During the colder months, it’s hard to get away without catching a common cold or flu. The flu viruses survive longer and are more easily transmitted in the dry and cold air. By simply coming in contact with airborne droplets of an infected person, touching a contaminated surface like a doorknob, or skin-to-skin contact with a sick person, you’re more likely to get infected.
Although flu and cold have similar symptoms, different viruses cause them. Most people experience feverish chills, cough, fatigue, headache, a stuffy nose, and sore throat during the cold and flu season. Generally, common colds are milder than flu, and they don’t result in serious health problems.
The good news is there are simple and actionable steps you can take every day to keep you from getting flu and cold. The most important one is to wash your hands after touching something communal such as handrails, doorknobs, or shopping trolleys. Steer clear of crowded in-door places like public malls and subways. And avoid sharing cups, plates, cutlery, or towels unless they are washed thoroughly between use.
It may take one to two weeks to recover from a cold or flu, depending on how healthy you are. You should stay at home during this time until you feel better. Although taking precautions is good, the best way to protect yourself from getting sick during the cold and flu season is — to strengthen your immune system.
Your immune system can protect you during flu and cold season.
Basically, the immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, organs, and proteins that work together to protect you against diseases. The system prevents invaders like viruses and bacteria from getting into your body and destroys them immediately.
The immune system comprises three barriers. The first barrier against invaders includes the skin, mucous membrane, and the acidity of the stomach. By frequently washing your hands with water and soap, you can destroy the flu virus that lingers on your skin after touching a contaminated surface.
If the virus goes past the first barrier, it encounters the second barrier, which is innate immunity. The innate system detects the virus, and activates immune cells to attack and destroy the infected cells, and resist viral replication in uninfected cells.
The third barrier is adaptive immunity, and it’s adopted later after flu vaccination or recovery from a flu infection. Your body keeps the memory of previous viral invaders and produces antibodies against them.
It’s important to note that although your body can develop antibodies against a previous flu virus, you can still catch flu from a different viral strain. This is because flu viruses continuously change over time. And therefore, the “older” antibodies may not recognize the “newer” virus, and thus you might end up getting sick. But if you have a robust immune system, the older antibodies can, however, provide partial protection against the new viral strain.
Strengthening your immune system during cold and flu season
As earlier mentioned, a strong immune system will protect you from getting flu or a cold, while a compromised one will make you more susceptible to infections.
Dietary and other lifestyle modifications play a significant role in strengthening your immune system, so it can function well. Here are five ways you can boost your immune system during the cold and flu season :
Eat a healthy diet
Healthy dietary choices support optimal immune function. While poor nutrition can impair the production of antibodies and the activity of immune cells.
Examples of nutrients that support the body’s immune responses include vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, Iron, Vitamin A, selenium, and folic acid. These are found in a variety of plant and animal food sources such as citrus fruits like oranges, turmeric, ginger, salmon, oysters, and garlic.
Overly processed foods that are low in nutrients can negatively affect the immune system. Processed meats, refined carbs, foods high in refined sugars and saturated fats increase the risk of chronic inflammation of the gut, which leads to immune suppression.
About 70 percent of the immune system is in the gut. Therefore, foods that support a healthy gut can also potentially support immune function. Diets high in prebiotic and probiotic foods may be beneficial during the cold and flu season. Probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi. Prebiotic foods include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Get enough sleep
Inadequate sleep weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to getting flu or a common cold. It also prolongs the recovery period when you get sick.
During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, which help in fighting off infections and promoting sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, your cytokine production decreases. In addition, sleep deprivation can also decrease antibody production and other immune cells.
To bolster your immune system during the flu and cold season, get about seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Chronic stress can suppress your immune system. When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, a stress hormone that triggers a decrease in inflammation. This affects the activation of immune cells, which increases susceptibility to more infections.
Different people manage stress differently, choose an activity that works for your lifestyle. Some ways to reduce stress include practicing meditation, yoga, aromatherapy, deep breathing exercise, or go for nature hikes.
Physical activity has a profound effect on the functioning of the immune system. Exercising regularly improves your overall blood circulation, making it easier for immune cells to migrate to sites of inflammation so they can seek out pathogens and damaged cells.
Studies show that engaging in moderate exercises such as jogging or running for 30 minutes every day maintains a healthy immune system. Therefore, having a simple exercise routine can help fend off a cold or flu.
Smoking weakens the immune system and makes it less effective at fighting off infections, including flu and cough. It compromises the equilibrium of the immune system, increasing the risk of immune and auto-immune diseases.
Smoking increases your susceptibility to infections like flu and pneumonia. And it lowers the amounts of protective antioxidants in your body, such as Vitamin C.
Do supplements help during cold and flu season?
Cultivating a healthy lifestyle can help to bolster your immune system and ward off infections. Although diet plays a significant role in supporting immune function, a single nutrient deficiency can alter the immune system as a whole. This is because different nutrients play various roles such as producing antibodies, growth of immune cells, and act as antioxidants to protect the integrity of immune cells,
If you don’t regularly eat a variety of highly nutritious foods, or you have increased nutrient needs, taking a vitamin and mineral supplement can be helpful. This will help fill up the nutritional gap and improve your immune responses.
For further protection against harmful pathogens, you can take Immune Defense. It contains bovine immunoglobulins, which are antibodies that bind to pathogens and enhance their destruction. This will protect you from getting sick, especially during the cold and flu season.
For most people, getting a flu shot may be their top option for protection against cold and flu viruses. However, the best way to avoid getting sick is to strengthen your immune system.
You can improve your immune health by maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, reducing stress, and getting enough rest. Taking supplements that offer extra support to your immune system will also help you stay healthy during cold and flu season.