A chill settles into the nighttime air as summer draws to a close. With the transition into fall, kids return to school, and inevitably the cold and flu season nears. Colds and flus are viruses that spread easily from person to person. Therefore, it doesn’t take long for these viruses to spread through a classroom or office. In this article, you’ll learn some important diet and lifestyle approaches to reduce your risk for infection and help keep your immune system strong.

Good hygiene practices are important to help prevent the spread of illness. Teaching these practices to children and changing habits for adults reduces the risk for contracting respiratory viruses.

Quality and amount of sleep have an effect on immune function. During our deepest phase of sleep, the body’s healing and repair processes occur. Research demonstrates that not only does lack of good sleep contribute to making a person more vulnerable to become ill, it also impairs the body’s ability to fight the illness. The amount of sleep a person needs varies by age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends children ages 6-13 get 9-11 hours of sleep; teenagers ages 14-17 get 8-10 hours of sleep; adults ages 18-64 get 7-9 hours of sleep and adults 65 and up get 7-8 hours of sleep. Set a regular bedtime to make sure that your a getting adequate amount of sleep.

Dietary choices also have a profound impact health and greatly influence the body’s ability to prevent and fight disease. When it comes to cold and flu prevention focus on:

Adequate protein intake ensures the immune system has the building blocks it needs to fight illness.

Eat at least five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Aim for a variety of colorful produce, these plant pigments contain antioxidants, nutrients that help boost immune system function.

Sugar impairs immune system function. Lower the amount of sugar in your diet; instead of sugary treat, grab a piece of fruit.

Reduce consumption of foods that promote the formation of mucus in the body which can exacerbate already present congestion. Foods known to have a mucus forming effect include dairy, red meat and sugar.

There are numerous natural medicines that help boost immune system to help fight or prevent colds and flus. Some of my personal go tos are vitamins A, C, D. These all have good evidence of helping to prevent and fight upper respiratory infections. I typically use lower levels for prevention and higher doses for treatment. It’s important to talk to a physician trained in nutrition to determine safe and effective dosing. Vitamin A should not be taken in amounts greater than 10,000 IU by pregnant or nursing women. Vitamin D supplementation should be based on a person’s blood level determined by lab testing. Vitamin C in excess causes diarrhea and the dose that causes this varies widely from person to person; age is also a factor. Dietary sources of these nutrients pose little risk for adverse effects, unless of course a person is allergic to the food. Sources of vitamin C in the diet include kiwi, oranges, strawberries, yellow peppers. Foods rich in Vitamin A include wild salmon, eggs, button shiitake mushrooms. Vitamin A can be found in shrimp, eggs, and wild salmon.

The most important thing to do when you are sick is to stay home. Do not load yourself up on over-the-counter cold medicines and power through the day. Take time to heal: enjoy a hot bath (this also improves immune system function), watch a movie and rest. Allowing yourself to have some downtime helps quicken recovery.

Most importantly, staying home when sick prevents the spread of illness to others. Even if you are feeling “better” you can still be contagious. Those who contract the flu can be contagious for 5-10 days after symptoms begin. Children and those with impaired immune systems tend to clear the flu slower and remain infectious longer. The common cold can be contagious for up to two weeks.

Talk to your doctor about a more personalized immune support plan.

Dr. Stacie Wells, ND, FAAEM is a Naturopathic Doctor & Fellow of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. She practices at the Northwest Center for Optimal Health in  Marysville, WA. Contact her at 360-651-9355 or info@ncoh.net.

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