By David Blyweiss, M.D.
If you think cold and flu season is over, think again. The truth is, I see more patients for sniffles and chills in February and March then at any other time of the year.
But you don’t have to be a late-season victim to these viral infections. By adopting a few simple habits, you may be able to sidestep this season’s bugs.
- Exercise enough, but not too much. Exercise boosts your immune system. In fact, just taking a brisk walk every day can dramatically cut your number of sick days during an average winter. On the other hand, you can get too much of a good thing. Training for a marathon or other super strenuous activity can impair your immunity for up to 3 days. But moderately intense exercise on most days of the week is the ideal prescription for staying healthy.
- Keep your mucous membranes moist, so they can better block viruses from entering your nose, eyes and mouth. Drink plenty of water and use a humidifier during cold, dry weather. I also recommend using a nasal spray containing xylitol to prevent germs from sticking to the inside of your nasal passages.
- Get enough sleep. Most people need seven to nine hours a night. You’ll know you’re well rested if you don’t need an alarm to wake up in the morning.
- Gargle. Gargling with plain water cuts your chances of coming down with a cold—and if you do get sick, the symptoms will be milder. In one clinical trial, gargling 3 times a day reduced common colds by 36%.1
- Switch to green tea. Green tea stimulates the immune system to fight off germ invaders. The polyphenols in green tea also damage bacteria’s cell membranes and interfere with the ability of viruses to enter human cells.
- De-stress. Stress is a major drain on your immune system. Try some yoga, take a walk or write in a journal. Even 10 minutes of daily meditation can be a powerful tool to calm your nerves and promote good health.
- Take American ginseng. This ancient herb is one I rely on to boost immunity and fight off viruses. In one recent study, 323 healthy people took 200 mg of American ginseng daily or a placebo from November through February. Compared with the placebo takers, ginseng users had fewer colds and reported fewer sick days.2 Look for a freeze-dried extract and take 400 mg daily. Benefits should kick in within a week or two.
- Wash your hands. Scrub with soap for a good 20 seconds—especially after using the bathroom, before eating or after being around someone who is ill.
- Don’t forget your multi. A high-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement provides a great base for boosting immunity. Make sure your multi contains between 100% and 300% of the recommended daily value (DV) of key building blocks like copper, selenium, zinc, and the B-complex vitamins. If you’ve been exposed to someone with a cold or the flu, add at least 2,000 mg of vitamin C to your multi for a little bit of extra protection.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll never again come down with a cold or a case of the flu, but practicing these smart strategies all year long can certainly put the odds in your favor.
1. Satomura K. Prevention of upper respiratory tract infections by gargling: a randomized trial. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2005;29:302-307.
2. Predy GN. Efficacy of an extract of North American ginseng containing poly-furanosyl-pyranosyl-saccharides for preventing upper respiratory tract infectsion: a randomized controlled trial. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2005;173:1043-1048.
3. Nieman DC. Current Perspective on Exercise Immunology. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2003;2:239-242.