This winter, most of you will be exposed to someone with the common cold or influenza. What can you do to reduce the risk of catching one of these pesky viruses? What steps can you take if you do begin to feel the onset of symptoms?
You might think, “All I can do is get a flu shot,” but you are wrong! There is plenty more to making sure your immune system is prepped for cold and flu season.
Step 1: Hand Washing
You have probably heard this one a hundred times or more! Hand washing helps to prevent the spread of germs. Hand sanitizers are also great to have in your pocket when access to soap and water is not close by. Also avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes with unwashed, unsanitized hands.
Step 2: Get Educated: Know the Difference Between Cold and Flu, and When to Seek Medical Care
Symptoms of flu and cold viruses can be very similar. Sometimes, it may be difficult to tell the difference. Headache, body aches, sore throat, fever are all possible symptoms of cold and flu viruses.
One possible key difference is onset. We usually notice that folks who have the flu have a sudden onset of symptoms. Whereas for folks with colds, the symptoms have a more gradual development. If you think you may have the flu, you can visit your health care provider for an evaluation and possibly a prescription for anti-viral medication, which can decrease the duration and severity of symptoms.
Step 3: Protect and Prevent with the Flu Vaccine
The influenza vaccine is an important step--it helps antibodies develop in your body to provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. This year’s vaccine protects you against four strains of viruses.
Step 4: Support Your Body with Key Immune-Boosting Nutrients
Did you know that more than 70 percent of your immune system originates in the gut? We have a delicate balance of “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria in our gut. Imbalance and “bad” bacterial overgrowth (or depletion of “good” bacteria) can come about with poor diet, antibiotic use, and stress. When we have an imbalance, we can become susceptible to illness. A great way to replenish and rebuild your “good” bacterial arsenal is by taking a daily probiotic supplement.
Energy at the Cellular Level:
Did you also know that there is an organelle in each body cell called the mitochondria? It generates 90 percent of the body’s energy supply. Like gut bacteria, this energy supply can become depleted through poor diet, stress and certain medications. With a decrease in cellular energy, the immune system is not able to function optimally, and it leaves you more susceptible to illness. In addition, if you do get sick, your recovery may take longer. Some key nutrients to support mitochondrial and energy functions include:
- Acetyl L-Carnitine: An amino acid that assists energy production
- N-Acetyl Cysteine: An antioxidant that eliminates free radicals and helps detoxify the liver
- Alpha Lipoic Acid: An antioxidant that also recharges other antioxidants like vitamins C and E
- Resveratrol: An antioxidant that supports cardiovascular function and immune function
- Broccoli Seed Extract: Promotes detoxification and immune response
- Green Tea: Supports antioxidant-, probiotic-, and immune-supporting activities
Step 5: Reinforce Your Immune System If You Have Been Exposed or Start to Feel Ill
Echinacea, Vitamin C & Zinc:
This combination of herbs and nutrients possesses antibacterial and antiviral properties that can support the immune system’s ability to clear infections. It is a great regimen to begin if you have the onset of cold or flu symptoms, or if you have been exposed to someone ill. Try taking these three together for a few days to help reduce the duration and severity of symptoms.
Have your toolkit ready this winter to support your immune system. And remember, please consult your health care provider before starting any new supplements.
Monica Doherty, RN, MSN, FNP-C is the Family Nurse Practitioner at the Wellness Corner in Irvine.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.