Cold and flu season is upon us and immunization clinics are opening across Canada. You hear coughing behind you in the grocery line, sneezes on the subway and sniffles at work. You can’t avoid everyone for the duration of the winter, so how do you protect yourself?
While you can’t always maintain a five-foot distance from the subway sneezer during rush hour, you can do your best to prevent catching a cold or the flu by integrating these manageable lifestyle tips into your daily routine. I do my best to incorporate all of them, but even incorporating a few can make a big difference in boosting your defences this winter.
Lets begin by setting the record straight. Being sick doesn’t necessarily mean you are unhealthy. An indicator of true health is how quickly you recover. My tips are based on helping Canadians recover quickly so they can get back in fighting form!
No Flu (or Cold) Soup for You!
Research shows that astragalus root (a Chinese herb used to ward off flu), has powerful immune-enhancing properties. The sliced, dried root is available in specialty health food stores, Chinese grocery, and herb stores. It adds a pleasant, sweet taste when simmered in soups. Shiitake mushrooms, onions, and turmeric spice also boost immunity. Garlic and onions have natural and powerful anti-viral and antibiotic effects; ginger and turmeric, a natural anti-inflammatory agent! (Below is my “no-flu-for-you soup” recipe).
Sleep is imperative to a healthy immune system, and it’s not just about the hours you clock on the pillow; it’s essential to have uninterrupted, quality sleep. If you are coming down with a cold and are feeling congested, you are going to have trouble breathing, which will lead to waking up several times at night. This will impact the quality of your shut-eye. At the first sign of congestion, my go-to recommendation is to use a Breathe Right Nasal Strip. They are a drug-free option for instantly relieving nasal congestion by opening up the airways and allowing you to get that impactful, deep sleep.
We know intuitively about how a hot beverage during the winter months can do a lot to soothe a sore throat and perk up your mood. There is no new news about hot lemon and honey. And it works! But if you’re looking for a flavourful drink that also packs an extra immunity boost, the A. Vogel Echinaforce Extra Strength “Hot Drink” made with elderberry has proven antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which act as a preventative measure and treatment for colds and the flu.
Hack your Hack!
If you’re looking for a home health hack for a nagging cough which actually works, try a DIY recipe. All you’ll need are some onions, honey, and ginger (see recipe below).
You know when you’ve been hit by a cold virus. You feel “off”, your throat gets sore, you start sneezing and eventually coughing, and pretty soon you’re whiny and wanting to lay low with a hot cup of tea. Unlike the dominant strain of flu for the year – which generally moves East to West around the globe – there are more than 200 cold viruses that can knock you out. Common ones are known as the Rhinovirus, Coronavirus, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (or RSV), and parainfluenza (which is not real influenza). There are also a lot of viruses that doctors haven’t identified. Researchers estimate that about 30% of colds are caused by unknown viruses and bacteria.
The GOOD bugs
I normally explain to my patients that the hallmark of a true flu is a high fever for several days, major body aches, extreme fatigue, and weakness. It will put even the healthiest of us horizontal for up to a week and can often complicate with a superimposed bacterial infection. The latter is the reason a doctor may choose to prescribe an antibiotics even as ‘prophylaxis’ when they think what you have is viral. If you do take antibiotics this season, it is very important to follow up after you have completed the prescription with a few weeks of supplemental probiotics – such as the proven VSL#3 or Bio-K – in order to replace the good bacteria in your gut which will have irrefutably become imbalanced.
Cold and Flu often get lumped into the same bag by the unsuspecting. That is because they do share similar symptoms. Both colds and flu bring coughing, headache, and chest discomfort. The key differentiator is really intensity and abruptness of onset. Flu is irrefutably quicker to hit and more intense. It can be life threatening in the elderly and immune compromised.
Influenza-A runs November to April and affects 10-25% of Canadians annually, sends about 20,000 to the hospital (some with serious complications), and can kill up to 4,000 (especially those who are elderly and immune compromised). That translates into the more vulnerable being seniors 70 and older, pregnant women, and infants 2 years and younger.
