It seems as impossible as jumping over 10 cars – can you enjoy this upcoming cold and flu season? A typical year of cold and flu is always challenging and impacts our most vulnerable populations, but 2020 already has health challenges like mask wearing, social distancing and more remote work. But there are choices you can make now that might make this season less challenging, more healthful and even set the standard for future joy in the winter.
And, since I'm getting a lot of questions from patients (friends and family too) about ways they can navigate this unusual cold and flu season that is overshadowed by a pandemic, here's what I tell them. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Get a Flu Shot!
I recommend that all of my patients get the quadrivalent flu shot and a special intense one if you are over the age of 65. Our immune systems decline in response to antigens as we get older so at age 65 we need more antigen. Do not get this at ages under 65 as you may react with a side effect of pain and fever. The under 65 quadrivalent flu vaccine stimulates your immune system with inactivated (not live) safe viral particles that protects you from 4 strains of the flu. It takes 10 to 14 days to get a rising concentration of antibody, which peaks at 5 to 8 weeks and then starts to decline. For this reason, the best time to get your vaccination is NOW (but, in any case do it by the end of October). This year you may need two – the second in late January, depending on the flu season.
Don't Skip Out on Sleep
The CDC warns that consistent sleep deprivation can lead to chronic illnesses, such as depression, obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Sleepiness can also cause mistakes at work, car crashes, and unpleasant mood swings. Sleep also refreshes the immune system and if you're sleep depleted, you're much more likely to get a viral infection. So, be sure you won't skip out on it—even if the newest season of Billions is irresistible. Most people need between 6-8 hours of sleep. If you have problems with getting as much try to avoid screens in bed and go to sleep and wake at similar times every day. You can also try 15 minutes of meditation — it helps.
Eat Healthy Foods and Supplement Responsibly
Food and supplements are a relationship, like marriage. You wouldn't marry someone who was trying to kill you, you shouldn't eat food that does. Only eat foods you love and that love your body and brain back.
If you have a slight deficiency in vitamin D, you may be more susceptible to contracting influenza according to a study published in the BMJ. Curcumin is another nutrient that supports health and might have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Bovine colostrum has data that suggests it decreases upper respiratory infections in athletes so I am recommending colostrum supplements this cold and flu season. Chicken soup and vitamin C (200 mg at the start and for only four days) may decrease the duration by about 50 percent of common respiratory infections that might be confused with or predispose you to other viruses. I take and advise my patients to take 2,000 units of vitamin D-3 daily to avoid vitamin D deficiency until a doctor measures the amount patients have in their blood (I aim for 35 to 80 ng/ml).
Don't Be Afraid of Garlic
Another nutrient to consider in your diet for your immune system is garlic! It's not just for slaying vampires anymore. Garlic has been used to fight off infectious diseases for centuries and recent studies support the effects of garlic and its extracts in a wide range of applications. Garlic is also effective against numerous types of bacteria including salmonella, E. coli, and helicobacter. Most importantly: garlic is easy to add to your food. I always advise people to speak with their primary care provider before starting a supplement program to compare their vitamins and supplements against the prescription medications they might be taking for any interactions. One personalized program that offers this feature is Persona Nutrition (Full disclosure: I am an advisor to them, so am biased).
Manage Chronic Stress
Embrace moderate short-term stress. A study published in Immunologic Research found that short-term stress can enhance the expression of immunoprotective responses. It means that anti-infection agents can be increased with short-term stress. In contrast, chronic stress can suppress protective immune response. Turn to intentionally breathing exercises.
Exercise as You Usually, But Don't Overdo It
Support your immunity by finding just the right balance of exercise — the key is not to overdo it as exercise for more than two hours in a row can make you more vulnerable to most viral illnesses. Runners have a three-fold increase in colds and flu in the three weeks after completing a marathon.
Cover, Wash, Repeat
Always wear your face mask and decontaminate it daily. Be sure to wash your hands before and after eating. It's better to use antibacterial soap instead of gel hand sanitizers. However, if you don't have the option for soap and water, you should use what you have available.
Clean Your Mask Properly
Clean your cloth or surgical facemask regularly. An easy way to decontaminate is to spray it with hydrogen peroxide and let it sit for several hours until it dries. I do not recommend spraying the mask with a disinfectant as prolonged exposure of residue buildup on your skin can be harmful. The vapors may be irritating. If you can get it, get a true N-95 mask—it is much more protective for others and for you, too. You can clean those by heating at 165 degrees for 20 minutes.
Final Word From the Doctor
I can't stress this enough: Please get your flu shot. In my 40 years of medical experience, there hasn't been a year that I didn't recommend my patients get the flu vaccine. It's very important this year and you can get it while social distancing – in a tent, outside, with a mask on. In the coming weeks, there will be a new swab test if you suspect you have RSV, flu (A/B) or COVID-19. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer emeritus, the Cleveland Clinic, chair of Persona Nutrition's medical advisory board, and co-author of the "The What to Eat When Cookbook" available on Oct. 20.