The ABCs To Preventing the Cold and Flu This Season

You’re tired, you’ve gone through half a box of tissues and your throat is in the beginning stages of feeling dry and scratchy. You are bracing yourself for what might be a bad cold taking over your immune system, or even worse, the dreaded flu.

But wait! Before you begin to let your body submit to the evil virus, it’s not too late to fight back and prevent what feels like the inevitable with rest, good nutrition and great supplements. And if you have still managed to avoid those pesky symptoms, even better, here are some tips on how to stay away from the winter bugs altogether.

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Did you take your vitamins today?

The first thing that might come to mind when considering which supplements to take during the cold and flu season might be echinacea. If so, you are on the right path. Naturopathic doctor Sara Henderson recommends Echinacea be taken during flu season (November-March)- particularly Jamieson’s Flu Shield which uses the root of echinacea called angustifolia. This allows it to be taken throughout the season not just when you begin feeling the symptoms, “because the immune suppressing constituents have been removed from this formula,” says Henderson

Though you can take the Flu Shield all season, Henderson still recommends taking a break from the formula for a week or so. “It might be good to take a week off, or every month take a week off. It might have enhanced effect by taking a break and starting up again, it might kind of shock the body and actually have a greater affect.”

The most important thing is to make sure you are taking to the proper therapeutic dose. For Flu Shield, Jamieson recommends 200 mg three times a day. If you are using a different Echinacea formula, read the label or double-check with your practitioner.

Another very important vitamin to keep in mind is vitamin D, Henderson refers to it as the “superstar” vitamin of the year. Not only does vitamin D help the body absorb calcium which supports healthy bones, prevents cardiovascular disease and regulating mood, according to Henderson, “vitamin D is very important during cold and flu season. It can act like an immune cell in some cases or activate our immune cells in the presence of an invader; it can reduce inflammation that can help to reduce those symptoms that come with the cold and flu that we find annoying. Research shows that individuals with higher levels of vitamin D report fewer bacterial and viral upper respiratory tract infections.”

If you are unsure about the amount Henderson recommend you take 2000 IU per day seems to be appropriate for the average person.

Next up, vitamin C: you may think you know everything about this basic vitamin but it has researchers discovering everyday that we may benefit from a little more of the supplement. As many know, stress can lead to a lowered immune system and the inability to fight a virus. “The thing about vitamin C too is that it is actually concentrated in our stress glands, our adrenal glands. And there is a connection between stress and decreased immune function. So if we increase our Vitamin C intake, it will help support our stress glands.”

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Last but not least, probiotics: they are very important for our gut health, and 70% of our immune system is in our gastrointestinal track. Henderson says, “Probiotics promote the balance of good bacteria mostly in our gastro intestinal track. With that having good ratio and good balance of good bacteria can help support proper digestion, it can help for the absorption of vitamins and minerals in the gastrointestinal track and it can also help support our immune systems.”

Vitamins are the first step to combating those winter bugs. “Not too much, just enough. Potentially an Echinacea formula, Vitamin D formula, Probiotic and Vitamin C are part of my ‘Don’t Get the Flu’ regime,” says Henderson.

Try the pot to disinfect

Regular hand washing, disinfecting common areas like doorknobs, telephones or cellphones are always beneficial. Another method to consider is using the neti pot with a salt and water solution. “Using that daily to flush out any microbes that might be in our nasal passage or sinuses. If you can flush those out then they won’t be in that space and end up dividing and multiplying because if they do you will end up with an infection.”

Food as medicine

Doctors commonly recommend using a diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables and this is especially important this time of year. Eating a lot of refined sugar and sugar as a whole can “suppress our immune function.” Henderson says, “I love the idea of making stews or soups filled with lots of fresh vegetables. Heavy on onion and garlic, because they can provide extra immune support.”

Tea is also another great option to preventing illness. “There are so many nutritive and hydrating tea options such as peppermint tea, sage tea, fresh lemon and honey- something very easy to put together, something that can be very soothing to the throat, it can give you a little extra vitamin C. Lemon and water is often recommended by many holistic practitioners because it can alkalize the body. Our bodies tend to be a little bit too acidic which can lead to disease, so it can be alkalyzing, it’s cleansing.” Says Henderson.

Have a “me” day and get your rest

Stress is major component in lowering our immune systems. Increased cortisal levels (our stress hormone) lead to suppressed immune function. Henderson suggests deep breathing, yoga or simply making time for yourself at the end of the day.

Also, get lots of sleep. For some that means 6 hours and for some that means 8. “We definitely need to listen to our bodies and make sure we are getting enough. A good way of knowing is are you waking well rested,” says  Henderson. What can be most vital are the hours you choose to catch shut eye, generally the hours between 10 p.m and six a.m. are most important, “There are people that go to bed at one or two in the morning but they sleep in until 11 or 12 and research does support that for those individuals that even though they are getting seven hours or eight hours of sleep their overall health and well-being is not as high as someone who would go to bed at 10 and wake up at six or seven.”

The shot

Henderson insists that this decision is completely up to the patient but has some advice. “I always say if you don’t get it and you are stressing every day during flu season, that stress is going to run you down and you might end up getting something,” says Henderson. She adds, “The flu shot only covers one to three strains but there are so many other microbes around us that can cause infection. I definitely believe that if you are a healthy individual, this is not necessary. If you are healthy and take care of yourself, then I don’t think it is necessary. If you are over 65 and you are a immuno-compromised or at risk for greater infection, then you might want to get the flu shot. If you are 65 and you are very healthy, I don’t think it is necessary.”


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