So what are some good ways to prevent a cold or flu? Well first of all, avoiding contact with any virus laden respiratory droplets is a great start. These are essentially tiny droplets of an infected person’s saliva or nasal discharge that can leave a person’s mouth or nose when they speak, cough, sneeze or blow their noses. These droplets then get into contact with your mucous membranes (the warm, soft, moist tissue inside your nose, mouth, and on the eyes) and multiply. The average person is said to touch their face 3.6 times an hour. So anytime that you contact a contaminated surface or an infected fluid directly and then touch your face you are essentially inoculating yourself. Other times the droplets and viral particles will make direct contact such as when you share beverages, share a kiss or when you are in close proximity to someone as they cough or sneeze (think less than an arm length away). Once the virus is introduced to your mucous membranes it will often quickly multiply and that’s when you start to feel the aches, chills, headaches, tummy aches, runny nose and other symptoms that come along with colds and flus. What is a good way to avoid this? Make sure to wash your hands often and properly. Soap and other cleaners may both inactivate the virus as well as physically aid in making it easier to wash them off of your hands. Another great way to prevent transmission is to avoid close contact with others who are sick. Not always possible, especially for parents or caregivers, in which case proper hand washing technique and being aware of touching your mouth, nose and eyes is even more important. Likewise when you are sick, do your best to avoid close contact with others. Hand washing is again important as you can pass the viruses along to others, and this time touching your face causes transmission of fluids that can carry the viral particles to others.
Ensuring you have adequate amounts of sleep and rest is also vital. Sleep deprivation, or poor quality sleep, can lower the immune system’s resilience in fighting off colds and flus. A great rule of thumb is that if your body is telling you to rest, especially if someone around you has a cold or flu, it is best to give in. If lower energy or fatigue lasts for more than a few days it might be time to determine if the cause is really your body fighting something off, or if there is something else going on. Similar to ensuring adequate rest, ensuring that you are getting enough fresh air and exercise will help to ensure that your body is functioning ideally.
There are many over the counter (OTC) and natural health products that claim to boost immunity and fight of colds and flus. Most either do not contain the active ingredients required, or they don’t have them in the right dosages or forms to be truly effective at preventing or combatting a cold or flu. Other very effective formulations are often not given enough attention or are not used properly. Especially for children, pregnant or breastfeeding moms, or those on certain prescription medications, I encourage you to seek the advice of a licensed health care provider before using most herbal products.
A very safe and effective vitamin that is especially important in the winter months is Vitamin D. When our skin is exposed to the sun it sets off a cascade that produces Vitamin D in our bodies. In the winter months, and in Canada quite often during much of the rest of the year as well, there is not enough exposure to sunlight to produce enough vitamin D. One of the keys to proper vitamin D supplementation is to ensure that it is taken with a source of fat since Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and so requires fat for proper absorption. This means either taking it with food or with supplements such as omega 3s.
Herbal products can be very tricky since the key to having them work well is in the proper combinations of herbs, proper timing of when you take them and the proper dose. I encourage those of you who would like to use herbal medicine to contact a licensed health care professional, such as an ND, to help you in your choices. There are many herbs that are great for colds and flus that might not be a good fit for you specifically, or they may not be ideal as a preventative tool.
Of course this is just an overview of easy and effective ways to prevent colds or flus. If you’re concerned that you may have the flu, if you’re not sure when a fever is too high or when a cough has lasted too long, always seek medical advice from a licensed professional such as your MD or ND, or give a call to Health Link (1 866 408 5465 toll-free in AB). If you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Curious about some safe, easy and effective treatments if you catch a cold or flu? Check out part two of this blog that will be posted on my website next week.