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Tips for Preventing the Flu and Common Cold
by Bridget Casey
It’s the time of year for leaves to change and the sweaters to come out. Unfortunately, this also means cold and flu season is on its way. Following are some tips on how to maintain a healthy immune system to prevent common viral infections and enjoy the season.
Proper hydration is essential for immune function and also helps thin and move mucus. Drink plenty of water (at least half of body weight in ounces) on a daily basis. Electrolyte intake is also important, particularly if you exercise or sweat regularly. A pinch of sea salt can be added to water for electrolytes, or try one of the store-bought powders. Be sure to avoid alcohol and limit caffeine, both of which can be dehydrating. Alcohol in particular also suppresses immune function.
Eat whole foods
Focus on eating whole, fresh foods, with a variety of color in fruits and vegetables. This ensures plenty of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that are essential for immune function. Adding garlic and onions, as well as herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme can be especially beneficial for their immune-boosting and anti-microbial properties. Avoid or limit processed foods, particularly sugar, which directly feeds the microbes (viruses and bacteria) that are not wanted in the body.
Maintain proper rest
Getting enough quality sleep is probably one of the biggest challenges today. The immune system does its best work while we sleep. Prioritizing getting six to nine hours of quality sleep per night can do wonders for preventing infection, among other things. Each individual should listen to their body to determine what the best sleep schedule is for them.
Stress hampers immune function so it must be addressed. Assess the biggest daily stressors and determine which ones can be limited or eliminated altogether. Then, find some time on a daily basis, even if it’s just five minutes, to breathe, be present and do something relaxing like meditation, doing yoga, stretching or walking outside. Simply taking some long, slow, deeps breaths is also a great start.
Move the body
Exercise is a great way to increase circulation of blood and immune cells, and to maintain general good health. Keep in mind that over-exercising may actually hinder immune function, so it’s important to listen to your body. Focus on regular movement versus prolonged, intense exercise when concerned with immune function.
Wash your hands
Washing hands regularly helps to prevent the spread of microbes. Use regular soap and water rather than antibacterial soaps, which contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
Get the gut in order
The majority of our immune system actually lives in our digestive track, where it can monitor what comes into the body. The best thing for gut health is to eat a healthy, whole foods-based diet and avoid sugar and processed foods. It’s also helpful to include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir, which can help “seed” the population of beneficial bacteria in the gut. These beneficial bacteria help with maintaining balance in our microbiome, which is the garden of microbes that lives in our gut, and plays an integral role in maintaining a healthy immune system.
If despite taking these preventative steps cold and flu symptoms are experienced, once sick, it’s especially important to listen to the body and rest as-needed to allow the immune system a chance to fight the infection. Consider supplementing with herbs like elderberry or echinacea, or taking supplements with zinc, vitamin C or vitamin D. A naturopathic doctor can also provide recommendations and formulations for individual needs, which may include specific homeopathic remedies, herbal formulations, nutritional products or any combination thereof. And remember, getting an occasional minor infection is normal and can actually help keep our immune system in fighting shape.
Dr. Bridget Casey is a naturopathic doctor and the founder of Rhode Island Natural Medicine, LLC, a naturopathic medical clinic in Providence. The clinic is now open and welcoming new patients. For more information, please see RINaturalMedicine.com.
Disclaimer: The above are generalized recommendations and are not to be construed as medical advice. If you have a health condition or specific concerns, you should consult with your physician before initiating any therapies.