Winter brings the season of candy canes, holiday music, evergreen and sparkling lights. Unfortunately it also brings the season of colds and flu. We can get a cold or the flu anytime of the year but our risks are higher this time of year. Scientists have proposed a few different reasons for this seasonal increase including colder air with less humidity decreasing our ability to clear viruses from our nasal passages as easily as when it’s warmer and less dry. There is also the fact that we tend to spend more time indoors than we do in the summer, in closer quarters which results in an increase risk of exposure from others as well as the possibility of lower Vitamin D levels.
What can you do to try and prevent catching one of these not so fun viruses? There is always the option of the flu vaccine which most of us know is not 100% protection due to the constant changing and mutating of the flu viruses. And there’s no vaccine available for the common cold. Fortunately there’s lots of prevention tools available to help ward off the unwanted invaders. Let’s start with the basics:
This is common sense but it’s shocking how many don’t utilize these basic tools. Start with washing your hands frequently with warm water and lots of soap. Avoid touching your face – eyes, nose, and mouth in particular. If you are sneezing or coughing, cover that cough/sneeze with your elbow, a tissue, or in your shirt to avoid spreading those germs to others.
Getting good, quality sleep is a must for a strong, healthy immune system. Not enough sleep can decrease your infection-fighting antibodies and cells thus increasing your chances of becoming sick when exposed to viruses as well as slowing your recovery. Making sleep a priority during this season of busy, often overbooked schedules and parties can be difficult but nothing is going to force you into slowing down like a nasty cold!
The holidays can be very stressful whether it’s a time of year you enjoy or not. The field of psychoneuroimmunology has done a lot of research on the impact of stress and your immune system. And yep, you guessed it, both acute and chronic stress lower production of important virus (and bacteria) fighting cells. Stress decreases ALL aspects of immune functioning. Stress management is important all year round but in this season when stress can be even higher and exposures to viruses is also higher, these tools become critical. This is often a trial and error process determining what works best for you. Establishing a daily routine, daily movement/exercise, mediation, deep breathing exercises, and a gratitude practice are just a few of the many options that help lower the stress response. There will always be daily stress but the key is how we respond to that stress.
During a season of “excess”, moderation is key. Eating a lot of sugar and processed foods reduces your healthy gut bacteria which is where the majority of your immune functioning begins. So bad diet = bad gut bacteria = poor functioning immune system. And proper hydration is also crucial. Proper water intake helps thin out nasal mucus which in turn helps the clearance of the “unwanted”. The general rule is 1/2 your body weight in ounces but depending on your current intake, you might need to work up to this. And remember both alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating so don’t count as fluid intake!
A little beyond the basics
Some other prevention tools are taking regular Vitamin D, probiotics and doing daily nasal rinses or the use of a nasal saline spray. Vitamin C, zinc and/or elderberry syrup can be useful especially if you think you have been exposed and are trying to ward it off. Fresh ginger tea is good for the tummy as well as antimicrobial.
Remember to always check in with your doctor before starting a new supplement and feel free to consult with one of the doctors at True Health Medicine, PC for other ways to boost your immune system this season.