As colder weather begins to arrive, more and more people are spending most of their time indoors. Unfortunately, this means that people are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections, including common cold and flu. In the northern hemisphere, cold and flu season is typically from October until April.
When it comes to preventing cold and flu, the best line of defense is improving your immune system and following good hygiene practices to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria. Some foods can greatly help to improve your immune system. For now, let’s take a look at proper hygiene to lower the risk of spreading bacteria and viruses.
Good Hygiene Practices to Prevent Cold and Flu
According to the CDC , the following six steps can help you minimize your exposure to cold and flu. Follow these good health habits to keep yourself safe from germs.
- Disinfect Surfaces – If someone is ill, it is essential that all frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, phones and remotes are disinfected often.
- Handwashing – Wash your hands often using warm water and plenty of soap to help minimize your exposure to germs. If water and soap aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer to kill germs.
- Avoid close contact with those who are sick.
- Avoid touching your face. If you touch something that is contaminated with germs and you touch your mouth, nose or face, the germs can enter your body and cause an illness.
- Stay home if you are not feeling well. This will help prevent the spread of illness to others.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough to help reduce the risk of spreading your illness to others.
Understanding the Immune System
The immune system is your body’s natural defense against bacteria, viruses, fungi and toxins. The immune system is intricate and involves many organs throughout the body. By understanding how the immune system works, you can eat properly to increase immunity to help prevent cold and flu.
The immune system helps to protect you against pathogens. It is comprised of white blood cells (leukocytes), tissues and organs throughout the body, including the lymphatic system and digestive system. Understanding how to properly fuel your body with healthy food choices can minimize your risk of developing an illness.
Poor lifestyle choices and the environment can negatively impact the immune system. Smoke, poor diet and pollution can wreak havoc on the immune system. The vitamins and minerals found in foods can help neutralize the toxins and improve immunity. Let’s take a look at the top seven foods to boost your immunity.
- Garlic contains antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that help protect against illness. Additionally, garlic helps to remove toxins from the body. Garlic contains sulfur, arginine, selenium, and flavonoids to help bolster immunity. The sulfur in garlic helps your body absorb zinc. Garlic has been shown to reduce the severity of flu and cold symptoms by boosting the number of T-cells in the bloodstream. Additionally, it helps improve circulation and boosts IgA in the body. IgA is a protein that binds to viruses and bacteria and causes the immune system to destroy them.
- Beef contains high levels of zinc, which is necessary for the production of white blood cells. Many Americans suffer from a zinc deficiency. A zinc deficiency can increase the risk of contracting an infection. Zinc increases the development of white blood cells. White blood cells are what the body uses to recognize and destroy viruses and bacteria in the body.
- Sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene that the body converts into vitamin A. According to WebMD, vitamin A helps to remove free radicals from the body and bolster the immune system. In addition to sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, beef liver and kale provide you a significant portion of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A.
- Turmeric is a very powerful antioxidant that aids in digestion, decreases inflammation and bolsters the immune system. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. This ingredient provides antifungal and antiviral properties. The anti-inflammatory properties found in turmeric help to lower inflammation in the body, which helps to improve immunity and prevent illness.
- Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard boost the immune system. When it comes to choosing dark leafy greens, opt for those that are darker as they contain more antioxidants. The vitamins found in dark leafy greens include folate, vitamin K and vitamin C. Each of these vitamins help to boost the immune system and neutralize free radicals in the body. They also help regenerate other antioxidants such as vitamin E in the body. Additionally, cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur compounds that help to bolster the immune system.
- Chicken soup is really good for the body. The warmth of the soup helps to thin mucus, regulate your body temperature and keep the mucous membranes intact to help ward off bacteria and fungi. When the chicken is boiled, the amino acid cysteine is released. Cysteine contains sulfur and helps to prevent damage from free radicals and improve the immune functions in the body.
- Probiotics are live healthy bacteria that help prevent germs from entering the gut and intestinal tract. Probiotics help to stimulate white blood cells in the body. Many people do not realize that more than eighty percent of the immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract. According to the National Institutes of Health, probiotics help to improve the immune system and reduce the risk of developing flu or common cold. Probiotics help regulate the functions of both the systemic and mucosal immune cells as well as intestinal epithelial cells.
Learning how to practice good hygiene and eat healthy to increase your natural immunity can help minimize your risk of developing cold or flu. With the cold and flu season fast approaching, it is essential that you incorporate some of the suggestions above to keep you and healthy and your immune system strong throughout the cold and flu season.
About Elizabeth McMillan
Elizabeth McMillan, MS, CNS is a board certified nutritionist at Rose Wellness Center in Northern Virginia. She believes in finding the root cause of aliments and focuses on preventive health and optimizing one’s wellness. Elizabeth specializes in diabetes, food sensitivities, gastrointestinal health, autoimmunity, hormone imbalances in men and women, and other metabolic complications.