It’s “Sniffles and Stomach Bug” season once again. And it’s arrived this year with quite a bang. It seems like everywhere you look someone has a fistful of tissue and is trying to suppress a coughing fit.
With winter setting in we’re spending more time inside with family, friends and co-workers being exposed to their sniffles, sneezes and coughs. Meanwhile our children or grandchildren are spending their days in close quarters with dozens of classmates and the bacteria and viruses that they are hosting.
The close conditions of the winter months, paired with increased stress and plethora of sweet treats are the perfect environmental conditions for a cold or flu to transmit from person to person, and before you know it the entire family is sick.
Here are 6 tips to help you and your family stay healthy this winter:
Stay Healthy Secret #1 – Stress LESS:
I know, dialing down your stress level is so much easier said than done. But I can’t express how important it is to your immune health… not to mention your quality of life… to work on learning to let go.
Studies have found that being chronically stressed impairs your T cell function and other important aspects of your immune system making you more vulnerable to getting sick.
Start to dial back your stress levels simply by giving yourself permission to have downtime:
- Just say “no” to some commitments (if you don’t do it someone else will, trust me!)
- Reconnect with nature (bundle up and take a walk every day)
- Make an effort to spend quality time with the family (game night or movie night anyone?)
Stay Healthy Secret #2– Sleep MORE:
Far too many of us cut corners when it comes to sleep. But studies clearly show that those of us who don’t—those of us who clock in at 7 to 8 hours of refreshing sleep every night—have superior immunity and are far less likely to get sick.
As anyone who has been guilty of pulling an all-nighter can confirm depriving yourself of sleep depletes your energy, impairs mood and even your appetite (chronic sleep loss inevitably leads to packing on extra pounds). Poor sleep habits also leave you more vulnerable to the flu and cold bugs that are running rampant during the winter months.
If you’re have trouble slipping off to sleep (or staying asleep) here are two very effective tricks to try:
- Put away cell phones, tablets and computers and switch off the TV at least an hour before bed. The artificial light they produce can disrupt your melatonin levels leading to sleep disturbances.
- Relax and destress from the day with a warm bath or good book (or both!)
Stay Healthy Secret #3– Slash Sugar:
Everybody knows eating too much processed sugars is bad for you. But did you know that loading up on sugary soda, candy and baked goods can literally suppress your immune system? In fact for up to 5 hours you’re more vulnerable to catching any bugs that happen to come along.
If you or a family member is starting to feel those first signs of coming down with something—or if you know one of you has spent some time around someone who is already sick—be extra vigilant about cutting back on sugar. Replace those junk foods with healthy immune-building foods instead.
- Focus on proteins which do double duty, providing the basic building materials for infection-fighting immunoglobulin, as well as helping to rebuild damaged cells.
- Eat lots of fruits and veggies which are full of infection-fighting nutrients including antioxidants.
- Replace processed baked goods and white rice with more B-vitamin rich whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice.
- Carefully read labels for hidden sugar sources.
Stay Healthy Secret #4– “Double down” on D:
Everyone knows that vitamin D is essential for building and repairing bones. Your body needs it to absorb calcium as well. But vitamin D is also critical to keeping your immune system firing on all cylinders. Research has found that having enough D on board can help prevent colds and the flu.
We get most of our vitamin D from those times our skin is exposed to the sun. Which means that in the cooler (and downright freezing) months it can be nearly impossible to keep our D levels topped up. Your doctor can give you a 25-hydroxy Vitamin D blood test to identify if you’re not getting enough D.
You can get some vitamin D from what you eat including fish, eggs, cod liver oil and fortified milk. But even foods that do contain D don’t contain sufficient amounts. A supplement of 800-1000 IU a day of D3 is considered safe for adults and children. Talk with your doctor about testing your D levels to guide dosage.
Stay Healthy Secret #5– Eat Elderberry:
The Elderberry plant is a power player when it comes to supporting your immune system. The flowers and berries of this potent plant are brimming with antioxidant flavonoids known as anthocyanins.
The anthocyanins not only protect your cells from damaging free radicals, they have anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties as well. Juice or syrup made from the Elderberry plant can shorten the length of a cold or bout of the flu and is great for soothing flu symptoms such as a sore throat, aches, fatigue, fever and a headache.
During the winter months you might want to take a daily dose of Elderberry syrup to help ward of viruses (1 tablespoon a day) or to sooth symptoms (1 to 2 tablespoons three times a day). Syrups, made from the cooked plants can be found online and in health food stores.
Stay Healthy Secret #6– Ward off bugs with water:
Moms deserve a lot of credit for getting so much of the common sense stuff right. When it comes to keeping colds and the flu at bay, mom was, once again, right on the money. Hands down the best thing you can do to avoid getting sick is to wash your hands frequently.
In my house the kids know the very first thing they have to do when they walk in the door is to go wash their hands. They get washed again after sneezing or coughing, before all meals, and obviously after each bathroom visit.
But those hand washings should always be with plain soap and water. Skip the Triclosan and other antibacterial ingredients. Not only have studies made it perfectly clear that antibacterial soaps are no more effective than good old fashioned soap and warm water, there are some serious concerns about them contributing to the “super bug” problem by making bacteria more resistant.
Incorporate these 6 proven “Stay Healthy All Winter Long” secrets into your own family’s routine and you all might just be able to make it through the long winter sniffle and sneeze free.
Dr. Amanda M. Levitt is a mother of three and a naturopathic physician with a specialty in natural family medicine. She treats her patients with a unique integrative approach, emphasizing education as well as natural therapies including diet, herbal medicine, nutritional supplementation, counseling, stress reduction, and lifestyle modifications.
Dr. Levitt is a Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude graduate from the University of Arizona, and earned her doctorate in naturopathic medicine with honors from Bastyr University. She has been practicing as a board certified naturopathic physician for nearly 15 years. Dr. Levitt is an owner and practicing physician at Whole Health in Hamden, CT which has been voted the best natural health facility year after year in the greater New Haven area.
In addition to her thriving private practice, Dr. Levitt consults for Middlesex Hospital’s Integrative Medicine Residency program, helping to train medical doctors in the science and art of natural medicine.
Latest posts by Dr. Amanda Levitt (see all)
- 6 tips for staying healthy all winter long - December 23, 2015
- 6 Tips for Treating Constipation in Toddlers and Children - June 20, 2015
- Healthy snacks for kids and busy parents too - June 9, 2015