Achoo! If my bashed in head has calculated correctly, I’m on my third strain of cold/flu “virus” already this year, so I’m well aware the cold and flu season is here.
But, why? Why do our chances of catching a cold or the flu increase tenfold – tenfold! – in cold weather? According to Popular Science, testing on guinea pigs has proven that most cold-causing and influenza viruses stay airborne way longer in cold, dry air, giving them a more effective opportunity to spread. Furthermore, the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) explains that the influenza virus has a “butter-like coating” that melts upon entering the respiratory tract, rendering it null and void. But in cold weather, that coating becomes a hardened shell, like a spore. A spore is a seed, and seeds sow things, in this case illness.
What can we do? Move south? Oh, those lucky snowbirds!
But for those of us stuck here, in Sowesto, there must be options, so let’s check them out.
Get the flu shot. In her November 24, 2011 article in Macleans, Julia Belluz calls it a worthy gamble despite studies showing the vaccine has a “modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost”. For instance, 2012-13 was a particularly harsh cold/flu season in the U.S. and it was determined to be 60% effective. The reason it’s a gamble? Flu viruses are constantly changing and experts must decide which ones to include in the vaccine months before. Mild side effects include redness at the injection site, fever, headache. A very rare side effect is the contraction of Guilliain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a serious neurological disorder. Most flu vaccines are made using eggs, so my granddaughter Simone, who is allergic to eggs, will have to wait until she’s 18 to try one that doesn’t contain egg proteins.
Boost your immune system. Okay, here’s the thing. A healthy immune system will not stop you from getting a cold or the flu, but it will help you recover faster.
How do you boost it?
- Reduce stress. A certain amount of stress in life is necessary, to stay motivated, to “git-r-done”, but I think it’s important to know your own body, know how much stress you can handle. With my own personal health, I’ve noticed I tend to get sick right after Christmas, so I need to reassess how I handle the season. How many social events are necessary? How much baking? How much decorating?
- Sleep, sex and working out. There exists exceptions, like the prolific night-writer Danielle Steel, who only need a couple of hours of sleep/night, but most of us need 7 to 8 hours. Sex? Sex can boost your immune system? Oh joy, oh bliss, wait till B hears this! It provides a healthy boost of IGA, a protein from the immune system that helps fight infections. And even if you don’t have a sexual partner, a strong social support system in which you receive loving touches – hugs, handshakes – is conducive to living a long, happy life. Moderate exercise, like going to Jazzercise 4 times/week, is important, but over-training can run down the immune system.
- Food and alcohol. A diet that is low in red meat, high in fish, fruits and vegetables (especially blueberries and broccoli) relieves stress from your immune system, so it doesn’t have to work as hard. And yes, chicken soup is good for the soul and for what ails you. It can actually pump up the immune system and alleviate symptoms. Proof? I made chicken soup yesterday when I could barely stand upright. Sauteed every available vegetable – celery, carrots, cauliflower, onion in extra virgin olive oil with garlic. Dumped it in a vegetable broth and added chicken, salt, pepper and a bit of oregano. Oh, and some chopped spinach. Not only did I feel better because I’d done something productive, it made the house smell wonderful and soothed my sore throat. And today? I’m sitting upright writing this blog. A fellow fitness instructor suggested the soup and also lemons (with tequila! Ha!), so I found a lemon in the fridge and squeezed it into my water. Water, yes, lots of water is crucial to recovery as research shows that nothing you eat or drink will increase mucus, but being dehydrated will. As for alcohol? Moderate alcohol intake releases opioids and raises the IGA I spoke of earlier, but too much? Immunity goes down. So, that means, if you’re already sick, 1 of Grandma’s hot toddys is okay, but 10 is probably not a good idea
- Music. Music you say? Program your iPod, or whatever music device you use, with your favourite tunes and listen often. Why? Studies were done on a group of reporters in Pennsylvania and it was discovered that as they neared deadlines, ie. as stress increased, those who had listened to just 30 minutes of music were actually less stressed because their IGA levels were elevated. And those levels remained elevated after the music stopped, indicating long-term benefits.
Of course, everybody has suggestions and personal preferences, like Echinacea, green tea, fish oils, vitamins. What works for you?
Given all of the above choices? What would work for me right now? Hot sand, ocean waves lapping, a beautiful sunset burning, ear buds in, Blake Shelton singing, “In the salty evening air, on some beach, somewhere”, a giant margarita. With lots of freshly-squeezed lemon, of course.