Are you ready for cold & flu season?
After a beautiful fall, the weather around here is finally changing. The days are becoming darker. Brisk winds are blowing. Frosts are appearing, and even a little snow is falling. But even in this atmosphere, preventing coughs and colds is not a futile endeavour.
Unlike last winter, when no one was sick, colds & flus are back. Sore throats, runny noses, hacking coughs. Muscle pain and headaches. Fevers and nausea. The familiar symptoms of a regular old cold virus.
As much as we’re used to it, it’s a miserable condition. One that is worth a little effort to prevent.
Nobody Wants a Cold
Coughs & colds are no fun.
Our preferred condition is one of health. We like breathing through our noses. We’re happier when we don’t need to stuff our pockets with Kleenex, wash out our sinuses with netipots, and suck on cough candies all day.
Sore throats? Headaches? Congestion? Fevers? No one enjoys that. We put on a brave face, we pop pills, we call it ‘just a little cold’. But we all know how awful it really is.
And with covid-panic still running rampant, we’ve got another good reason to avoid the common cold during sweater weather. Showing your face in public while you have a case of the ordinary sniffles just does not go over well, any more. Coming down with a cough could mean staying home from work, losing income, and isolating yourself from friends & family who suddenly don’t want you coming anywhere near them.
Though, to be fair, there are probably a few of us already looking forward to another stint of solitude.
For the rest of us, though, preventing coughs & colds is going to be pretty high up on the list of priorities this season.
Cough & Cold Prevention
Believe it or not, coming down with a cough or cold in the fall is not inevitable. Just because germs – and a chill – are in the air, does not mean you have to fall victim to this ever-mutating virus. Prevention comes down to 2 basic practices: minimizing exposure, and maximizing immunity.
Thanks to the Covid, we’re all doing this. We’re washing our hands like our lives depended on it. We’re distancing ourselves from anyone in less-than-perfect health. We’re avoiding breathing the same air as strangers. And we’re – mostly – avoiding touching our faces in public (that mask isn’t doing you any good if you fiddle with it after handling every item you put in your grocery cart – which is one reason we were originally advised against wearing them).
The good news is, avoiding every single virus particle is not usually necessary.
Germs, Germs, Everywhere!
Yes, germs are everywhere. Avoiding them entirely can seem like an impossibility. And it is. What we need to remember, is, dose matters. The amount of virus we inhale, or ingest, or wipe into our eye makes a difference. It takes quite a few of these buggers to actually make us ill. The fewer germs we let into our body, the better able it is to deal with them.
So there’s no need to spray all the things in Lysol. But good old-fashioned soap & water are your friends. Maybe wash your hands when you come inside. Before you eat. Etc. And staying home – from work, church, and other social gatherings – when you feel under the weather, is not being a pansy. It’s being considerate. I used to work in an environment where it was considered a badge of honour to never call in sick. I didn’t like it then. Hopefully, those days are behind us.
Unfortunately, we are not always in control of our environment. We can’t wash our hands 100 times a day. We’re going to hug our kids when they come home from school. We can’t identify every carrier on sight. We read newspapers, open our mail, use hand railings. We have indoor heating systems that re-circulate the air in every public and private building we enter. And sometimes, we just have to scratch that itch on our face.
Fortunately, we have a backup plan. Our bodies were designed to live in a world full of potential threats to our health. And with a little help, almost every body has the ability to fight off intruders, including coughs & colds.
Maximizing Immunity to Prevent Coughs & Colds
Meet your immune system.
It’s a wonderful thing. Lymphocytes. Neutrophils. Antibodies. T-cells. And more. Barring a genetic disease or other serious malfunction, your body’s full of them. And they are ready & waiting to defend you from harm.
The thing is, this army of defenders can be strong, or it can be weak. Your immune system has to keep in shape if it’s going to be effective. It needs training, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and the proper tools to perform at its best.
We are born without a functioning immune system. For the first few months of life outside the womb, we are protected by antibodies from our mothers. During this time, our own immune system matures, quickly building the capacity to protect us on its own.
This is why kids are always sick. They pick up a germ that they’re not familiar with, and their immune system has to learn how to handle it. It’s not a pleasant process. But we all went through it. And anyone who’s had the chicken pox as an adult can tell you, it’s better to meet those adversaries early on.
Our environment is our teacher. Each exposure is a learning experience. And a well-trained immune system will serve you well in the fight to prevent coughs & colds.
Of course, the work of our immune system doesn’t end there. Just like a soldier can’t sluff off after going through basic training, our immune system needs to keep in shape. It needs exercise.
And exercise, for an immune system, means repeated exposure.
What? you ask. Didn’t I just tell you to minimize exposure?
Yes. Yes, I did. But if you’ll remember correctly, I also said it was unnecessary to eliminate exposure. And in fact, avoiding germs altogether is not the ideal. That creates a lazy immune system. What we’re looking for, here, is a happy medium: somewhere between an anti-septic bubble, and the streets full of rats and flowing with human excrement that typified the world of smallpox and the plague.
Where, exactly, is that happy medium? Opinions differ. Some say there is none. If you lower infectious disease, you increase allergic and autoimmune diseases. And of course, every person is different – the amount of exposure you or your children can handle may not be the same as someone in sub-Saharan Africa, or even across the street. But in general, what you want is a life lived in nature, with other people, balanced with clean water, proper hygiene, and sanitation. The details can be individualized. Get advice, and find what works for you.
If you want your immune system operating at peak capacity, you need to feed it right.
Fruits & vegetables. Have we heard this enough? Fruits and vegetables are packed full of the nutrients that are vital for basically everything your body does. Your immune system is not excluded.
Protein. It provides the building blocks that your immune system is made of. Get it from meat, or get it from nuts & legumes. But get some protein. Or like you, your immune system will be weak.
Sugar. It’s bad. Once again, this sweet drug is the villain of the story. Sugary confections, delicious as they are, can lower your immune strength by up to 50%. Natural forms, such as in fruit, is fine. But the refined stuff is deadly. Cut down, or eliminate it entirely.
Your immune system is most active when you’re asleep. So don’t skimp on it during cough & cold season. As the sun starts going down earlier, move your bedtime to match.
A Little Help
Soldiers are trained for hand-to-hand combat. But a few weapons can sure come in handy.
Sometimes, our immune systems need some help, beyond just a generally healthy lifestyle. If your family is prone to catching every bug that’s going around, despite your best efforts, all is not lost. Naturopathic medicine places many other tools at your disposal. From homeopathics, to herbs, to dietary supplements, we’ve got you covered.
Every immune system is different. If your immune system needs a wrench, a hammer isn’t going to help. So instead of walking into your local health food store and trying to wade through the shelves on your own, get professional advice from someone who will take the time to get to know you, determine your unique needs, and provide you and your family with the best protection for you.