Staying Healthy During Cold & Flu Season


The reality is that when it comes to cold and flu, prevention is your best bet. Keeping your immune system functioning well is important, especially at this time of year. Take charge of your health and minimize your down time with the following suggestions for both preventing and remedying cold and flu this fall.

Adopt healthy-living strategies

When it comes to health, there is no substitute for a health promoting lifestyle. Following a healthy lifestyle will boost not only your immune function, but your system as a whole. It is impossible to “out-supplement” poor dietary and lifestyle habits.

  1. Do eat a diet high in whole foods, making sure to get approximately equal amounts of carbohydrates, healthy fats and lean protein. We tend to overeat carbohydrates, as they are readily available, tasty, & addictive – but they are also high in sugar. All forms of sugar, whether processed or natural, suppresses immune function. Adequate protein intake is necessary for antibody production. Healthy fats like coconut oil and oily fish acts as a natural antimicrobial, and balance out inflammation respectively.
  2. Don’t smoke, actively or passively. Exposure to the smoke of one cigarette paralyzes the cilia (the small hairs that sweep out viruses and bacteria from your respiratory tract) for 30-40 minutes.
  3. Do raise your temperature – whether it is exercise, or regular use of infrared sauna. The increase in temperature helps the body “burn” out any microbes lingering about, as well as increasing circulation of white blood cells. This is the principle behind fever during illness.
  4. Do manage stress. Prolonged stress will in time, decrease your immune system’s function. Conversely, learning how to relax can actually rev up your immune system. When you actively practice skilled relaxation, there is a corresponding increase in interleukin (the ones important for cold and flu response) in the bloodstream. Don’t confuse relaxing with not doing anything, which does not confer the same benefits.
  5. Do get adequate sleep. This sometimes sounds easier than it is. Whether it is the demands of a busy lifestyle, or an actual inability to obtain quality sleep, it is estimated that 60% of Canadians are sleep deprived. Many studies indicate the direct relationship between too little sleep and a decline in T-cells (a type of white blood cell) as well as an increase in inflammatory cytokines (the chemical messengers that cause pain).
  6. Do take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently, sneezing into your elbow and avoid commonly contaminated surfaces, such as doorknobs, keyboards, telephones and water faucets.

Daily Immune Boosting Essentials:

  1. Ensure your vitamin D status. It is speculated the rise in upper respiratory tract infections coinciding with the colder weather has to do with a decrease in natural vitamin D production, as people move indoors as temperatures decline. Be sure to supplement vitamin D for a number of health benefits, including improved immunity.
  2. Fish oil. A study in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology shows that fish oil not only reduces inflammation, but also increase B cells, a type of white blood cell important for warding off infection.
  3. Probiotics. Your digestive tract houses between 70-80% of your immune system. Given that 80% of our antibiotic use is used in agriculture, it is clear out to see that maintaining a healthy population of good bacteria in the digestive tract requires continual replenishment, either in the form of fermented foods or quality supplements.
  4. Zinc. A trace element essential for cells of the immune system, zinc affects the ability of T cells and other immune cells to function as they should. Aim for a total intake of 15–25 mg per day, since taking too much can actually inhibit immune function.
  5. Selenium. Experimental studies suggest that lowered selenium status may contribute to reduced immune function, increased cancer incidence, and increased susceptibility to viral disease. Selenium supplements increased the cellular immune response by increasing the production of interferon γ and other cytokines, an earlier peak T cell proliferation, and an increase in T helper cells. Aim for 50-100 micrograms daily, especially if you are feeling run down, or are caring for or working with afflicted persons.

Try as you might, it is impossible to never succumb to the occasional bug. Think of it as an immune system “tune-up” that leaves it stronger once the infection resolves. In the meantime, you can do the following to ensure you get better as quick as possible.

  1. Coconut oil. Its naturally high levels of lauric acid, which the body converts into a compound that has potent antimicrobial properties, can help boost the immune system and ward off illness. It can be taken with food, melted into hot tea or eaten straight out of the jar.
  2. Garlic. Garlic has been used for centuries as a potent antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral. Take raw garlic for maximum effect. Try mincing it fine and adding it to some raw honey (also antibacterial) to help kick a cold and soothe a sore throat at the same time.
  3. Elderberry syrup. Also known as Sambucus, have been used in traditional folk medicine to help prevent and treat the symptoms of both colds and flus. The berries are rich in the anti-inflammatory anthocyanin, as well as antioxidant flavonoids, which help combat illness. When choosing a brand, make sure to avoid any containing preservatives, natural flavorings or high-fructose corn syrup.
  4. Nasal wash or steam inhalation. Rinsing your nasal and sinus passages with filtered water and a pinch of Himalayan pink salt (a natural antibacterial) helps to clear out excess mucus, pollutants and microbes for increased comfort and better immune function.  Some people don’t like the sensation of doing a nasal rinse, in which case I would recommend doing a steam inhalation – simply pour hot water into a basin, add a few essential oils if available (eucalyptus and peppermint are great choices), put a towel over your head and inhale.
  5. Warm liquids helps to thin mucus secretions.  Mucus is your body’s way of protecting your membranes lining your respiratory tract, and serves as an “exit vehicle” for invading viruses.  Instead of drying it out with an antihistamine, instead focus on ingesting more warm liquids in the form of homemade bone broth and herbal teas. Ginger tea can help relieve congestion associated with the common cold. Its high levels of antioxidants boosts immune function as well. Chamomile helps reduce inflammation and calms nerves, which can result in better sleep. If your nose is stuffy or you’re suffering from congestion in your sinuses, head, or chest, peppermint tea’s menthol works to release that blockage and break up phlegm. Adding raw honey to any of the above will help to soothe an irritated throat and cough.



Tasleem Kassam