By: Lisa Smith, Naturopathic Doctor
Although the Fall weather may be unpredictable, one thing you can always count on is the appearance of the seasonal cold and flu. Here are my top 10 tips for boosting your immune system and fending off those vile viruses, protecting you and those around you this season!
1. Wash your hands(a lot!). Time and again, frequent hand washing has been shown to be the #1 preventative measure when it comes to cold and flu – I mean, just think of all the potentially infected surfaces you touch everyday! Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water; lather and scrub for at least 20 seconds (enough time to sing the alphabet twice) before rinsing. Alternatively, you can use an alcohol based hand rub, which you should apply liberally and allow to air dry. Additional hygiene habits to employ include: avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; disinfecting frequently used surfaces (e.g. keyboard, door knobs, etc.); and avoiding close contact with sick people.
2. Keep well hydrated. Drinking more water (and less pop, juice, caffeine, and alcohol) will help your blood circulate necessary immune cells to fight off viruses before they create an infection. Ensure you are drinking a full 8 cups of water every day to keep optimally hydrated.
3. Get adequate rest. Sleep is when your body takes time to rebuild and repair; without it, your body doesn’t have the opportunity to recover from the daily insults it takes. Adequate sleep improves immune function, so make sure to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night to ensure its optimal functioning.
4. Stress Management. Stress causes the release of cortisol, your stress hormone. Regardless of whether it's a short or long term stressor, cortisol is released and part of its job is to suppress your immune system, making you more susceptible to acquiring the cold or flu. There are many coping strategies and tools for managing stress that can be individualized to your needs and preferences - it's important to find what works for you!
5. Exercise regularly. A 30-minute daily walk can help you cope with stress, sleep better, feel happier, improve circulation, decrease blood pressure, and boost your immune system; all important for preventing infections!
6. Eat a balanced diet. As Hippocrates put , "let food be thy medicine." There are many powerful nutrients in a balanced diet to keep you in optimal health. For instance, fruit and vegetables are chock-full of infection fighting, immune boosting nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamin C, and zinc, so be sure to get your 7-10 servings each day. Healthy fats and proteins are also important for building the parts of the immune system that recognize and fight infections. Ditch the refined sugars and simple carbs; they contribute to inflammation and inhibit your immune system from functioning.
7. Spice-up your life. Your spice cabinet is full of natural killers; add cinnamon, fresh garlic, thyme, and oregano to your dishes for a tasty, cold and flu conquering meal.
8. Contrast showers. Although these sound like a mild form of torture, they are fantastic for improving circulation, promoting detoxification, and boosting your immune function; over time, you will even build a better tolerance to cold in general! At the end or in place of your regular shower, turn the nozzle to as hot as you can tolerate for 3 minutes, followed by as cold as you can tolerate for less than one minute; the wider the difference in temperature, the better the effect. Repeat this twice more and always end on cold. Note that these showers can be quite energizing, so don’t do it too close to bed.
9.Keep your “wind-gate” covered. In Asian medicine, the "wind-gate" refers to the nape of your neck and was believed to be the entry point for "cold" and pathogens before viruses and bacteria were known. The symptom picture of wind-cold invasion mirrors that of the common cold and influenza; best to wear a scarf on the cold, windy fall days!
10. Don’t smoke and avoid exposure to smoke. Just one more reason not to do it and to stay away from it: cigarette smoke directly damages the tissues of your airways from your nose to your lungs. This damage impairs your body’s ability to clear infection-causing pathogens and debris and it destroys appropriate local immune responses, further increasing your risk of not only infections, but severe infections.
Feel a cold coming on? Come in and see me – there are many helpful immune boosting and infection fighting herbs and nutrients to stop that cold or flu in its tracks. If it’s too late for that, there are other helpful therapies like acupuncture and home hydrotherapy that can help to provide some symptomatic relief so you can get back to your regular routine.