The flu and cold season is upon us! Chances are, you or someone you know has been sniffling, coughing, or experiencing the full-blown fever, chills, and body aches. There are some simple ways of supporting your immune function to ward off the viruses during the winter season, or at least help to keep the duration and severity to a minimum.
1. Go Outside
Getting sunlight especially during the winter season can help prevent the release of inflammatory chemicals by flu-infected cells, which can cause symptoms of fever and aches. The less sunlight you have contact with by staying indoors, lowers vitamin D (“the “sunshine vitamin”) that supports the immune cells. But Brrr…in the middle of the winter, not everyone can bask outside like Californians can! Supplementation of vitamin D can help, if it is not possible to go out and build a snowman!
Viral infections, such as the cold and flu, are mainly transmitted through the air by coughs or sneezes. So, don’t forget to cover your mouth and wash your hands to prevent transmission!
2. Eat Kiwifruit
It’s in season! Kiwifruit supports the immune function with its high levels of vitamin C, E, K, folate, carotenoids, potassium, fiber and phytochemicals. Containing more nutrients compared to other fruit, kiwifruit can reduce the incidence and severity of cold or flu-like illness in at-risk groups such as older adults and children.
Kiwifruit can cause allergic responses in some susceptible individuals, so eat with caution!
3. Drink Kefir
Kefir is a fermented milk product that contains a source of good bacteria, mainly Lactobacillus species. A study in children attending day-care showed a significantly lower incidence of rhinopharyngitis, better known as the common cold, in the children consuming the creamy drink.
Kefir is a dairy products, so it should not be consumed by individuals who have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerant.
4. Eat Seaweed
A component in red seaweed, iota-carrageenan, has been found to reduce viral load. Trials on creating iota-carrageenan nasal spray for the common cold, have shown reduction of cold symptoms. One type of red seaweed is dulse, which has been touted as a superfood with benefits exceeding that of kale (and also claims of it tasting like bacon!). Seaweed has also been found to be preventative for cardiovascular disease.
The nasal spray is not yet on the market. Carrageenan has been use in processed foods as a thickener, stabilizer, and texturizer and has been associated with intestinal ulcers. However, no correlation has been found with eating seaweed.
5. Stay Positive
Many studies corroborate that acute respiratory tract infections have been found to be associated with higher levels of perceived stress, negative affect, anxiety and depression. Negative life events were associated with susceptibility to infection.
Gratitude exercises, counseling, meditation, yoga, exercise, and acupuncture are among a few activities that can help lower stress and help to achieve a more positive outlook.
- Acharya, B. “Indoor Staying During Winter Season Makes People More Susceptible to Flu.” Journal of Nepal Health Res Counc. 2016 Jan; 14(32):69-70.
- Stonehouse, W. et al. “Kiwifruit: our daily prescription for health.” Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2013 Jun;91(6):442-7.
- Prodeus, A. et al. “Fermented Milk Consumption and Common Infections in Children Attending Day-Care Centers: A Randomized Trial.” J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2016 Nov;63(5):534-543.
- Eccles, R. et al. “Efficacy and safety of iota-carrageenan nasal spray versus placebo in early treatment of the common cold in adults: the ICICC trial.” Respir Res. 2015 Oct 5;16: 121.
- Cardoso, SM et al. “Seaweeds as Preventive Agents for Cardiovascular Diseases: From Nutrients to Functional Foods.” Mar Drugs. 2015 Nov 12;13(11):6838-65.
- Falagas, ME. et al. “Psychosocial factors and susceptibility to or outcome of acute respiratory tract infections.” Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2010 Feb; 14(2):141-8.