Updated: Feb 14
During the 2017 winter in New Zealand, around 180 people diagnosed with the flu were hospitalized every week!
News media often repeat the usual five tips from the Ministry of Health, to stop the spread of the flu.
1. Wash your hands
2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
3. Don’t share drinks
4. Avoid crowded places and
5. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
Although well-intended, my recommendations would be quite different. More with the approach to prevent the population from getting sick in the first place or to prevent the illness from progressing to something serious enough to require hospitalization.
So here are my top 5 tips to use at the first sign of illness, with the aim to reduce the duration and severity of the symptoms:
1. Go to bed and get a decent nights sleep!
Sleep deprivation depresses the immune system's disease-fighting abilities (1, 2, 3). It has also been said that 7.5-9 hrs of uninterrupted sleep can reboot the immune system. So turn off that television and phone, and find a dark quiet place to get a decent sleep. Or even take a 15-minute catnap.
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2. Avoid sugar & alcohol. If you don't feel like eating, don't eat.
Both sugar and alcohol can inhibit the function of white blood cells (one of your immune systems top disease-fighting cells), which then lowers your resistance to infection (4). So if you're not feeling at your best, skip dessert or that glass of wine. Save it for when your body is in tip-top shape and can handle the toxic effects.
Ever noticed losing your appetite when you’re sick? Well, this is your body's way of starving microbes of nutrients making it more difficult for them to function and replicate.
One study even found that fasting for 3 days kick-started the body's stem cells into producing new white blood cells, which fight off infection. Ultimately it regenerated the immune system, as it also destroyed old white blood cells that may have been damaged or inefficient (5).
Although it may be beneficial for some (such as those who have undergone chemotherapy- see study), to rid their body of damaged white blood cells (6). For the majority of the population, I'd instead recommend listening to your body, rather than doing a 3 day fast.
If you are not hungry, don't force yourself to eat. But if you have an appetite, choose antimicrobial and immune-boosting foods such as garlic, ginger, bone broth, mushrooms and brightly coloured vegetables.
3. Use immune-boosting herbs or essential oils, vitamin C and zinc
One large trial in adults found a significant reduction in the duration of cold symptoms when a single dose of 8 g was taken on the day of symptom onset (7, 8).
Bioflavanoids found in vitamin C rich foods (brightly coloured veggies, citrus fruits, leafy greens and broccoli) also appear to be highly beneficial, with an impact on viral function (9, 10), and improvement in those with allergies (11).
A fat-soluble form of vitamin C called liposomal C is often recommended for better absorption. (12). (Though personally, I'm wary of ones in metallic sachets due to potential metal contamination. However, it has been said bottled ones could oxidize more quickly).
Most vitamin C supplements (including liposomal) are missing the super-antioxidant benefits of bioflavanoids. So a product like Thorne Research Vitamin C with flavanoids might be a better option. Flavanoids are also reported to help maximize the benefits of vitamin C by inhibit