Is It Cold and Flu Season Yet?
As the air turns brisk and squash appear in the grocery store, I realize that autumn really is here. Though winter is still a ways off, a quarter of my colleagues and a handful of our patients are already starting to sniffle and cough.
I am not amused to report that I too have succumbed to the ever-dreaded head cold, pausing from my regularly scheduled workdays to blow my nose and mutter obscenities under my breath. Although I’m not “sick enough” to take a day off from work or get out of having to do the dishes, I am nevertheless noticing the ways in which being under the weather slows me down and helps me pare down my days to the bare essentials. When my head feels like it’s filled with jell-o, scurrying around neurotically isn’t as appealing as it may otherwise be. Nor is there any way in hell I’m wearing high heels this week. And I’m certainly not taking the extra 20 minutes to straighten my hair. And geez, you know, this isn’t the week that I’m going to call Comcast and fight with them over the erroneous charges on last month’s bill. Or clean out the compost bin. Hm. There might be something to this having-a-cold business after all.
But if you do find yourself surrounded by sniffling, hoarse-voiced, wheezy-breathing classmates, co-workers, or family members, and you’re not up for having an excuse for wearing the same outfit two days in a row (not having donned a bra on either day), here are some ideas for keeping your immune system on its game this season:
* Skip the sugar. Aside from causing inflammation in the body, it literally feeds the bacteria and viruses that cause infections. (And yes, this includes juice, even if it’s 100% real fruit juice.)
* Eat your veggies – especially dark, leafy greens, which are rich in antioxidants – to augment nutritional status.
* Balance your diet with good bacteria. Whether this means taking a probiotic supplement (be sure to buy one that has at least 10 billion CFU per serving, and keep it refrigerated) or eating more fermented, cultured foods like yogurt, kefir, tempeh, miso, raw sauerkraut, kombucha, and natto.
* Sleep 7 ½ to 9 hours nightly. Sleep encourages the release of growth hormone, which is used to repair and regenerate damaged cells. Every hour of sleep before midnight is as good as two hours after midnight.
* When administered within 24 hours of the first symptoms of the common cold, zinc reduces the duration and severity of the sickness. When supplemented for at least five months, it reduces cold incidence. But be sure to avoid nasal spray zinc (it’s been linked with a decrease in the sense of smell) as well as zinc lozenges (they don’t have nearly enough zinc in them to be effective, plus they’re made with tons of sugar). 10mg per day of zinc picolinate has been very effective prophylaxis for some patients, with the dose increasing for 30mg per day during acute illness. Note that long-term use of zinc supplements can deplete copper stores.
* Good hygiene can help prevent transmission. This mainly entails washing your hands before meals with warm water and soap (not anti-bacterial soap, regular soap is just fine, and antibacterial soap doesn’t protect against most viruses anyway).
* Save the Echinacea and Vitamin C for when you’re acutely ill. Although both remedies may be helpful in reducing the duration and severity of colds and flus, there is little evidence of their prophylactic effects in preventing illness. (Note: there does seem to be some benefit in giving Vitamin C to children prophylactically, though not to adults).
* Unless you live near the equator, there’s a good chance your vitamin D levels aren’t where they should be (you want them to be over 30). Consider getting your levels checked, and if you do reach for the vitamin D supplements, make sure you’re buying D3 and not D2.
And if you do get sick this season, that may not be such a bad thing. Because there’s a dirty little secret your boss would rather you didn’t know: we’re supposed to get sick a couple of times a year. It actually exercises and strengthens the immune system to feel phooey once in a while.
So if you find yourself blowing through boxes of tissues, here’s my personal request: enjoy it. Go to bed a little earlier. Hover over a cup of tea a little longer. Wear frumpy clothes to work, or just take the day off. Instead of reading an analysis report before bed, watch a 10-minute clip from Fiddler On T he Roof. Or watch the whole movie. It’s a good one.
Sniffle sniffle snort,
Erica Zelfand, ND is a naturopathic physician, family doctor, writer, editor, world traveler, and wandering Jewess. Dr. Z believes that education and empowerment are the key foundations to a healthy lifestyle, and loves writing articles and blog entries on natural health. She also teaches online health workshops and webinars through LeanWagon.com. Dr. Z supervises rotations at the teaching clinics of the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Ore. She also sees patients there privately in person and through Skype. When she isn't playing doctor, she enjoys traveling around the world and learning about different cultures and cuisines. She's a lover, a fighter, and a tea drinker.