It’s cold and flu season and most of us don’t have time to be sick.
Our lives are so busy that there ís simply no place for cold and flu season on our calendars. Consider this your cheat sheet to building your immunity and nipping illness in the bud if it decides to rear its ugly head.
Build Your Immune System
We usually think of the immune system as the body’s defense mechanism against foreign invaders – such as viruses, bacteria, infections, and cancer cells. We depend on the immune system to fight off disease and keep us healthy. But sometimes the complex mechanisms of the immune system get out of kilter. When the immune system is weakened through stress, lack of sleep, nutritional deficiencies, or strenuous exercise, we are prone to get colds and other minor infections.
Consumption of these immune system-boosting foods and spices will help protect you during cold and flu season and keep you healthy and happy!
Oats – Many health researchers consider Beta Glucan to be one of the most effective immune enhancing substances ever discovered. The proper term to use for Beta Glucan is Beta 1, 3d glucan. It is a long chain polysacaride, or in simplier terms a complexed sugar molecule. Get your beta glucan from your morning oatmeal.
Healthy Fat – One promising area of research is in the field of essential fatty acids (EFAs), which have shown remarkable immune-modulating effects in numerous settings. The most important EFA supplements are flax seed and flax oil (containing ALA); fish oil (containing EPA and DHA); and borage oil or evening primrose oil (containing GLA). EFAs are intricately involved in the immune response, partly because they produce hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins, which control cellular processes on a minute-to-minute basis. EFAs also regulate cytokines, which are released from immune cells in response to injury, infection, or exposure to foreign substances.
Probiotics – Probiotics in the GI tract help to reinforce the barrier function of the intestinal lining, lowering the chance of bacteria in the intestines entering into the blood stream. This function may decrease infections and immune related reactions, thus supporting the health of the immune system.
Zinc – Zinc is a trace element essential for cells of the immune system, and zinc deficiency affects the ability of T cells and other immune cells to function as they should. Caution: While it’s important to have sufficient zinc in your diet (15-25 mg per day), too much zinc can inhibit the function of the immune system. Do not take extra zinc for more than 5 days.
Echinacea – Studies have had mixed results. Extracts of echinacea do seem to have an effect on the immune system, your body’s defense against germs. Research shows it increases the number of white blood cells, which fight infections. A review of more than a dozen studies, published in 2014, found the herbal remedy had a very slight benefit in preventing colds.
Vitamin C – The jury is still out on Vitamin C and cold prevention BUT Vitamin C is an important vitamin and antioxidant that the body uses to keep you strong and healthy. Vitamin C is used in the maintenance of bones, muscle, and blood vessels. Vitamin C also assists in the formation of collagen and helps the body absorb iron.
Cayenne Pepper – High in capsaicin and vitamin A, cayennepepper provides your body with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant goodness.
Garlic – This spice has the highest amount of anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties of any herb and can also multiply immune-boosting white blood cells.
Ginger – Ginger can help your immune system fight infection and has even been shown to kill influenza viruses.
Lemon – Lemons contain lots of vitamin C, something that rocks at fighting colds. They’re also high in potassium.
Red/Orange/Yellow peppers – These colorful peppers have even more vitamins than oranges! Best consumed raw to boost immunity.
Onions – Onions contain a high concentration of selenium which helps to stimulate immune function
An ounce of prevention during cold and flu season
1. Take Your Vitamins
Your vitamin D levels may run on E in winter. That matters: D can spur your body to fight off colds. In fact, taking 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 a week may cut your risk of upper respiratory infection in half, say Canadian researchers.
2. Stop Touching Your Face
Unless sterile surgical gloves are part of your winter wardrobe, keep your mitts off your mug. People who occasionally touch their eyes and nose are 41 percent more likely to develop frequent upper respiratory infections than hands-off folks, a 2013 study in the Journal of Occupational Health found.
3. Take Probiotics
Cold and flu viruses might have an Achilles’ heel: Greek yogurt. In a study published in Clinical Nutrition, people who consumed a specific strain of probiotics daily reduced their risk of catching one of these bugs by 27 percent. Aim to eat at least one serving a day of a Greek yogurt with live cultures, suggests Spencer Payne, M.D., an associate professor of rhinology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.: (Though you would have to eat a ton of yogurt). I recommend taking a probiotic with at least 10 billion CFU’s.
