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Fall Fest 2010: The Downside of Fall, or Counteracting the Flu Season

Posted Oct 28 2010 6:27pm
This time of year is traditionally the beginning of cold and flu season across much of the US. Companies, schools and students suffer because so many people have to call in sick from now until the worst of winter is over. Most people either do nothing and hope to sail through the season on a wing and a prayer (oftentimes, that's me!), others get a flu shot and then do nothing, others are more pro-active about their health and actually take steps to prevent catching all those cold and flu bugs flying around out there. That's the kind of person I want to be this year.

In my house, we choose not to get the flu vaccine for a lot of different reasons. There are a lot of people on every side of the issue with a lot of information about why you should or should not get the flu shot, but suffice it to say, we don't. Maybe you do, maybe you don't. This blog isn't the greatest place to delve into the whys and why nots of the flu shot, so let's just say this
Whether or not you get the flu shot, you should be taking measures to protect yourself from all those cold-weather germs.

In keeping with the theme and purpose of this blog, most of these suggestions are inexpensive, easy to incorporate into your daily routine, and healthy for you. By "healthy" I mean all-natural, helpful, and not harmful (no side effects!).  Pick and choose what works for you... or better yet, do all of them and watch those germs disappear in front of your eyes.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, a P.A. or a nurse. In fact, I have no medical training! All of this knowledge was passed on to me by my mother, by informative medical personnel, and studies based on the subject. Oh yeah, and a little bit of my own common sense, too, if you trust that. So please, consider this advice in light of your own intelligence and research, and your doctor's recommendations.

1.Get plenty of sunshine... or vitamin D3.
The following is my personal opinion. You are forewarned. I believe that the recent epidemic of vitamin D deficiency is the direct result of a long advertising campaign urging consumers to use sunscreen every time they step out the door. It really shouldn't surprise anybody that since the sun is our best source of vitamin D, the direct result of removing its effects on us is a lack of vitamin D. This lack of vitamin D really affects one's immune system negatively, so either get outside for at least 15 minutes every day (with NO sunscreen!) or talk to your doctor about taking a D3 supplement (D3 is absorbed more easily by the body, and is therefore more useful, than other vitamin D supplements). Be sure to consult your doctor because taking too much vitamin D can be bad for you, too. Also, drink whole milk - removing the fat from milk also removes the vitamin D, so the vitamin D in reduced fat milks is synthetic and therefore not as easily used by your body. Other dietary sources of vitamin D include fish and fish liver oils (yum!).

2. Get plenty of rest.
Adults need an average of 7-8 hours of sleep. Lack of sleep harms your body in all sorts of ways, including lowering your immune system's ability to fight off illness. Get serious about removing anything from your life that keeps you from getting the rest you need. And if you have to, take a fifteen minute nap during your lunch break!

3. Wash your hands, but not with antibacterial soap.
I often scratch my head about the popularity of antibacterial soap considering the common knowledge that overexposure to antibacterial products and antibiotics contributes to the development of resistant bacteria like MRSA. For that matter, I scratch my head about the propensity of doctors to prescribe antibiotics at the drop of a hat for the same reason, but that's a whole 'nother issue I'm not going to get into here. The point is, frequently using antibacterial soap could be damaging in the long run, and there are plenty of other options that are safe and just as effective. I don't have links or resources handy, but I have read about studies that prove alcohol- or soap- based cleansers clean off just as many - or almost as many - germs as antibacterial products, yet they don't create mega-bugs. Sounds like a win-win to me. My personal opinion, based on what I've read from a variety of sources, is that if you have simple soap and water handy, that's your best bet. When that's not available, use an alcohol-based hand cleanser. Whatever you do, please do wash your hands. The quickest way for a bug to get inside your body is that trip from your hands to your nose, eyes and mouth. And do you realize how many times you touch your face? Try counting one day... you'll get tired of it quickly because it happens so often.

4. Try a neti pot, or a saline spray.
Last year - before flu season ever started! - my Certain Little Someone had a terrible cold that left him struggling to breathe. I knew that the people of India were famous for using neti pots to keep their respiratory systems healthy all year long, but that seemed a bit impractical (impossible?) for a babe. Then I read that using a nasal spray is almost as effective as a neti pot. A lot easier, too, especially for a little one. I squirted a little saline solution up his nose morning and night and he remained healthy throughout the cold and flu season. I finally got a neti pot (I don't know what took me so long!) for myself when I had the mother-of-all-sinus infections back in September, and I really need to get a habit going of using it every day. Either way, studies I have read suggest that keeping your nasal passages moist and clean (both accomplished by a mild saline solution) goes a long way in preventing colds and flus from developing.

5. Eat your yogurt.
Your digestive tract plays an important part in your overall health, so you need to feed it well. Aside from eating healthy foods in general (and limiting sugar, alcohol and tobacco), give your innards a little help by eating yogurt every day. Real yogurt, I mean, not the sugared-up dessert stuff. Make it yourself if you can, or buy a good quality low-sugar yogurt. You can also take a probiotic supplement.

Here's to a healthy cold and flu season! By which I mean, here's to the lack thereof!

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