How to Avoid Colds & Flu

3 doctors’ best advice

From swine flu to the common cold, it’s that time of year when bugs are quickly spreading through schools and office buildings. And with our busy schedules, who has the time to feel under the weather?

We asked an M.D., a naturopathic doctor and an expert in Ayurvedic medicine to give us the five best ways to prevent and treat colds and flu. Follow these 15 simple steps to help you and your family stay healthy and feel your best all season long.

Dr. Mark Hyman: Functional Medicine

Dr. Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman, M.D., is an internationally recognized authority in the field of functional medicine — a revolution in 21st-century medicine that provides a new way to approach health and illness. He is the author of The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First and creator of Gaiam's UltraMind Solution Club.

1. Drink plenty of fluids.

With dry air inside and out, winter can be a particularly challenging time to stay hydrated. Consuming adequate fluids, especially warmer ones, supports all of your body’s functions, including the immune system. Make soups and broths (from scratch with fresh vegetables, if possible) and drink them throughout the week. Drink herbal teas like ginger and echinacea daily. Keep a bottle of filtered water with you at all times. Avoid concentrated fruit juices and sweetened beverages, as the sugar content is harmful for the immune system. If you do drink juice, dilute it with two-thirds water.

2. Try a daily saline flush.

Along with staying hydrated, flushing your sinuses with mild saltwater helps to keep mucous membranes moist, which protects you from microbes. You can use a neti pot or easy-to-carry plastic bottles that come with saline packets to take with you to the office or when traveling.

3. Eat garlic, onions, ginger and lots of spices.

Add these and spices like oregano and turmeric to your soups, vegetable dishes, bean dips and sauces. Garlic and onions offer a wide spectrum of antimicrobial properties.

4. Have protein with each meal.

Proteins are the building blocks of the body, including your immune and detoxification systems. It’s important to eat organic, clean and lean animal protein, as well as plant-based proteins (legumes, nuts/seeds), with each meal and snack.

5. Get sufficient sleep.

We all know sleep restores and heals the body. Without adequate sleep, optimal immune function is next to impossible. Get in a better rhythm and head to bed earlier on dark winter nights; aim for seven to eight hours a night. Incorporating various relaxation and breathing techniques throughout the day to help with stress and allow the mind to rest is also very helpful.

Read Dr. Mark Hyman's seven-step plan to boost your immune system.

Dr. James Rouse: Naturopathic Medicine

Dr. James RouseJames Rouse, N.D., is a naturopathic physician, triathlete, chef, yoga instructor and author. He is best known for hosting TV's “Optimum Wellness,” health-tip segments featured on NBC affiliates in several major cities.

1. Avoid dairy and sugary sweets.

Dairy foods should be avoided since they tend to thicken and increase mucus. Also avoid consuming sugary sweets, as they further suppress the immune system and can cause a cold or flu to linger.

2. Take vitamin C, vitamin A and zinc.

Vitamin C, vitamin A and zinc are among the top supplements for common colds. One to four grams of vitamin C can be taken throughout the day in smaller increments of 500 to 1,000 milligrams at a time. Research supports the use of zinc lozenges in the treatment and prevention of the common cold and sore throat. Vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant, can be taken in doses of 15,000 to 25,000 IU per day. (If you are pregnant, you should be getting enough vitamin A in your prenatal vitamin. Too much vitamin A during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby.)

3. Use herbs to cleanse and boost immunity.

Some herbs help promote sweating, which helps to cleanse the body. Cayenne, ginger, horseradish and mustard fall into this category. They can be used in teas or foot baths or applied as a paste to the chest (not placed directly on the skin to prevent burns!).

Other herbs help to stimulate the immune response and fight off viruses, including echinacea, Oregon grape root and andrographis. These can be used individually or in combination in tea, tincture or capsule form.

4. Try essential oils.

Rosemary, lavender and eucalyptus essential oils are wonderful when used as aromatherapy steam inhalations in warm bathwater or facial steams, and they all have antimicrobial properties.

5. Relieve stress.

Stress can lower your immune system, so rest and rejuvenation are critical to rapid healing. A warm bath at night, evening meditation and/or yoga can be great adjutants to your cold prevention and treatment strategy.

Read more of Dr. James Rouse's alternative therapies for colds and flu.

Dr. John Douillard: Ayurvedic Medicine

Dr. John DouillardJohn Douillard, D.C., P.h.D., has been teaching Ayurvedic medicine, natural health, fitness and nutrition internationally for 21 years. He is the author of The 3-Season Diet and Body, Mind, and Sport and practices Ayurvedic medicine at LifeSpa in Boulder, Colo.

1. Change with the seasons.

In Ayurveda, it is understood that as the seasons change, so must we. At the end of each season, impurities specific to that season build up and need to be cleansed. For example, as the cold and dryness of winter set in, the deeper mucous membranes in the bronchioles and lungs dry out along with the sinuses, making you much more susceptible to colds and flu. So we must take steps to keep the mucous membranes lubricated in the winter (see tip #3 below).

2. Eat an apple (or two, or three) every day.

When fruits like apples, pears and pomegranates come into season in the fall, consume them heartily, as they are harvested in the fall for the purpose of cooling the blood and providing the fiber to cleanse the colon. Eat two to three fresh apples a day.

3. Include more whole grains in your diet.

After Halloween, start eating more whole grains. Also include more soups, nuts, proteins and fats. These will lubricate and protect your precious mucous membranes.

4. Stick a fork in some bitter herbs.

In nature, many of the immune-stimulating and blood-purifying bitter herbs are harvested in the fall. The deer, therefore, will chew on the berberine-rich rhizomes of plants like Oregon grape root and goldenseal to cool and clean the hot summer blood, while stimulating the immune system for the winter months to come.

Make a point of eating more of those end-of-summer bitter roots like dandelion, swiss chard and kale.

5. Try warmed ear oil.

At the first hint of a cold, try a little warmed ear oil in your ears before bed to help move the dry and congested cervical lymph in your neck.

Watch Dr. John Douillard's video on how an Ayurvedic diet can relieve stress.

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