Flu experts recommend getting vaccinated annually. But taking health-promoting actions can prevent the common cold or flu from occurring altogether.

Stay Healthy on the Job This Cold & Flu Season

To stay healthy throughout our lives, our immune systems need proper training and the right support.

As an integrative physician, I often have patients ask me what they can do to treat seasonal illness with safe and effective natural therapies. Whether you're talking about a common cold or the more serious flu virus, it's easy to consider these ordinary ailments to be an inevitable part of the "cold and flu" season. Colds are the most prevalent infectious illness in the United States, but they usually don't present dangerous symptoms unless one has a weakened immune system. The flu, on the other hand, can be a much more serious illness since it is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by a wide variety of influenza viruses. It even can lead to death in rare cases among immune-compromised individuals.

Fortunately, there are both short-term and long-term steps you can take to strengthen and improve your body's immune defenses safely and naturally. With a strong and well-trained immune system, you can effectively lessen the damage that both types of illnesses can cause to your body. In fact, the right health-promoting actions can prevent the common cold or flu from occurring altogether -- a critical benefit for the busy working person or multi-tasking parent who believes he or she simply can't afford to get sick. In addition to building immunity, these recommendations support your overall health and vitality so you can enjoy more energy and productivity throughout the year, without being held back by seasonal ailments.

Short-Term and Long-Term Prevention Strategies
Cold and flu infections can exert lasting negative impacts on your health, especially if you don't take the time to rest and recover completely, which is a common pitfall for those of us who lead busy lives. To avoid getting sick in the first place, the best approach is to give both short-term and long-term support to your immune system with natural immune enhancers and healthy lifestyle choices.

While long-term strategies enhance overall immune function and general health by strengthening and training the immune system to function better over time, short-term strategies are beneficial during acute risk and exposure when you need extra protection and support. By following a balanced approach to immune and overall health, which takes into account short- and long-term strategies, you can strengthen immunity, steer clear of seasonal illnesses, and recover much faster if you do happen to get sick.

Lifestyle Choices for Long-Term Immune Health
To stay healthy throughout our lives, our immune systems need proper training and the right support. There are numerous contributing factors that are known to weaken immunity. Stress, exhaustion, inflammation, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, dehydration, exposure to toxins, improper training due to over-vaccination, and other influences can all have significant negative impacts on the immune system’s ability to identify and destroy harmful invaders. So in order to stay healthy, it is critical that we make diet, lifestyle, and supplement choices that will protect, strengthen, and help train the immune system to function at its best. The following recommendations for long-term immune health will help to build and strengthen immune and overall health over time to keep you from getting sick later on.

  • Exercise: The immune-boosting benefits of even just 15 minutes of walking a day are truly remarkable and well documented. A brisk daily walk also helps to improve circulation, support weight management, and boost self-confidence and mood, all of which are important co-factors for a strong immune system.
  • Hydration: One of the simplest things you can do to steer clear of illness is to stay hydrated. Most of us function in a chronic state of dehydration without even realizing it. Water comprises more than half of your body mass, and proper hydration allows for efficient transmission of your body’s most critical communications, including immune responses. Drinking water also helps to eliminate toxins and foreign invaders so you can clear any infection more quickly and effectively.
  • Proper sleep: Another critical strategy is to get enough sleep. Deep, restorative sleep cycles are a fundamental part of your body’s repair process, and a number of studies have demonstrated that failing to get enough sleep has numerous consequences for physical, mental, and emotional health. Aside from the negative impact lack of sleep can have on your immune response, poor sleep habits also can raise your risk of coronary events dramatically over time. It is important to get at least eight hours of sleep, preferably in complete darkness for optimal repair and rejuvenation.
  • Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet: Following a nutrient-rich, whole foods diet is absolutely critical for maintaining optimal immune health throughout the seasons. Due to the high nutritional and antioxidant content of many whole foods, this type of diet is linked with increased antioxidant activity, improved digestion, healthy inflammation response, healthy glucose metabolism, healthier lipid profiles, and increased immune activity, among other benefits.
  • Mood support: Laughter is an excellent immune enhancer and has been proven to significantly stimulate immune function. Numerous studies point to happiness as an important factor for a strong immune system and for overall wellness. So take time to do what you love and engage in meaningful, healthy relationships, which provide support and satisfaction throughout life's ups and downs.

