It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Unfortunately, that is also the time of year that you’re most likely to bring a cold or flu bug home for the holidays. There’s a tendency to over indulge during the holiday season, burning the candle at both ends, and leaving us vulnerable to picking up cold and flu viruses. Nobody wants to spend their holiday ill in bed, so what can be done to prevent colds and flus in the first place and to speed recovery when we do have them?
The biggest factor in immune system health is lifestyle. Too little sleep, too much stress, not enough water, too much sugar and not enough fresh fruit and vegetables are all lifestyle choices that compromise immunity. Research has shown that when we are under stress our immune system is immediately impacted. Chronic stress causes the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and high levels of cortisol circulating over a prolonged period can impair our immune function. If you are someone who has a knack for catching every cold going, try the following simple steps:
- Wash your hands frequently, even if they don’t look or feel dirty. One study showed that washing your hands 5 times a day with soap and water reduced the number of upper respiratory infections by 45%. A brisk 10 second hand wash rinses away 99% of viruses. Cold viruses can last for up to seven days on light switches, ATM buttons, computer keyboards and other hard surfaces, and for at least 3 hours on unwashed hands, so regular hand washing during cold and flu season is a good idea, to say the least.
- Keep an alcohol based hand sanitizer handy for when you can’t wash – carry one around with you in the car or in your handbag.
- Get plenty of sleep. During sleep our body releases hormones that support and improve immune function, thus helping ward off cold and flu viruses.
- Manage your stress levels. Life will always keep coming at you, but exercise, yoga and meditation are all proven methods for reducing stress which may in turn improve immune health.
- Drink plenty of (good quality) water. Dehydration is very hard on all your body’s systems, and can compromise immune function.
- Avoid high sugar foods. This can be difficult during the Christmas season, but research has shown that sugar can depress the immune system by as much as 40%, leaving us much more susceptible to infection.
- Eat 5+ portions of vegetables and fruit every day. Try a raw, cold pressed, green juice cleanse three or four times a year—more if you’re up to it. Juicing gives your body’s systems time to rest and repair themselves so they can function more effectively.
- Walk! Regular exercise boosts your immune system’s natural defenses and virus killing anti bodies. Research from the University of South Carolina found that adults who exercised moderately to vigorously at least four times a week had 25% fewer colds over one year than non-regular exercisers. Getting out for a brisk walk five days a week could save you a week spent in bed with the flu!
- Stay warm. Being cold can indeed increase your risk of catching a cold. According to one study, people who were exposed to cold temperatures were three times more likely to develop cold symptoms than those who stayed warm. The explanation is that when we’re cold, blood vessels constrict in the nose reducing the supply of nutrients to infection fighting white blood cells. This may allow dormant infections to come to life. So perhaps your mum was right! Wear plenty of clothes and keep cozy during the winter months if you don’t want to catch a cold!
Low Vitamin D Levels May Mean More Colds and Flu. Vitamin D is emerging as a true super-nutrient as research confirms its role in promoting heart health, supporting long-term immune health and strengthening bones and teeth. It is also believed to be preventative of some cancers. Researchers found that among 19,000 men and women (age 12 and up), those with low levels of vitamin D were nearly 40% more likely to have had a respiratory infection than those with healthy levels. Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because our body should make all we need when we get enough sunlight. Unfortunately with climate and the short daylight hours, exposure to sunlight can be very limited during the winter months. The most effective way to maintain your Vitamin D levels throughout cold and flu season is through daily supplementation. Ask your health practitioner or health shop about optimal daily doses.
FIGHT BACK NATURALLY:
If you already have a cold or flu (poor little bunny), the following steps may help to relieve symptoms and reduce the length and severity of the infection.
- Wear a hat to keep your head warm, even inside the house. It might feel silly but keeping warm can help you recover more quickly.
- Season and supplement with garlic. Research has shown that taking garlic boosts the activity of your immune system’s virus killing T cells, and garlic users who have a cold may recover in just a day and a half compared with non-garlic users who have a cold for an average of five days!
- Take Vitamin C up to 1,000 mg three times per day until cold symptoms improve.
- Take a vitamin D supplement during the winter months, and especially if you have a cold, to help support a healthy immune system.
- Take plenty of warming drinks and soups and be sure to stay hydrated.