1. Keep the germs out! Washing your hands frequently can reduce the spread of common infections – remember hot water, regular soap (anti-bacterial soap is no more effective, and potentially contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria) for at least 20 seconds.
2. Maintain a strong immune system! If the bugs get in, make sure you have the tools to fight them. Reduce your stress levels (through massage therapy or meditation), get a proper sleep, follow a healthy balanced diet, and get regular moderate exercise.
3. Bring in the big guns – herbs and supplements that help you fight off infections include garlic, zinc, and my favourite go-to- andrographis. Garlic must be pressed to allow the active ingredient to oxidize, and is best taken raw; I shoot mine in an ounce of water to minimize contact of the odor-causing oils with the mouth. Zinc has been shown in research to significantly shorten the duration of the common cold – 25 mg a day as prevention, up to 50 mg a day when you’re fighting something. Andrographis is a wonderful immune-boosting herb that can be found in several supplements; take as directed on the bottle.
4. IV Therapy – a Myers cocktail is a mix of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, delivered in 15-30 minutes at your naturopathic doctor’s office. Some patients report that they “never get sick” when doing this treatment once a month. Advantages to getting IV supplements over oral is that the dose is guaranteed (avoiding the uncertainty of absorption) and that you bypass the liver, which removes a certain amount of vitamins from circulation immediately.
5. Homeopathic immune boosting – this therapy is becoming more popular as people become more wary of vaccines. It is not the same thing as a flu vaccine, as it doesn’t directly target the flu virus. However, it acts to stimulate your body’s defenses so they’re more ready to deal with an infection if it comes.
6. Get the flu shot (if you want). Risks include potential soreness at the injection site, and possibly a general feeling of malaise for 24-48 hours following the shot, as your body’s immune system reacts to the stimulus. The benefit can be that you might dodge the flu – if this year’s flu shot forecast the correct strains. Last year, the Center for Disease Control estimated that getting the flu shot could reduce your risk of contracting the flu by 60%. In 2012, it was just 56%. But it’s free.
And if all this doesn’t work, and you find yourself on the couch for two days catching up on your latest Netflix obsession, rest assured knowing that may be a good thing for you. The immune system is like any other body system – it takes a lot of energy to maintain, and if it’s not used, your body will down-regulate it. Having one good illness a year keeps your immune system on its toes.
Reuben Dinsmore is a naturopathic physician in Vancouver, BC interested in opening up the lines of dialogue around health.