“Get Your D On!”
Living north of 40 degrees latitude – where we all hunker down for a long winter without sun – we get quickly vitamin D deficient. Check this with your family doctor by asking for a blood test for 25OHD. You want to be between 100-200 ng/ml. You’ll get dinged with an invoice in the mail by your medical laboratory because unfortunately OHIP doesn’t cover this test any longer. Unfortunately some of the best medical lab tests are out of pocket costs. Because of the importance of vitamin D and the immune system, this one is worth every cent to track. The average person needs about 3,000 IU vit-D daily which should be taken with supplemental a fish oil or fatty meal for best absorption.
“Pair your weights with soap”
Exercise and healthy eating are great for your health and general well-being, but did you know that performing vigorous exercise means your immune system takes a dive 30 minutes post-workout!? To prevent sickness wile your immune system is temporarily compromised, make sure to wash your hands following your workout – especially if you’re at a public gym (its a cesspool in there!). I prefer classic soap and water, but if you can’t find soap, hand sanitizer is a good option. And, by the way, wash your hands wherever you are – not just at the gym. Oh ya, and sneeze in your sleeve please! Lastly, to all you pickers – you “nose” who you are – stop it! That is the single best way to introduce a virus or bacteria into your system not to mention spread them around.
You’ve heard it from your doctor, your mother, and anyone who’s had the flu: get the flu shot! Skip the aches, the fever, the chills and the general all-over poor feeling by getting immunized and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Just make certain if you do, that you aren’t currently experiencing any illness and make sure to opt for the mercury free form. The interesting thing is that you can enhance the flu shot by pairing it with certain natural remedies. 5.4 million Canadians are taking over the counter alternative remedies to treat cold and flu but are unsure where the evidence lies. When it comes to throat infections, it turns out a probiotic may be the solution. Research on an oral probiotic called BLIS K12 shows that it promotes oral health by helping to reduce the incidence of Streptococcal pharyngitis or tonsillitis and was shown with great evidence that supplementation significantly reduced this common throat infection.
Along with the flu shot or on their own, there is excellent research in natural over the counter health products like COLD-FX and certain types of echinacea like A.Vogels Echinaforce Throat Spray separately and together, enhance your natural killer cells (that fight viruses and bacteria) and are thought to work to ‘alert’ the immune system into better uptake of the vaccine.
Stay healthy my friends!
Bryce Wylde B.Sc. Hons., DHMHS
Associate Medical Director at P3Health
No Flu For You Soup — Serves 8-10
1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
2 lg spanish onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1/4 tsp tumeric powder
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
2 lg carrots, thinly sliced
2 pieces astragalus root, either dried or freshly choped into large cubes (roughly 1×1 inch)
8 cups organic mushroom or chicken stock
2 tbsp tamari
2 cups broccoli florets
1/2 cups scallions, diced
1/2 cup chives, diced
Instructions: Place oil in a soup pot on medium heat and add onions, garlic, ginger, and tumeric powder and sautee for about 5 mins or until translucent. Add mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, astragalus root, choice of stock and an additional 3 cups water. Bring to a full boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the tamari and adjust salt to taste. Let cool for 30mins. Remove the astragalus root pieces. Garnish with scallions and chives and serve while hot.
DIY Cough Syrup
3 onions thinly sliced
1/2 cup honey (preferably Manuka)
2 thumb sized pieces of ginger root
Place sliced onion on a plate. Grate ginger over-top of the onion. Drizzle 1/2 cup honey evenly over the onion and ginger. Place in fridge for 4 hours – enough to allow the honey to extract the active ingredients from the onion and ginger. Pour the syrup into a glass jar with a tight lid in a dark cabinet, or refrigerator, for up to a few weeks.
Adult dose: 1 tablespoon every 4 hours for anyone over the age of 10.
Child dose: 1 teaspoon every 4 hours. Honey is not recommended for children under 1 year old.