Habits That Prevent Colds and Flu
Make yourself less prone to infection with these lifestyle choices
These simple but basic prevention methods are well known, but they do bear repeating:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and running water for 20 seconds.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren't available.
- Cough into a tissue (and throw it away), or into your elbow.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
In addition to these steps, there's something much more powerful you can do to keep the common cold, seasonal flu, and H1N1 at bay, and that's to bolster your immune system.
Keeping your body hydrated is such a basic step for good health that it's often overlooked. Experts agree that you should get a minimum of eight 8-ounce glasses of pure, clean water each day. But if your immune system is challenged, then you should increase this amount to 12 8-ounce glasses of water daily.
The real trick here might not be training yourself to consume this amount of water each day, but finding a source of water that's truly clean and pure. My first choice for safe drinking is distilled water because distillation safely removes all contaminants, leaving behind pure H20 just as Mother Nature intended.
Make Smart Food Choices
Plant foods. Plant foods are low in fat, moderate in protein, and contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and protective phytochemicals—exactly the type of fuel your immune system thrives on. Simply eating more healthy fruits, vegetables, seeds, and grains can dramatically change your body's nutrient levels and increase its antioxidant activity. Plants are also nature's only source of dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber promotes bowel regularity, which is key for the efficient removal of toxins from your body.
Lean protein. The protein in your immune-boosting diet should come from lean sources such as poultry, fish, egg whites, nonfat yogurt, beans, and grains. Try to eat cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and cod, several times a week and avoid the saturated fat in red meat.
Appropriate sweeteners. It's also important that you stay away from processed sugar. Sugar plays havoc with your immune system by depleting your adrenal glands, and it has also been shown to slow down the mobility of white blood cells and reduce the production of certain disease-fighting hormones. Learn how you can use honey as a substitute for sugar.
Fermented foods. Finally, add fermented foods to your diet. Mounting research has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of the most important components of the human immune system exists in the gut in the form of beneficial bacteria (or probiotics). These healthy bacteria support the immune system by helping to block pathogens and other toxins from being reabsorbed into your body and by minimizing the toxic byproducts of the bad bacteria in your bowels.
Two of the best fermented foods you can consume to boost your immune system are sauerkraut and yogurt. I suggest making your own sauerkraut since it's so much more delicious and healthy for you. You can also make your own yogurt using a yogurt maker, which I recommend because most of the yogurts available in grocery stores are laden with too much sugar and artificial ingredients. But if you don't want to make your own yogurt, there are two store brands that I like: Stonyfield Farm Organic Yogurt and White Mountain Foods Bulgarian Yogurt.
Regular exercise works to keep toxins moving out of your body and immune-supporting nutrients pumping in. Plus, the heat you generate while exercising can help kill pathogens while energizing your cells and metabolism for improved health.
You can raise your overall metabolic rate, improve muscle tone and energy level, enhance your mood, and promote your immune system strength with a simple, steady physical activity plan. Some simple ideas to fit exercise into your day include:
- Go on a brisk 20–30 minute walk with a friend or your pet
- Use the stairs instead of riding the elevator or escalator
- Take up a low-impact sport like swimming
- Park far from the entrance to the store and walk before and after your shopping
- Garden for exercise
Get Good Sleep
Sleep is the critical period when your body rests and rejuvenates. Also, there are certain beneficial hormones that your body releases only when you're asleep, including human growth hormone (HGH), which boosts muscle mass and helps with cellular repair.
Studies indicate that when sleep patterns are interrupted, the levels of natural killer (NK) cells in a person's immune system are significantly reduced. Since NK cells are your immune system's first line of defense against invading pathogens like influenza, follow these tips for getting the restorative rest you need:
- Keep a standard bedtime and bedtime routine.
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol at least eight hours before bed. Also avoid less obvious sources of caffeine like chocolate, chocolate-flavored foods, soft drinks, and salt, which can act as a mild stimulant to the adrenal glands.
- Keep work, computers, and TVs out of bedrooms.
- Take a look at the medications you're using. One of the biggest detriments to sleep is the widespread use of both over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Even seemingly harmless sinus and nasal congestion medications can be strong nervous system stimulants that can interfere with sleep. (Never accept a new prescription from your doctor until you've given him or her a complete list of drugs that you're taking, including over-the-counter medications. Anytime you develop a new symptom after starting a new drug, consider the new drug as the culprit until you prove otherwise.)
The negative effects of stress on the immune system have been long studied and well documented. Cortisol, your body's primary stress hormone, is released when extreme conditions such as infection, intense heat or cold, surgery, and other types of trauma threaten your body. But large amounts of cortisol are also released in response to physical, chemical, or emotional stress. When your body's immune system is constantly under fire from a virtual hormone bath, it becomes weakened and more susceptible not just to the common cold and flu, but other health problems as well.
Take some time to consider what stress-reducing steps might work for your personality and life circumstances. Some excellent choices include exercise, prayer, meditation, music therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, and chiropractic.
More Dr. Williams Advice on Colds and Flu
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For more than 25 years, Dr. David Williams has traveled the world researching alternative therapies for our most common health problems—therapies that are inexpensive and easy to use, and therapies that treat the root cause of a problem rather than just its symptoms. More About Dr. Williams
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