Supplements for Long-term Immune Health
Natural remedies such as nutrients, herbs, and botanicals are excellent options to help strengthen and support immune health over time. Here are some of my top recommendations:

  • Vitamin C, D-3 and zinc: Daily doses of vitamin C, D-3, and zinc are some of the simplest and most effective weapons against illness. Vitamin C helps boosts immunity, detoxify the body, and stimulate the repair process, while zinc supports your thymus gland and other critical components of your immune system. Adequate vitamin D intake is also crucial for flu prevention because it fosters proper immune function, has antiviral properties, and is essential for keeping the epithelial cells that line your digestive and respiratory systems intact.
  • Medicinal mushrooms: A medicinal mushroom complex is one of my top recommendations for enhancing immune function and helping your body to fight infection, both in the short term and over time. Certain medicinal mushrooms work to train the immune system and therefore offer significant immune benefits in the long term. Additionally, medicinal mushrooms are extremely rich sources of beta-glucans and other beneficial compounds that activate powerful immune function against acute infections. Medicinal mushrooms also help to increase recovery and repair, as well as offer protection against future threats. I recommend an organic Ten Mushroom formula with added beta-glucans for both short-term acute exposure and long-term immune system training.
  • Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP): Modified Citrus Pectin is an all-natural product made from citrus fruit peels and modified for enhanced absorption and bio-activity throughout the body. Numerous studies have demonstrated that MCP is a powerful anti-cancer therapy, anti-inflammatory, and a safe and effective chelator of heavy metals and environmental toxins. These factors alone make MCP a powerful ally in immune support and protection. However, recent groundbreaking studies on MCP also prove its ability to significantly enhance immune function for both short-term and long-term immunity. MCP activates B-cells in a dose-dependent manner and induces a significant dose-dependent activation of T-cytotoxic cells and Natural Killer (NK) immune cells. By stimulating and improving the functional ability of our most powerful immune cells, reducing inflammation and safely removing heavy metals and environmental toxins from the body, MCP is a versatile and important daily supplement for immune and overall health. For more in-depth information on modified citrus pectin, visit www.mcpreport.com.

Short-Term/Acute Immune Protection Strategies
If you were exposed to a cold or flu or already have started to show symptoms, the following short-term strategies can offer significant protection. In particular, my top recommendation is to take increased "loading dosages" of the above recommended immune supplements in addition to a few others, including Echinacea and Goldenseal, until symptoms subside.

For acute exposure to contagious illnesses or to jump start the immune system in someone who is already sick, I always advise taking the “loading dosage” of specific immune-enhancing supplements, which is a minimum of twice the recommended dosage on the label. Loading dosages offer powerful stimulation to the immune system and are extremely beneficial during increased cold or flu risk, and in cases where you are already sick. Increased dosages of the supplements recommended above will offer advanced support for fighting an infection and help you recover faster. With medicinal mushrooms, I recommend taking the normal dosage every hour until cold or flu symptoms subside.

In addition to the recommended supplements above, herbs such as Echinacea, goldenseal, garlic, and ginger can offer significant support for recovery from acute colds and the flu. A simple drink made from organic lemons, honey, and hot water is also very soothing for cold and flu symptoms and helps to support immunity and increase healing.

Lastly, a few common-sense tactics you should always follow are to keep your distance from people who are sick, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your nose, eyes, or mouth. Adequate rest is critical for full recuperation when you're sick, although this is something often overlooked by many busy working people. To avoid getting caught in this cycle, make sure to give yourself the necessary time to recover from an illness, and prevent illness in the future with these simple, yet powerful methods that can increase immunity and overall wellness, safely and naturally.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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