As the weather outside grows cooler, that means cold and flu season is just around the corner. Although the common cold can make you feel miserable, it is usually not serious. But the flu can be a different story.
The seasonal flu can lead to complications including sinus infections, bronchitis and pneumonia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children under five, adults over 65, pregnant women and those living in a nursing home are at the highest risk of developing complications from the flu.
Flu and Cold Prevention
When it comes to both cold and flu, prevention is your best strategy. A season flu vaccine is offered every year, which can decrease your chances of developing the flu. But not everyone wants to get the vaccine. Plus, it may not always be effective since it only protects you against certain flu strains. Fortunately, there are also additional things you can do.
Keep Your Immune System Strong
Although it may be impossible to protect yourself from all germs, there are several ways you can keep your immune system strong:
Eat a healthy diet: A diet high in fresh veggies, fruits, lean protein and healthy fats keeps your body and immune system strong. The right nutrients also help you fight viruses that cause colds and flu.
Exercise regularly: Exercising regularly appears to improve immune system function. One theory is it improves white blood cell function, which helps your body fight off infection more efficiently.
Get enough sleep: Sleep deprivation decreases your body’s ability to fight infections. Although individual sleep needs vary, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night to keep your immune system functioning well.
Wash your hands often: One of the best ways you can prevent colds and the flu is by washing your hands thoroughly. When you don’t have access to soap and water, consider using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Don’t smoke: Smoking prevents your immune system from functioning optimally. It decreases your body’s immune system response, which makes you more likely to get sick.
Vitamins, Herbs and Supplements to Prevent and Treat Cold and Flu:
There are several herbs, vitamins and supplements that may help decrease cold and flu symptoms or prevent the illness from developing. As with all supplements, it’s important to talk with your doctor before taking anything. Consider a few of the following herbs:
- Ginger: Ginger is thought to decrease inflammation and reduce nausea and vomiting, which can occur with the flu.
- Elderberry: Elderberry may prevent penetration of the flu virus into the cell membrane by blocking an enzyme. (also consider Echinacea)
- Garlic: Garlic is believed to have antibacterial and antiviral effects, which can help decrease cold and flu symptoms.
- Peppermint: Peppermint may help open congested nasal passages and relax the airways.
The following vitamins and supplements may also help prevent or fight colds and flu:
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C may not prevent a cold, but certain studies have indicated that taking vitamin C at the first signs of symptoms may shorten the duration of your illness.
- Vitamin D: A Harvard study indicated that adequate vitamin D might decrease your chances of developing a cold. Vitamin D contains a protein that helps kill viruses.
- Omega 3: Omega 3 may help improve immune system function by increasing cells that destroy bacteria. Some studies also indicate it may increase airflow to the lungs and help prevent colds and flu.
Natural Cold and Flu Treatments
Colds and the flu can be difficult to escape completely. Even if you do everything right, you might still get sick. If you feel under the weather, there are several natural ways to treat symptoms and get back on your feet, such as:
Rest: Your body needs to focus all its energy on fighting the virus. If you’re getting up early, going to work and doing all your regular activities, there may not be much energy left over to fight the virus. If possible, take a few days off from work or school and catch up on your sleep. Go to bed a little earlier and sleep in.
Drink plenty of liquids: Drinking enough liquids thins mucus, prevents dehydration and may improve fatigue. Consider drinking a few hot beverages too. The steam can loosen congestion, and the warmth may ease a sore throat. Sipping soup, especially if you add spices, such as curry powder and pepper, may help ease chest and nasal congestion.
Try nasal irrigation: Nasal irrigation involves flushing your nasal cavity with sterile water. The water can help flush bacteria from the sinus cavity and may alleviate congestion and help you breathe easier.
Blow your nose: If you have nasal congestion, it’s important to avoid sniffing the mucus back up into your head. It’s also helpful to blow your nose correctly. When you blow your nose, press one nostril closed while gently blowing. Repeat on the other side. Avoid blowing out too hard, which can lead to an earache.