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Once the temperature drops, cold and flu season looms over health like dark storm clouds. Our fast-paced lifestyles, holiday travels and festivities, along with seasonal changes lead most of us to believe that colds and flu are inevitable facts of winter. But a healthy diet, lifestyle choices and supplementation offers protection year-round with natural solutions that help strengthen your defenses and keep you vibrant and energized.
Cold or flu? Know the difference
As an integrative physician, my patients often come to me with an important question: “How can I tell whether I have a cold or the flu?”
Both colds and flu are respiratory illnesses, but each is caused by different viruses. Colds are usually milder and present symptoms that include nasal stuffiness, sneezing and a runny nose. Adults and older children generally have minimal or no fever, but infants and toddlers often run a fever in the 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit range. Depending on which virus is the offender, a cold may also produce a headache, cough, postnasal drip, burning eyes, muscle aches or a decreased appetite — but the most prominent cold symptoms are usually in the nasal passages.
The flu is a much more serious illness and can produce symptoms such as fever, body aches, fatigue and dry cough. Most people who get the flu recover within a week, although they may have a lingering cough and tire easily for a while longer. For elderly people, newborn babies and people with certain chronic illnesses, the flu and its complications can become life threatening.
Healthy lifestyle for immune support
Keeping the immune system in top form requires vigilance. That’s because numerous contributing factors can weaken immunity, including stress, exhaustion, chronic inflammation, sedentary lifestyle, overly processed/refined foods, dehydration and exposure to toxins.
Combat challenges to your immune system by following these health-promoting habits. You will not only boost your immune system, but your overall health and vitality as well:
Hydration: One of the most important things you can do to steer clear of illness is to stay hydrated, since water comprises more than half of your body mass. Proper hydration allows for efficient transmission of your body’s most critical communications and helps eliminate toxins and foreign invaders so you can clear infections more efficiently.
Proper Sleep: Deep, restorative sleep cycles are fundamental to your body’s repair process. A number of studies have demonstrated that failing to get enough sleep has numerous consequences for physical, mental and emotional health. It is important to set regular sleep patterns to help regulate and strengthen your immune system.
Balanced Diet: A nutrient-rich diet emphasizing fresh fruits, vegetables, nourishing proteins and unprocessed foods is critical for maintaining optimal immune health throughout all the seasons. This type of diet is linked to increased immune activity, decreased oxidative and free-radical damage, improved digestion, healthy inflammation response, healthy glucose metabolism, healthier lipid profiles and many other benefits. In addition, high-quality proteins are essential to help your body maintain and build strength and immunity. Good sources of protein include organic meat and poultry, wild fish, whole legumes, nuts and seeds.
In addition to leading a balanced lifestyle, incorporating certain nutrients, herbs and supplements into your daily routine offers critical support for short-term and long-term immune health:
Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP): Modified citrus pectin is an all-natural supplement made from citrus fruit peels and modified for enhanced absorption and bioactivity throughout the body. Numerous studies show that MCP is a powerful anti-cancer therapy, anti-inflammatory and a safe chelator of heavy metals and toxins. Recent studies also prove its ability to significantly enhance immune function for both short-term and long-term immunity. MCP boosts the functional ability of our most powerful natural killer immune cells, blocks cancer in the body, reduces inflammation and safely removes heavy metals and environmental toxins. These diverse benefits make MCP a powerful daily supplement for immune and overall health.
Medicinal Mushrooms: Medicinal mushrooms regulate immune function and combat infection, especially on a long-term basis. Mushrooms naturally contain beta glucan compounds that enhance immunity by boosting macrophage activity — your first line of immune defense. Species that are especially beneficial for immunity include reishi, cordyceps, maitake and shiitake. Each offers numerous health benefits that can improve vitality, decrease harmful pathogens in the body, and even prevent deadly viruses from infecting the body.
Herbal Formulas: There are many powerful herbs and herbal formulas for immune support. My top recommendations include the Chinese herbal formulas Yin Qiao San, Gui Zi Tang and Ge Gen Tang, as well as a Padma Basic, which contains 19 unique botanical ingredients that synergistically perform to reduce inflammation, boost circulation, improve immune function and increase antioxidant defenses. Also, tonifying and adaptogenic herbs such as astragalus, ginseng and eleutherococcus (Siberian ginseng) can be effective on a preventive level or can help combat symptoms once they’ve set in, depending on the specific characteristics of the flu or cold.
Vitamins and Minerals: Research shows that daily doses of vitamin C, vitamin D-3 (especially during winter) and zinc offer significant boosts to the immune system. Zinc is also the most important mineral to the thymus gland, which orchestrates the immune function in the human body.
Lastly, practice commonsense tactics on a daily basis to maintain your health and keep from getting sick. Some of the easiest and most effective strategies include keeping your distance from people who are sick; avoiding contact with your nose, eyes or mouth; and washing your hands frequently. Simple daily and long-term natural cold and flu prevention — paired with natural treatment options — can help keep you and your family healthy at every time of year.