Practical Tips for Preventing Colds and Flu

Fall is fast approaching, and with it cold and flu season. Here are a few practical tips for staying healthy this autumn and year-round.

1. Wash Your Hands
Microbes can enter your system when an infected person in the vicinity coughs or sneezes. More commonly, however, you bring them in yourself by touching the mucous membranes of your mouth, nose, or eyes after coming into contact with a contaminated person or item such as a glass or towel. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands regularly.

It sounds like a no-brainer but you’d be amazed at how many people are just plain lousy at hand-washing. In a study by the American Society for Microbiology, almost everyone—92 percent—claimed to wash their hands in public restrooms, but only 77 percent actually did. And it’s often a haphazard rinse. You really need to lather up and scrub for a full 20 seconds. Use good old bar or liquid soap and avoid antibacterial products. Antibacterials contain triclosan, an agent known to increase risk of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” More than three-quarters of liquid hand soaps contain triclosan, so read labels carefully. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are another viable option.

2. Flush Microbes Out
Another method of staving off infection is to wash germs out of the eyes and nostrils before they have a chance to enter your body. One way to do this is with facial dips. You simply fill a basin with warm water, add a special solution, and submerge your face in the water for a few seconds. (Clenzology makes a line of reputable products; however, an alternative is to use only warm water.) Another option is to cleanse the nostrils with salt water with either a saline nasal spray or a neti pot, a small container with a spout that allows you to gently pour water into your nostrils. Neti pots have been used for centuries, and saline nasal sprays were shown in a study of college students to reduce colds.

3. Boost Your Immunity
It goes without saying that living a healthy lifestyle boosts immune function. This includes regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, stress management, and a good daily multivitamin and mineral supplement. But there are additional supplements you should take during flu and cold season to strengthen your defenses. Vitamin C is indispensable. It increases the number and function of microbe-fighting white blood cells as well as the production of interferon, which helps prevent viral infections. I recommend taking a minimum of 1,500 mg a day, in divided doses, at this time of year.

Though vitamin C is a must-have, there is another supplement that you shouldn’t be without this season: vitamin D. Ensuring that you have an adequate blood level of vitamin D may be your best protection against all types of “bugs” this winter. That’s why you need to beef up your intake now. The most predictable way to do this is to take vitamin D3 supplements—enough to bring your blood level up into the optimal range of 50–80 ng/mL. (For most adults, this requires about 5,000 IU per day.) To make certain your levels are in the proper range, ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) test.

I hope you are able to put these tips to good use. Feel free to share this information with your friends and family. You know what they say—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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