Life is full of natural cycles that give us a pretty good idea of what we can expect. It's like how when the weather cools, the leaves begin to change, and a gentle wave of viruses wash across the land bestowing colds and the flu.
Both colds and influenza are caused by viruses. Colds generally come on more slowly with milder symptoms, and the flu tends to come on quickly with more systemic symptoms that are more severe.
The flu is potentially more dangerous for people with compromised immune systems because it can lead to complications such as pneumonia. Knowing the difference between a cold and the flu can help you manage symptoms and understand when you may need to take things more seriously and seek medical attention.
Tea Tree OilTea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, is a natural antiseptic with powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Tea tree oil is extracted by steam distillation from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a plant native to Australia.
How to Use itOne way to maximize tea tree oil's antiviral benefits is to diffuse it. Essential oil diffusers use various methods to emit essential oils into the air.
Essential oil diffusers come in four types—nebulizing, ultrasonic, heat, and evaporative—and can be found at most health food stores or on Amazon. Always make sure to use high-quality, organic essential oils.
Supplement With Vitamins to Boost Immune SystemBecause of our hectic lifestyles, it can be difficult to regularly sit down and have a healthy home-cooked meal. So intentionally adding vitamin-rich foods to our diet or taking a good, high-quality supplement will ensure that we get the vitamins we need so that our bodies function optimally and can fight off invaders.
Vitamin CVitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, is one of the best vitamins you can take to boost your immune system. The human body can't create its own vitamin C, but our bodies need it to function properly, which is why we need to get it through the foods we eat or by taking supplements. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that the body can't store—another reason we need to make sure we're getting enough of it every day, especially if we feel a cold or flu coming on.
- rose hips
- chili pepper
- black currants
- snow peas
- bell peppers
- Camu camu
- acerola cherry
- Chinese red dates
Recommended Daily IntakeThe recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults older than 19 years of age is 90 milligrams (mg) for men and 75 mg for women. Pregnant women need 85 mg, and for lactating women, the RDA is 120 mg daily. Smoking depletes vitamin C levels in the body, so keep this in mind if you're a smoker and adjust accordingly.
Vitamin DOur best source of vitamin D is the sun, which we should try to get a little of every day to stay healthy and maintain a strong immune system. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes calcium absorption and helps maintain the body's calcium and phosphate levels, which are needed to build new bones. Vitamin D helps to reduce inflammation and modulates cell growth, glucose metabolism, and immune function.
- cod liver oil
- orange juice fortified with vitamin D
- dairy and plant milk fortified with vitamin D
- beef liver
- cheddar cheese
- crimini mushrooms (and some other mushrooms)
- pork chops
Recommended Daily IntakeAdults (19 yearsor older): Men–15 micrograms (mcg) (600 international units [IU])/Women–15 mcg (600 IU)
Pregnant Women: 15 mcg (600 IU)/Lactation–15 mcg (600 IU)
Adults (70 years or older): 20 mcg (800 IU)
Vitamin EVitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin, is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight the free radicals that cause damage to DNA and accelerate aging. Vitamin E helps to reduce inflammation and supports and strengthens immune function. This essential vitamin also dilates blood vessels and makes blood less “sticky,” preventing dangerous clots.
- wheat germ oil
- peanuts and peanut butter
- beet and collard greens
- sunflower, safflower, and soybean oil
- sunflower seeds
- red bell pepper
Recommended Daily IntakeAdults (14 years or older): Men–15 mg/Women–15 mg
Vitamin AVitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and plays a vital role in making white blood cells that fight infections in the body. Vitamin A regulates the immune system, increasing protection from bacterial and viral infections. It's essential for cellular communication, growth and development, and male and female reproduction. Vitamin A is also vital for eye health and can help to prevent eye disorders such as age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss.
- sweet potato
- winter and summer squash
- beef liver
- fish oils
- red bell peppers
- butternut squash
- pink grapefruit
Recommended Daily IntakeAdults (19 years and older): Men–900 mcg/Women–700 mcg
ZincZinc is an essential mineral with functions in the body that include wound healing, immune system function, building proteins and DNA, fertility in adults, and growth in children. Zinc is also needed to maintain our sense of smell and taste.
Zinc is available in lozenges, syrups, and over-the-counter cold remedies. Animal products are the most bioavailable forms of zinc, with oysters containing more zinc per serving than any other food.
- chicken leg
- firm tofu
- lean pork chops
- pumpkin seeds
- low-fat yogurt
- shiitake mushrooms
Recommended Daily IntakeAdults (19 years and older): Men–11 mg/Women–8 mg
Eat Chicken SoupChicken soup has been a remedy for colds and the flu for hundreds of years—and for good reason. Soups are full of healthy ingredients and are well-cooked so that everything is broken down, making it less work for the body to digest. The body needs all of its resources to fight the illness when you're sick. Soups and stews are a great way to get good nutrition while not taxing the body's energy, which it needs to fight invading pathogens.
Chicken is high in the amino acid cysteine, which helps to loosen mucus and other secretions. Cooking chicken into a soup releases the cysteine into the broth. Adding spices such as pepper and garlic increases cysteine’s mucus loosening effect. Using chicken and a variety of vegetables that are high in nutrients, such as parsnips which are high in potassium, and carrots, and onions, which are rich in antioxidants, add to the soup's therapeutic effects and help to replenish electrolytes, which are often lost in body fluids when we get sick.
Keep Warm and Wear a ScarfNot being warm enough puts unnecessary stress on our immune systems, which is why keeping warm is especially important in cold and flu season, when our bodies are under constant assault by external invaders.
Practice Good HygieneAs an acupuncturist, washing my hands has become an almost Pavlovian activity, something I do a thousand times each day without even thinking about it. But to most people, it isn't something we usually think about unless in an obvious situation, such as using the bathroom.
A way to extend this practice further is by washing your hands immediately after returning home from being anywhere in public. Depending on how vigilant you want to get, you can also change your clothing to ensure that you aren't bringing unwanted microbes into your home. If you happen to be in a densely populated place with a lot of "high-touch" areas or you have a compromised immune system, this might be a good preventative practice.