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The holiday season is an exciting time of the year. There are plenty of parties, family gatherings, children's Christmas programs, New Year's events, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, it's also cold and flu season as well. With all these get-togethers, and because people tend to stay indoors with the dropping temperatures, our chances for being exposed to viruses that cause colds are greatly increased.
You're probably starting to see it with coughing co-workers and sniffling children. On average, adults will get contract a respiratory infection two to three times a year with children being infected six to seven times, lasting approximately seven to 12 days. According to USA Today, it's estimated 1 billion people will catch a cold annually and spend approximately $4.2 billion on cold remedies. Many people may swear by certain remedies, but in all reality there is no known cure for the common the cold.
The best treatment is prevention. With that in mind, here are simple tips to follow during the cold season:
- Wash your hands often. There was a method to mom’s madness when she always preached, “Make sure you wash your hands.” Washing your hands is the No. 1 method to prevent contracting or spreading a cold. It's especially important to wash after being in public places where these viruses tend to spread. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer on you for those times when you’re in public places.
- Keep surfaces clean. Surfaces can contain viruses for hours after they have been infected. Make sure the surfaces of common areas (i.e. doorknobs, keyboards, telephones, counters, etc.) are cleaned on a regular basis. Work spaces tend to be breading grounds for germs and viruses due to the fact that they are seldom cleaned. Here is a food for thought next time you are eating at your desk: An average office desktop contains about 100 times more germs than the average kitchen table.
- Exercise. According to Dr. David Neiman of Appalachian State University, frequent moderate exercise will improve long-term immune activity. His research demonstrated that moderate-intensity walking for 40 minutes per day decreases the chance of sick days by 50 percent compared to those that did not exercise. An acceptable exercise routine can include resistance training, moderate aerobics and stretching. The key is to do moderate exercises with variety. Studies have also shown high-intensity exercises like marathon running actually lower the immune system for a short period of time (48-72 hours). High-intensity exercises tend to be demanding on the body and its systems.
- Increase vitamin D intake. There are mixed reviews on studies regarding increasing vitamin D intake, but there appears to be evidence it may play a role in prevention. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, vitamin D helps your body’s ability to fight infections, which include the common cold. Studies have shown that higher vitamin D levels lower your risk of contracting colds, flu and other respiratory tract infections. Always consult your doctor prior to supplementation, but the Institute of Medicine recommends a minimum of 600 IUs a day, while some researchers have recommended up to 2,000 IUs a day. Ways to increase vitamin D are sunlight exposure (10-15 minutes of sunshine three times a week), dietary intake (fish, fortified cereals, cheese and eggs), and/or supplementation with vitamin D3. Again, as consult your physician prior to supplementation.
- Stress Management. Studies have shown there is a mind-body connection, and people under emotional stress tend to have weakened immune systems. People are more susceptible to infections when their immune system is compromised, so make sure you take time for yourself during this time of year. Walking, doing yoga and exercising are perfect ways to kill two birds with one stone for cold prevention. If you happen to catch a cold, then here are some tips that might help recovery:
- Feed a cold and starve a fever — or, starve a cold and feed a fever. Mom use to always say one, but which one was it? Well, sorry mom, the answer is neither. The best advice would be to try and eat has healthy as possible while you are sick. Meals consisting of whole, unprocessed foods would be ideal during times when you are sick. Larger meals consisting of heavily processed foods drain the body of precious energy needed during times you are sick. Ideally, foods high in antioxidants like beta carotene (apricots, beets, beef liver, tangerines, tomatoes, squash, corn, carrots and cantaloupe), vitamin C (broccoli, cantaloupe, kiwi, oranges, strawberries and tomatoes) and vitamin E (fish, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and peanut butter) may help reduce the severity of symptoms from the cold.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated is important for the body during times you are sick. It helps flush the toxins out of your body that may accumulate during times when you have a cold. Recommended fluids would include water, tea, hot water with honey/lemon and sport drinks (not too much due to their higher sugar levels). Stay away from cola, coffee and any other drinks high in caffeine, as it will tend to dehydrate you. A good rule of thumb to tell if you are properly hydrated is to look at your urine. The clearer the urine is, the more hydrated you are.
- Get plenty of re**st.** Your body will do most of its healing at night, as sleeping tends to be underrated in the prevention and healing process. Getting plenty of sleep is essential for immune system function. So if you’re not sick, then not getting enough sleep might make you more susceptible to getting sick. If you are sick, not getting enough sleep will slow the healing process down.
- Don’t overdo it. Take it easy and just save your energy. Bite the bullet and just call in sick to work. Your co-workers will thank you for not exposing them to your cold. Typical colds tend to last seven to 12 days, so hopefully taking it easy early on in the infection process will speed up the recovery process.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking causes increased additional irritation to the lungs and affects the lungs' defense processes. Studies have shown that smokers get more colds than non-smokers and they double their risk of catching the flu.
If you do happen to catch a cold, keep in mind that certain symptoms of a cold (such as mild coughing or a runny nose) is the body’s way of fighting the infection by getting the virus out of your system. So beware that many over-the-counter medications that decrease the severity of the symptoms may actually prolong your infection. Always consult your doctor before taking any medication.
Dr. Ken Andersen is a Chiropractic Physician at Andersen Chiropractic, LLC in Sandy, Utah, who specializes in spinal rehabilitation and treatment of the spine. He is also an adjunct member of Salt Lake Community College Biology Department.