common cold

Ramp Up Your Defenses Against the Flu and Colds

Along with doctors across the nation, your internal medicine and family practice physicians at The Medical Group of South Florida in Jupiter, Florida, have been treating an unusually high number of influenza cases this season, and the epidemic shows no signs of abating any time soon.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 63 children have died from the flu so far this season. It also reported that one out of every 10 people who died in the U.S. last week died of either influenza or pneumonia. Finally, it was unable to say when the season will begin to wane.

“Flu is incredibly difficult to predict,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, said in a press briefing Friday. “We don’t know if we’ve hit peak yet.”

We’ve found that the best way to fight the flu and cold virus is not to get it at all.

You’ve heard the standard advice: Get a flu shot; wash your hands frequently; don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth; avoid people who are sick; stay home if you have the flu.

In addition, there are other steps you can take that can make you and your family less susceptible to these viruses.

Number one on the list is to be sure get enough sleep. Our bodies use the time when we’re asleep to repair themselves. If you skimp on sleep, you’ll make it that much harder for your body to fight off invading viruses. A Carnegie Mellon study showed that people who slept for seven hours or less were almost three times more likely to get a cold than those who slept for eight hours or more.

Along these same lines, relax. Mental stress causes a breakdown in the body’s immune system. Meditate, make time for play, practice yoga or tai chi, take breaks during the day to breathe slowly and deeply, stop frequently to stretch, spend time outdoors, whatever it takes to keep your stress levels low.

Another great way to build up your immune system is through vigorous aerobic exercise. Try to get at least 30 minutes at least three times a week. An Appalachian State University study found that those who exercised for 60 minutes five or more days per week had 43 percent fewer upper respiratory symptoms than those who exercised little or not at all.

Then hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink at least five glasses of water a day. Water not only flushes toxins from the body, but helps keep mucus membranes hydrated. The mucus membranes in the nose produce secretions that help stave off viruses. In addition, drinking a hot cup of black or green tea daily-both of which contain powerful antiviral properties-has been shown to boost immunity to colds and flu.

And be aware that if you drink alcohol, it can have the opposite effect by dehydrating your body. It also tends to suppress the immune system.

Another assault on your mucus membranes is cigarette smoke. It not only dries them out, it dampens the ability of the cilia in your nose and lungs to sweep out harmful bacteria for up to 40 minutes after each cigarette. If you’re still smoking, stop.

A healthy diet is also key to fighting the flu and colds. Start by avoiding sugar. Subjects in a Loma Linda University study who were given food and drinks containing the equivalent of six tablespoons of sugar were found to lose their white blood cells’ ability to fight off bacteria and viruses.

Try to eat at least some protein at every meal, because it helps the body repair tissue and fight infection. To increase vitamin C and thereby boost the immune response, eat dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, broccoli, bell peppers (all colors), berries, and citrus. Vitamin A also supports the immune system, and is present in eggs, salmon, and grass-fed beef, as well as cantaloupe, squash, and carrots.

Vitamin D is a powerful immune booster. You can get it from sunshine, of course, but also from salmon, eggs, and fortified milk. Fresh garlic and fresh (not dried) ginger both have antibiotic and antiviral properties. Try to incorporate them into as many meals as possible.

Finally, zinc-found in nuts, pumpkin seeds, chicken, beans, spinach, red meat, and oysters-has been shown to kill both bacteria and viruses.

If you decide to supplement your intake of these crucial vitamins and minerals, be sure and check with us first, because some vitamin and mineral supplements can be harmful in large doses or when combined with other medications.