Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Preventing colds and flu - here's how I hope to do it

It's colds and flu season again. In the past, in my long-enduring stoic manner, I had accepted this as being a terrifying period - faced with these infections which my family could not avoid. This winter, however, I am determined to at least try to combat these / diminish their effects as far as possible.

Sitting in the doctor's waiting rooms on Saturday morning, while flipping through the O Magazine, I came upon an article on colds and flu prevention written by Dr Mehmet Oz. Given that information, it was not surprising that I have two sick children so early in the season.

Filled with hope, I did some further reading on the topic and learned the following:

- Replace echinachea with Vitamin D

This took me completely by surprise. In the O Magazine article, Dr Oz states that there is no conclusive research proving the effectiveness of echinachea against common colds. He suggested that one should take Vitamin D instead.
'' Studies have found that D can stimulate the production of a virus-killing protein, and taking D supplements (aim for 2,000 IU a day) can lead to fewer viral infections''.

Upon doing further reading, I came across an
article in the Huffington Post which states that having higher than normal levels of Vitamin D could make one less vulnerable to colds and flu. This study attributed the increasing rates of "acute respiratory tract infections" in the autumn and winter to the seasonal drop in blood levels of vitamin D (since this nutrient is produced most abundantly in the body when the skin is exposed to the strong, direct sunlight of summer).

Get plenty of exercise
According to Dr Oz, exercise boosts the circulation of immune cells throughout the body. Walking 30 to 45 minutes a day, five days a week in winter can cut your sick days in half.

- Drink Tea
The antioxidant quercetin (abundant in black and green teas) may protect against infection by preventing viruses from replicating.

- Avoid Antibiotics
Antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections (like flu).

In addition they can lead to stomach upsets, diarrhoea, and even yeast infections. I can attest to this fact - in 2009 Aisha (who was less than a year old at the time) was hospitalised for dehydration after suffering from acute diarrhoea (which resulted from taking the antibiotic Augmentin for an ear infection).

Dr Oz recommends that a person suffering from flu could use an antiviral drug such as Tamiflu instead. Note: these drugs work best within 48 hours of the first symptoms.

- Avoid Germs
Research shows that - in the home - refrigerator handles, remote controls, and doorknobs are the most likely to harbour large quantities of germs. Flu viruses can survive on surfaces for over two hours.

The website recommends the use of a sanitizing gel or keeping alcohol-based hand wipes on you at all times. It identifies other potential sources of germs, which we may be exposed to each day. These include handbags, under one's nails, shaking other people's hands, touching one's own eyes and nose. When sneezing it is better to do so into the crook of one's elbow and not into one's hands, which will prevent germs from spreading.

In addition, it is best to stay away from people who are displaying symptoms of colds or flu. (This one is more easily said than done)

New York University Student Health Centre website adds that one should throw away used tissues in a waste basket. Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing, using either soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner.

- Chicken soup
According to Dr Oz, c
hicken soup really can treat a cold. The hot vapour expands your airways, which helps to clear mucus from the nasal cavity. Research has also shown that chicken soup has an anti-inflammatory effect that may soothe a sore throat.

- Smile and be happy

The website states that new research has found that happiness (in the form of sex, positive thinking, playing with a pet, and other pleasurable behaviors, for example) will boost your immune system.

(With two sick children, smiling has been a bit more difficult to do for the past few days. I shall have to make more effort).

- Get sufficient sleep

- Get your flu shot

- Eat healthily on a regular basis

- Take probiotics
According to the
website natural, studies have shown that probiotics also help the immune response by both preventing colds and flu and speeding recovery time.

Although I am not medically qualified at all, many of these points were quite commonsensical (like avoiding germs). I have already started to make changes by insisting that the kids wash their hands after using the equipment at the gym or playing in the gym childcare area. No more succumbing to exhaustion and pretending not to see Aisha wiping her snot away using her sleeve.

I shall however run the point about echinacea not being effective against flu, past our paediatrician. Other than that, I think the other tips are quite easy to implement.

Here's to a healthy 'flu-free' winter ahead!

No comments: