According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu season has hit early this year. What’s more, the strain of flu that’s most prevalent thus far–H3N2–has been associated with more severe flu seasons and is apt to strike the very young and very old. Five states, including Texas, already have widespread reports of flu outbreaks. Fortunately, this year’s flu vaccine closely matches the circulating strains, and Downtown Doctor has preservative free vaccine available on a walk-in, or appointment basis if preferred. Beyond getting vaccinated, additional steps to stay healthy during the cold and flu season are outlined below.
1) Hand hygiene. Wash hands thoroughly and frequently using warm water and soap.
For best results, scrub vigorously between your fingers, beneath fingernails and your wrists. Wash your hands:
- Before eating
- After using the restroom
- After physical contact with a sick person or items they used
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
Tip: To truly get rid of germs, scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, or about the time it takes you to sing the Happy Birthday song twice.
2) Don’t touch your face. Cold and flu viruses enter your body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Touching their faces is the major way children catch colds and a key way they pass colds on to their parents.
3) Exercise. Aerobic exercise speeds up the heart to pump larger quantities of blood; makes you breathe faster to help transfer oxygen from your lungs to your blood; and makes you sweat once your body heats up. These exercises help increase the body’s natural virus-killing cells.
4) Supplement with Vitamin D. Various studies have suggested that vitamin D plays a protective role in the immune system. One study by the Department of Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine found that those who had blood levels lower than 38 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter) had twice as many upper respiratory tract infections when compared to those whose blood levels were lower than 38 ng/ml. Because the body makes vitamin D when in the sun, lower levels tend to occur in the winter, otherwise known as cold season. James Cannell, MD and president of the Vitamin D Council recommends supplementing with 5,000 IU/day.
5) Don’t smoke. Statistics show that heavy smokers get more severe colds and more frequent ones. Even being around smoke profoundly zaps the immune system. Smoke dries out your nasal passages and paralyzes cilia. These are the delicate hairs that line the mucous membranes in your nose and lungs, and with their wavy movements, sweep cold and flu viruses out of the nasal passages. Experts contend that one cigarette can paralyze cilia for as long as 30 to 40 minutes.
6) Eat fermented foods or supplement with a probiotic. Probiotics found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi strengthen and maintain the mucosal barrier system (in our respiratory and intestinal tract), which is our first line of defense against pathogens. What’s more, 75% of our immune system if found in the gut.
7) Vitamin C and immune boosting botanicals. Vitamin C is useful for fighting off colds. Take 1g every 3-4 hours. In addition, there are a number of botanicals that have a potent immune-boosting effect. These include echinacea, astragalus, codonopsis, Siberian ginseng, catnip, ginger root, garlic and Elder flower (Sambucus).
8) Drink plenty of water. at least one 8-oz glass of water for every 20 pounds body weight. Water is important for healthy digestion and elimination. All of our cells are constantly bathed in water. When they become dehydrated they can’t function properly.
9) Get plenty of rest. Aim for 8-9 hours sleep per night and rest if you feel tired. Sleep is recovery time for the body’s functions, including the immune system. Sleep in a completely dark room, and avoid eating a large meal directly before bedtime.