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Sunday, January 11, 2015

5 Ways to Prevent Colds and Flu

Echinacea purpurea

When it comes to flu shots, the risks do not outweigh the benefits for most people. Fortunately, there are other strategies to prevent infection and stay healthy during cold and flu season. It's certainly important to minimize our exposure to viruses, but it's equally important to foster a strong immune system, so our bodies can fight off the germs that do breach our barriers. After all, everyone is exposed to cold and flu viruses, but not everyone gets sick.

Here are five ways to prevent infection and stay well during cold and flu season:

#1  Do not touch your face.

Flu viruses can be transmitted through airborne droplets when infected people cough or squeeze, but they can also be transmitted by direct contact with your mouth and nose. Avoid touching your face and when it's unavoidable, wash your hands first, especially after spending time in crowded public places like trains, planes, and waiting rooms. Be sure to rub your hands together vigorously with soap and hot water for thirty seconds or more. Avoid anti-bacterial products because they can contain toxic chemicals and all soaps, by nature, are already anti-bacterial. 

#2  Take vitamin D if you are deficient.

The influenza virus is present all year long but it causes the most trouble in the winter, when lack of sun exposure causes levels of vitamin D to plummet. A simple blood test can detect deficiencies which can be easily corrected with a supplement. Levels between 30 and 80 nanograms per milliliter are considered normal but I like to see levels in the middle of that range. If your levels are low, talk to your naturopathic doctor about the dose that's right for you.

#3  Eat more fermented foods.

Fermented foods are full of friendly flora called probiotics that help protect us against colds and flu. Find them in lacto-fermented pickles and pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, vinegar, olives, yogurt, cheese, kefir, tamari, tempeh, miso, cacao nibs, and wine (ideally red, in moderation). Fermented vegetables are especially good because they also provide vitamins and minerals which are essential for a strong immune system.

#4  Get more sleep.

Chronic sleep deprivation has a negative effect on the immune system, leading to more frequent infections. Getting adequate sleep gives the body the opportunity to repair and boost defenses, which reduces chances of getting sick.

#5  Manage stress and exercise regularly.

Relaxation and exercise help manage stress and its negative effects on our immune system. Each week, healthy adults need about 2.5 hours of aerobic and strengthening exercise, at moderate intensity, followed by plenty of stretching. Unhealthy people likely need more but working out too much can compromise defenses, so ask your doctor for individualized goals and guidelines.

(Have a sore throat? Try these Ginger Lemon Sore Throat Pops.)

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