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7 Tips to prevent cold and flu

Jennifer Newton Reents is a Registered Nurse and has a bachelor's degree in journalism. She is the former associate editor various print magazines, including Pregnancy Magazine, and continues to contribute to various national magazines t...

Protect your family

It can be hard to stay healthy when everyone around you seems to be getting sick. Here are some tips to prevent you from becoming a victim to cold and flu this season.

Mother and Daughter Washing Hands

Wash

Whenever you come in from being out, wash your hands. Also always wash your hands after using the restroom and before meals.

"The majority of cold viruses are transmitted hand-to-hand or skin-to-skin," says Mark Moyad, MD, University of Michigan Medical Center's Director of Complementary and Preventive Medicine and author of Dr. Moyad's No BS Health Advice.

Avoid rubbing your eyes or nose, and encourage children — especially those in contact with other children — to keep their hands out of their mouths, he adds.

If you can't get to a sink, carry a hand sanitizer at all times — one that says 62 percent ethyl alcohol on the container is a must, Dr Moyad says.

Make sure to wipe down surfaces in your home. Viruses can be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces such as computer keyboards and telephones, says Pat Carroll, RN, author of What Nurses Know and Doctors Don't Have Time to Tell You.

"Think about what you touch with your fingers," Carroll says. "When I'm in an elevator, for example, I press the button with the knuckle at the base of my pinky. Make a gentle fist, and use the pinky-side of your hand. I do that because it is almost impossible to touch my face with that part of my hand. Think of what else you touch in the course of your day and think about how you can substitute a different part of your hand rather than the pads of your index and middle fingers or thumb when you need to touch things in public places."

Immunize

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that certain populations get the seasonal flu and the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccines this year.

H1N1 vaccine is recommended for:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age
  • Healthcare and emergency medical services personnel
  • Persons between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old, and people ages of 25 through 64 years of age who are at higher risk for 2009 H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for:

  • Children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday
  • Pregnant women
  • People 50 years of age and older
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
    • Health care workers)
    • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu)
    • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)

Eat

Do your best to include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, and limit eating out and consuming processed foods.

Deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables generally have the highest amounts of antioxidants i.e. "disease fighters," such as blueberries, cantaloupes, mangoes, kiwi, pomegranates, broccoli, kale, spinach, red/yellow/orange peppers, says Rachel Brandeis, an Atlanta-based registered dietician. Don't forget to include lean proteins and whole grains to balance out your diet, and consider yogurt with probiotics, Brandeis says.

Other immune-boosting foods include onion, garlic, acai berry, which also contain antioxidants, says Dr Lauri Grossman, Chiropractor and head of the Department of Medicine and Humanistic Studies at the American Medical College of Homeopathy and integrative medicine professor at New York University. 

Foods containing vitamins C and E help support the immune system, says Dr Moyad. Vitamin E-rich foods include sunflower and corn oil, sunflower seeds and nuts such as almonds and peanuts. Look to include orange juice, citrus fruits, broccoli and green peppers for sources of Vitamin C, he adds. 

"Also important is to reduce intake of concentrated sugar — soda, candy — as excessive sugar impairs the immune system response," Dr. Moyad says.

Drink

"Drinking extra fluids helps to prevent dehydration caused by fever, loosens mucus, keeps the throat moist and lessens the chance of coming down with a cold," Dr Moyad says. Try to consume about 2 liters of fluids per day – that is about eight 8-ounce glasses, according to the National Institutes of Health. You will need more if you are exercising.

Another reasonable guideline is to take your weight in pounds, divide in half, and that's the number of ounces of fluids you should aim for each day, Carroll says. "Thus, if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 75 ounces of fluid a day. If you are well hydrated, your body will produce the normal amount of mucus in your nose, mouth and throat. This mucus is what traps viruses before they can cause illness," she adds.

Sleep

Dr Moyad says lack of sleep can profoundly inhibit the body's immune system. "Getting a full night's sleep — usually around eight hours — can do wonders in keeping an individual's natural defenses at optimum efficiency," he says.

Exercise

Thirty minutes of daily exercise is recommended daily according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, exercise has the capacity to protect and even enhance the immune response. The clinic reports that experimental studies have shown that a regular exercise program of brisk walking can bolster many defenses of the immune system, including the antibody response and the natural killer (T cell) response.

Relax

Take time to chill, especially when you are busy and stressed.

Don't try to be super-mom, says Debi Silber, a registered dietician, whole health coach and author of The Lifestyle Fitness Program: A Six Part Plan So Every Mom Can Look, Feel and Live Her Best.

"Trying to do it all and do it all perfectly creates huge levels of stress, anxiety, frustration and disappointment. Do the best you can and let the rest go," she says. 

When you are under stress, the body release hormones that can cause you to become run down, and eventually cause you to become sick, Silber says. 

If you do come down with a cold (or flu), take it easy, Dr Moyad says. "Expending excessive energy robs valuable resources from your immune system," he says. "Even attempting to perform normal work or social activities can be too much. Besides, when coming down with a cold, the best thing to do for people you care about is to rest and avoid exposing them unnecessarily."

**Please ensure to check with your healthcare providor before taking any medications or supplements or making changes to your diet. This article is for informational purposes only and should in no way replace advice from your healthcare provider.

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