You have already heard about washing your hands, getting plenty of rest, vitamin C and Echinacea, but there are some other things you can do that may not be as familiar.
- Probiotics: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study appearing in the journal Pediatrics (2009; 124(2): e172-9) looked at the effect supplementation in a group of children between the ages of three and five had on the immune system. The 110 subjects were given either a placebo, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM (a single probiotic), or a combination of probiotics. Taking the probiotics provided the test group with a 53% lower incidence of fever (for the single strain) and 73% reduction for the group taking the combination probiotic. Probiotics also reduced other cold and flu symptoms including coughing and runny nose. The group taking the supplement also missed fewer days from day care, 32% fewer days missed for those taking the single strain and 28% fewer days missed for the combination product. Antibiotic use was also less; 68% less in the single strain group and 84% less in the combination group, when compared to controls. These are significant reductions and the authors concluded that daily probiotic supplementation for 6 months (fall/winter) was an effective way to reduce fever and other cold symptoms, and could lower antibiotic use and reduce the number of school days missed.
- Eat breakfast: A study, involving 100 participants, was performed. It related illness to dietary habits. The subjects kept a diary for 10 weeks; in it they recorded any problems with memory and attention and any illness. Subjects who had more than one illness during the study were less likely to eat breakfast and more likely to drink alcohol. Those who developed more than one illness also tended to have negative, stressful events over the preceding year.
- Vitamin D: Seldom thought of as an immune vitamin, some scientists think that part of the reason for flu season is the short days—less sunlight and vitamin D.
- Watch your diet: Diet is very important. Sugar and refined flour products stress the immune system. Similarly, hydrogenated oils and deep-fried foods should be avoided. Fresh, brightly colored produce will help to boost your immune system. Fresh produce is high in vitamin C. The bright color in plant foods is from carotenes and bioflavonoids. These are powerful antioxidants that will help to protect your cells. The carotenes are precursors to vitamin A.
- Get your stress levels under control: Stress really puts a strain on the immune system and can increase your chances of getting sick. Researchers from the University of Florida and the University of Iowa and reported in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine (May, 2001). According to the article, those who reported having a lot of pain and stress were more likely to become sick that those who claimed to have only a little pain and stress. It is reasonable to expect that other stressful procedures may hamper immune function.
The idea behind vaccines is to confer immunity to a specific virus. Why not take steps to improve general immunity. We hear that half of Europe died during the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century. That means that the other half didn’t die—better immunity. We use language like, “I caught a cold,” or “I caught the flu”. It makes it sound like the virus has moves like LeBron James. It fakes left, spins right and slam dunks into you. But we know that even in a pandemic, not everyone gets sick. So you want to enhance your immune system as much as possible.