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12 Ways To Stay Healthy During Cold And Flu Season

11/12/2015 03:03 EST | Updated 11/12/2016 05:12 EST
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woman sick at work

This time of year creates a perfect storm for catching something nasty. Generally, viral and bacterial infections (e.g. colds and flus) can creep up on you when your immune resistance is low, due to nutritional deficiencies, fatigue and even stress. Then the holiday season happens, and infections are even more easily passed around.

Here in Canada, the flu is responsible for 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths each year. While these are extreme cases, it's wise to be a little proactive to reduce the incidence and severity of colds and flus.

It's best to start now to reduce the chances of catching something nasty. But if you find yourself with a tickle in your throat or a full-blown cold or flu, these tips will help you get back into top form in less time.

Boost Your Immune System

Ever wonder why some people get sick while others don't?

Your ability to fend off colds and flus depends on your immune system, also known as your terrain. If it's easy for bad bacteria and viruses to grab a foothold in your body, you will get sick. This is why some people get sick while others don't. The most important thing that you can do to ward off colds and flus is to boost your immune system!

Not surprisingly, the food that we eat and our lifestyle habits can either boost or impair our immune system. Here are some key nutrients, foods and habits to adopt to help reduce the chance of catching something nasty, and to help speed recovery if you do.

Key Nutrients

  • Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin actually improves immunity. A deficiency in vitamin D is linked with greater susceptibility to infections. Recent studies have suggested that vitamin D can reduce the incidence of influenza and respiratory tract infections . Vitamin D can even help to speed recovery from a cold or flu. Start with 1000 to 1500 IU.
  • Vitamin C - an antioxidant nutrient that is antiviral and antibacterial. Take 2-3 g per day for maintenance and cold prevention. Buy a formula that also contains bioflavonoids. These are phytonutrients commonly found in foods alongside vitamin C that enhance absorption and utilization.
  • Probiotics - these are your "friendly" bacteria, also known as microflora. Microflora help to manufacture lymphocytes and macrophages, which are some of your immune system cells! Any tissue in your body that has contact with the outside world will have microflora, and it's beneficial to take a probiotic. One study found that college students who took a probiotic experienced cold symptoms that were 34% less severe and the cold duration was two days shorter than the students who were not taking probiotics.

Key Foods

  • Garlic - known as 'nature's antibiotic,' garlic has antibacterial and antiviral properties. It also contains an immune stimulant called germanium. Raw garlic will be the most potent, so try to add some to your fall and winter cooking. It's best added to dishes at the very end of cooking to maximize flavour and benefits.
  • Turmeric - this bright orange spice helps to relive inflammation throughout your entire body, including inflammation and congestion of your mucous membranes due to a cold, flu or sinus infection.
  • Fruits and vegetables - fresh fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins A, C, E and zinc, the antioxidant nutrients that help to support our immune systems. We can find all these antioxidant nutrients in seasonal produce, such as dark leafy greens, carrots, winter squash, turnips, and in nuts and seeds such as almonds, pumpkin, squash and sunflower seeds.
  • Ginger - it's a peripheral circulatory stimulant that will warm your entire body. Ginger is also antibacterial and antimicrobial, and can help to reduce bacterial and viral infections.

Avoid

  • Sugar - suppresses your immune system by slowing down the white blood cells responsible for attacking bacteria. So stay away from processed sugar at all costs. Unpasteurized local honey (which contains beneficial bacteria and can feel soothing on a sore throat) is ok in small amounts.
  • Mucous-forming foods - extra mucous will impair elimination of waste, so it's important to avoid dairy, fried foods, processed wheat, processed and natural sugar, as a general rule. Cold foods are also mucous-causing, as they impair digestion and constrict your mucous membranes, so be sure to eat and drink warm things that warm you up from the inside out.

Key Habits

  • Avoid stress - researchers have found that students' immunity goes down during exam periods. This is because stress essentially shuts down the immune system . While you can't always avoid the stressors in your life, you can learn to better deal with them. Try incorporating deep breathing, meditation or yoga, and be sure to spend time with friends, family and pets.
  • Sleep - have you ever noticed how sleep seems to cure all? A good night's rest can help to prevent you from catching a virus. If you do catch a virus, a good night's sleep can increase your healing time. This is due to cytokines, which are chemicals secreted by the immune system that help to regulate immune function. If you find yourself on the verge of a cold or flu, sleep it off! Likewise if the cold or flu has already taken hold. Sleep. This is when your body repairs itself. Aim for 8 hours.
  • Keep warm - keeping your body warm means bundling up and eating and drinking warm things. Taking Epsom salt baths. Being cozy in general. When we're cold, our bodies have to expend extra energy to warm us up. This is energy that would normally be used to digest our food, fight off infections, and so on. We live in Canada, so please keep warm.