4. Drink Tea
Skip the black coffee and brew some green tea. Its magic ingredient, a catechin called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), can damage influenza virus particles and stop them from entering your system, a German study reveals. The scientists believe this kick-ass catechin may also interfere with pneumonia-causing bacteria.
5. Get a flu shot
“The number one thing you can do to prevent the flu is get vaccinated,” says Bill Schaffner, M.D., a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. Even if another strain infects you, the shot may reduce symptoms. Children, those with lowered immunity due to illness and the elderly are the most susceptible.
6. Workout Prior to your shot
When you exercise prior to receiving a flu shot, the post-exercise inflammation boosts your body’s immune response to the virus in the vaccine, according to a study review in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. That translates to more powerful infection protection. How much sweat is enough? A British study found that people who performed 25 minutes of lifts targeting their biceps and deltoids were able to increase their immune response.
7. Don’t spend long periods in the cold
The cilia in your nasal and sinus cavities sweep away illness-causing pathogens, but the rate at which the cilia move is affected by temperature, says James Palmer, M.D., director of the division of rhinology at the University of Pennsylvania. “When cilia are warmed up, they beat a little faster, and when it’s cold they beat more slowly. So spending a lot of time in the cold may make it easier for you to get sick.” That is, unless you breathe through a scarf.
8. Refuse the Booze
UMass Medical School research suggests that one binge-drinking session triggers a flood of cytokines, proteins that can induce fever and increase inflammation.
9. Break Your Dry Spell
It isn’t enough just to keep your nose cozy – there’s a moisture mandate too. If your nasal passages are dried out, their natural antimicrobial properties will suffer. Try to keep the humidity level in your home between 30 and 50 percent. When you’re at work, spray your nose three or four times a day with a saline gel or spray.
10. Sweat Out a Cold
Moderate exercise is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it can slash your risk of catching a cold by 27 percent, Korean researchers report. Working out switches on your immune response, possibly by sending a cascade of “natural killer cells” to hunt the rhinovirus. Already ill? Keep exercising. “Exercise stimulates the production of epinephrine, which constricts blood vessels in and around your mucous membranes and can relieve nasal discomfort.”
11. Eat Fish
A 2012 study in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that increasing your omega-3 intake can spur post-exercise production of infection-fighting cells, which can help protect against certain infections.
12. Steep Gingerly
Swallow some ginger for what ails you. Researchers in Taiwan have discovered that fresh ginger can inhibit respiratory syncytial virus from attaching to cells and may even reduce its ability to replicate. So what in the world is respiratory syncytial virus? A bug, that in severe cases can lead to bronchiolitis or pneumonia. Grate some ginger in hot water for a spicy tea, or add it to your next stir-fry with vegetables and garlic.
13. Wash Your Hands
It takes a good scrub with soap and water to actually rub a virus off your skin, Dr. Payne says. That means 20 seconds at the sink and a thorough drying: Wet hands are more likely to spread germs than dry ones, notes the CDC.
14. Eat fermented foods
Sauerkraut may provide sweet relief. Researchers in Italy report that Lactobacillus plantarum, a type of probiotic found in such fermented foods as kraut and kimchi, may reduce the potency of a certain kind of strep bacteria. The L. plantarum triggers a protein that helps control inflammation while simultaneously slowing bacterial growth.
15. Get a good night sleep
A shut-eye deficit can be a nightmare for your immune system: According to a 2013 study conducted in Finland, a single work week of less than four hours of sleep a night can alter the way your genes function, changing pathways that switch on your immune response and potentially increasing inflammation. For a better night’s rest, consider changing up your bedroom lighting with a bulb that can help you reach dreamland faster.
16. Don’t Smoke!!
Time to take a permanent cigarette break. Lighting up leaves your body vulnerable to the flu, say Korean researchers. Smoking raises a person’s odds of catching the H1N1 bug, a.k.a. swine flu, more than fivefold.
17. Add some Honey
Here’s your sweetener for your green tea. A study in the journal Microbiology found that when colonies of Streptococcus pyogenes–the strep throat bug–were treated with manuka honey, the bacteria count fell by up to 85 percent. And a 2014 study from Pakistan found that the sticky stuff may also inhibit forms of staph, pneumonia, and salmonella.
18. Heat it up
It doesn’t matter what you brew, as long as you down something hot. People who drank a piping hot (165∞F) beverage felt rapid improvement in more of their cold and flu symptoms than those who downed fluids at room temperature, according to a study published in the journal Rhinology.
This year the cold and flu season is at it’s worst! Be sure to take these precautions to protect yourself and your family.