With flu season reaching its peak in January, my office will soon start filling up with parents and their children who are sick with a cold or the flu.
The influenza virus causes a staggering 32 million missed school days and 100 million missed days of work. Symptoms of the flu are often hard to distinguish from those of a common cold; coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fatigue, general aches, fever and stomach complaints like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are all typical of the flu. And while influenza vaccinations and antiviral drugs may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of influenza, their abilities are limited.
Here are five easy tips to help you and your little one survive this winter’s cold and flu season:
1. Take Ample Vitamins
Both vitamin D3 and vitamin A are powerful players against infections like viruses and bacteria. Research published in 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vitamin D3 supplementation in children decreased the rate of influenza infection by 50% which is far better than the effects of vaccines or antiviral drugs. Research released in 2011 showed that vitamin A is necessary for a multitude of different immune responses to both bacteria and viruses. Vitamin A was shown to inhibit the replication of the measles virus, demonstrating its powerful anti-viral ability.
Winter is the perfect time to add more vitamin A to our diets with sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens and butternut squash. And as for vitamin D3, it’s a fat soluble vitamin that can accumulate over time, so you want to be sure to have the right age appropriate dose for you and your child.
2. Consider Supplements
Recent studies demonstrate that elderberry extract has immune-modulating and antioxidant properties that offset the activity of viruses so they can no longer enter the cell and replicate. The berries also contain vitamins A and C, and the flavonoids quercetin, anthocyanin and rutin, all of which boost immune function. Elderberry comes in a great tasting liquid syrup form making it an easy option for kids.
Probiotics have also been repeatedly shown to help prevent infection and decrease the duration and severity of symptoms during the cold or flu. In one study, workers who supplemented with Lactobacillus reuteri used 50% less sick leave than those who didn’t. Several studies have shown how probiotics prevent and decrease the duration and severity of symptoms of a cold or flu in children who supplemented with probiotics.
3. Get Enough Rest
With our hectic schedules, stress is a part of everyday life but excessive stress can decrease immune function and make it easier to come down with an infection. While regular exercise helps bolster immune function, scheduling down time or rest into you and your child’s day can actually help the immune system fight infections.
Adults need an average of 7 to 10 hours of sleep nightly while children, depending on their age, need anywhere from 9 to 14 hours of sleep each night to rejuvenate for the next day. Not getting enough sleep lowers the body’s defenses needed for fighting infections.
4. Eat Healthy
Our bodies require many essential nutrients to function properly. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps ensure you and your little one are getting all the vitamins and minerals that are essential to a healthy immune system.
Studies have shown that eating a sugary snack or meal can depress the immune system for several hours, creating a window of time during which it is easier to get the flu. Avoiding excessive sugar can keep the immune system working at the level needed to fend off infections.
5. Wash Up
Washing your hands is one of the best ways for you and your baby to limit exposure to the germs that spread colds and flu. If your child is older frequent hand washing should be encouraged as well. Remember, antibacterial soaps are no more effective at killing germs than soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer. In fact, antibacterial soaps may contribute to the bacteria’s resistance to antimicrobial agents in the soap, making it harder to treat the germs in the future.
Hope these tips help you and yours have a healthier winter!