Sadly for us, cold and flu season is in full swing. You can’t really avoid it—or can you? Chances are, you’ve been trying. Recently found yourself in line behind an incessant nose-blower? Been devising excuses to skip lunch with that sniffly coughing co-worker? Hopefully, you’re not too obsessed with avoiding those invisible germs, but you’re managing to do it.
As physicians, we are on the frontlines of illness. We’re exposed to germs everywhere we turn. To fight off germs and build our defenses, we follow some simple healthy-living strategies that we suggest incorporating into your life. Here they are.
How to Keep the Cold and Flu at Bay
1. Get Your Vaccination
The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated. The flu vaccine is available as early in the season as October, but it’s not too late to get it. Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body, protecting against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine, and even if it’s not fool-proof, that’s better than nothing. This year, it’s recommended that people get the flu shot; the nasal spray should not be used.
2. Wash Your Hands
Frequent hand washing with warm water and soap is a no brainer. It’s an easy, effective way to prevent the spread of germs and infections. If you can’t get to the sink, then carry around some handwashing gel, and use it. Always disinfect after touching public surfaces, such as door knobs, elevator buttons and grocery store carts. And avoid touching your face after touching shared surfaces.
3. Get Some Sleep
Ahhh, beauty sleep. A good night’s sleep is a chance for restoration, refuelling and building your body’s defenses against illness. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep is linked to mental and physical health problems, including those that stem from an impaired immune system. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
4. Take Your Vitamin C
When it comes to vitamins for immune health, we reach for good ol’ vitamin C. While its exact role in immunity has been long debated, vitamin C’s antioxidant properties may help with healing and disease fighting. There is research that suggests vitamin C does helps shorten the duration of colds; and some studies suggest it can help prevent colds, especially for those in cold climates or who exercise strenuously. Pack your diet with vitamin c-rich foods such as strawberries, pineapples, oranges and even brussels sprouts. Consider supplementing with a daily dose of approximately 250 mg and perhaps step it up to 500 mg daily with the onset of respiratory or other infectious symptoms.
5. Don’t Forget Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common among adults, especially those who live in climates where sunshine is not an everyday sighting (sunlight is a key source of this vitamin). A vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased susceptibility to infection, so, for many, there is a benefit to supplementing this important nutrient. Adequate levels of vitamin D will help many bodily functions from your immune system to bone health to diabetes prevention.
6. And Of Course, Zinc
Patients often ask us about using zinc to decrease the duration of the common cold. Zinc is an elemental metal that appears to have some effect on reducing the rhinovirus (a common virus that causes colds). We know it can be helpful in wound healing, so there may be a role for zinc in helping tissues to return to normal. We do not suggest taking zinc daily for cold prevention since over-supplementation with heavy metals may be toxic. Rather, take it occasionally when you are most at risk for an illness – like after spending the weekend with your adorable but runny-nosed nephews.
AND IF YOU DO GET SICK…
If you do get sick, be sure to get plenty of fluids and see your doctor. If you see her early enough, she may be able to make your infection less severe, perhaps shorten the duration and make it less likely that you have complications.
Romy Block and Arielle Levitan are physicians and authors of the award-winning book The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. After years of advising patients about the proper vitamins to take, Drs. Block and Levitan created Vous Vitamin® to provide people everywhere with quality vitamins that are suited to their individual needs.