can be used alone or in combination. You can take them through the cold and flu season at lower doses to prevent illness or at high doses at the first signs that you are getting sick to decrease severity and shorten duration of illness.
Elderberry – decreases the spike on viral surfaces deactivating the virus’ ability to pierce and enter human cells. A number of studies have shown its efficacy in preventing influenza and herpes infections.
Astragalus has been show to enhance immune function and decrease cold symptoms such as runny nose and watery eyes. It activates humoral cells and supports their ability to fight off viruses.
Echinacea – in therapeutic trials Echinacea has been shown to prevent illness in travelers, prevent recurrent respiratory tract infections in children, and prevent secondary infections in those who are already sick.
Andrographis – Andrographis has been show in clinical trials to reduce the severity and duration of upper respiratory tract infections when it is started within the first 36-49 hours of symptoms.
Fun facts: Elderberry was more effective then Tamiflu in studies during the swine flu epidemic. One study done in 2015 showed that Echinacea was as effective as Tamiflu in treating influenza virus and resulted in fewer adverse reactions. (Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 2015; 77:66-72) In a trial of 107 healthy children who received 200 mg/day of Andrographis for 3 months significantly decreased the number of illnesses compared to the placebo group.
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