Winter Immunity Tips

Winter Immunity Tips

Winter is in full swing, and along with post-holiday recovery, we also get an increased risk for colds and flu. Fortunately, the plant world is bursting with an abundance of supportive compounds you can use to stay healthy. Along with a bit of common sense, these important botanical allies can go a long way toward keeping us well during the icy weather.

Viral or Bacterial?

Many people confuse viruses with bacteria, so here’s a little information to help tell the difference:

  • Bacteria are organisms, classified as living, one-celled entities. They can survive on non-living surfaces and, when inside the body, generally live between their hosts’ cells. There are billions of bacteria that colonize our bodies, and only a handful of them are considered harmful. We actually depend on healthy bacteria for countless functions throughout the body. It’s only when the balance of good and bad bacteria is tipped, that infections can gain a foothold.
  • Viruses require a living host, a plant or animal, to multiply and they must infiltrate the cell and live inside it to reproduce. Viruses change a host cells’ genetic material from its normal functioning to one that produces more of the virus. As a result, the host cell is destroyed and releases viruses that infect other cells. Viruses can live for a time outside of a host, but they can’t reproduce there.
  • Antibiotics can kill bacteria, but they don’t affect viruses. However, many times, antibiotics are misprescribed for infections that are actually caused by viruses. Testing through your healthcare practitioner can help determine the cause.
  • Antiviral drugs can reduce the spread and propagation of viruses but can’t stop them completely. Certain vaccines can help prevent the spread of specific viruses or reduce the severity of disease, but many are shown to be only partially effective against the specific strains.

How Flus and Colds Spread

Flu (also known as influenza) and cold viruses disperse mainly in the droplets released when people cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can infect other people within about a 6-foot radius!

Less often, touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching one’s own mouth or nose can transmit viral particles. Public transportation, schools, crowded shopping malls, entertainment events, etc., put people in close proximity and increase the risk of transmission.

A person with the flu can infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick. However, children may transmit a virus even after seven days.

Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. So you may be able to pass the flu to someone else before you even know you’re sick. Furthermore, some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those people may spread the virus to others. With a cold, people are most contagious for the first two to three days. A cold is usually not contagious after the first week.

As we know, the flu can lead to serious complications in some people, particularly those with a compromised immune system. Complications include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of other conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of those considered most vulnerable to more severe flu symptoms and complications. Always consult with your personal healthcare provider, who can make recommendations for prevention and treatment based on your individual needs.

Do You Have A Cold Or Flu?

Cold symptoms often appear gradually with coughing, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat and, occasionally, a headache. Mild fatigue and body aches may also occur. Fevers are usually low grade, or absent.

In contrast, flu symptoms come on suddenly and often include fever, chills, severe body aches, upset stomach, exhaustion and chest discomfort. A cough, if present, is usually dry and non-productive. Headaches are common, though sore throat is rare and there is usually no runny nose. With colds, symptoms generally peak in two to three days and resolve in seven to 10 days. The flu usually passes in a week, although fatigue often lasts for several weeks. With children, a cough can last for more than 10 days and sometimes longer.

Is The ‘Stomach Flu’ Really The Flu?

Flu is generally a respiratory illness and not a stomach or intestinal condition. Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria or parasites. These can sometimes be related to the flu but are rarely the main symptoms of flu. These problems occur more commonly in children than adults.

The flu vaccine is a controversial topic, with new studies raising some potential concerns. Talk with your healthcare provider about your personal situation and risks so you can make an informed decision on whether or not to get the flu shot. You can also request mercury-free (thimerosal free) flu vaccines.

On the other hand, there are no vaccines for colds, since they’re caused by a large variety of viruses that are constantly mutating and changing.

With or without a vaccine, there are things you can do to maintain your own resistance, protect yourself and reduce duration should a cold or flu occur.

Common Sense

  • Pay attention to your surroundings. If people are coughing or sneezing, keep your distance. Plan shopping times on non-rush hours, if possible, to minimize your exposure to large crowds.
  • Wash your hands frequently with hot water and natural-based soap — not antibacterial soaps. These may contribute to antibiotic resistance. The mechanical action of hand washing helps remove viruses and germs.
  • Be wise and aware when you are out in public areas and events. Avoid touching your face. We often touch surfaces and forget about that contact. Touching your mouth or nose after touching a surface with pathogens is one of the most common ways of transferring viruses.
  • Get adequate sleep to help your body repair and rejuvenate.
  • Actively manage your stress levels with practices such as meditation, chi gong, tai chi, yoga and simple downtime.
  • Keep a supply of healthy snacks on hand including trail mix, nuts and seeds, kale chips, fruit, hummus, and veggies, etc., so that you can minimize your sugar and junk food intake. Sugar has been shown to immediately suppress immune function, which can last for hours.
  • Include healthy oils in your diet, such as coconut and olive oil. They increase your feelings of fullness, counteract inflammation and have antimicrobial properties.
  • Include antiviral herbs in your cooking such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, turmeric, onion and many others.
  • Warm and hydrate yourself with botanical antivirals in the form of tea and soups.

Immune Support Supplements

Numerous species of beneficial mushrooms offer targeted support for immunity as well as other areas of health.

This winter season, and all year round, it’s important to arm yourself with a comprehensive health regimen to support immunity and reduce your susceptibility to occasional colds and flus.

Warmest wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!