Flu viruses are raging during the winter months and the flu has forced many of us to stay in bed coughing and sneezing. It is important to support the immune system during the flu season in order to avoid catching the flu. The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to support the immune system with healthy lifestyle and practicing good hand hygiene. Supplements and natural products can also provide extra support in the fight against the flu.
How is flu caught?
An adult has 2-4 flus per year on average and the children even more, because a child’s immune system is just developing. Kindergartens, schools and workplaces are ideal places for the flu viruses to spread because people are jammed in the same spaces and interacting a lot with each other. There are also over a hundred different flu viruses out there so catching one doesn’t unfortunately protect you from the next one, and a new flu can strike right after the previous one. The type of the flu virus also affects its duration.
Flu viruses spread either from person to person or through the air. You can catch the flu through the air when someone near you coughs or sneezes. It is also easy to catch the flu virus by touching surfaces such as doorknobs, taps or railings. The bacteria will quickly move on to the nasal mucosa if after an encounter like this you happen to touch your face. Flu viruses live on these kinds of surfaces for a few hours.
You can try to avoid catching the flu by washing your hands regularly and by avoiding touching your face. The most critical moments for the bacteria to spread – and therefore the best moments to also wash your hands – are before eating, after going to the toilet or sneezing and after coming inside. Warm water and soap are enough for washing hands. Hand sanitizers are not recommended because they will also kill the good bacteria from the skin.
Unlike what is usually believed, spending time in cold weather doesn’t itself cause the flu. However, as a stress factor to the body, it can weaken the immune system and thus indirectly contribute to catching the flu.
Healthy lifestyle supports the immune system
The immune system is partially innate and partially adaptive, or in other words, the result of learning: after being exposed to certain pathogens, the body develops resistance to them. The tendency to get sick varies individually but the immune system can also greatly be affected by lifestyle choices.
You can take care of your immune system with the following tips:
- Sufficient amount of sleep: The body needs enough sleep in order to function properly. Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system in the long term. As a result of sleep deprivation, the body can’t produce enough antibodies to reject infections.
- Balance between physical load and recovery: Being in good condition supports the immune system. Taking care of your condition lowers the risk of catching the cold and shortens the duration of the cold. However, in addition to regular exercise, the body also needs enough recovery from physical activities. As the result of excess training, stress levels can remain on a too high level which erodes the immune system.
- Healthy and diverse diet: The gut covers as much as 70 % of a person’s immune system. You can take care of your gut by eating lots of different vegetables, fruits and berries, whole grain products and fermented dairy, such as cultured sour milk, yoghurt and sour cream. Red meat, sugar and saturated fats should be avoided because they increase the amount of bad intestinal bacteria.
- Avoiding stress: Too much stress lowers the threshold to get sick because it affects the functioning of the cells of the immune system. Stress can also indirectly weaken the immune system due to sleep deprivation, as stress often causes problems with sleep.
- Avoiding smoking and alcohol: Smoking weakens the functioning of the lungs which makes it more difficult for the body to fight against bacteria. Alcohol slows down metabolism and lowers the body’s ability to prevent the flu.
Support your immune system with supplements and natural products
- Zinc: Studies have shown that zinc helps to prevent the flu and to shorten the duration of the flu by three days. However, the use of zinc needs to be started right away or within 24 hours of the arrival of the first symptoms the latest. You also need to take enough zinc per day, as much as 80-100 mg. Zinc also needs to be taken in a form which dissolves in the mouth because in order to help with the treatment of the flu, zinc needs to affect on the oral mucosa. Choose zinc lozenges or zinc sprays. The best option out of the different forms of zinc is zinc acetate.
- Vitamin C: There is weaker evidence of the effectiveness of vitamin C in the prevention and treatment of the flu as opposed to zinc. If taken during the flu, vitamin C can however help to shorten the duration of the flu. The proper daily amount of vitamin C in that case is 6 mg. Vitamin C can be taken as regular tablets or effervescent tablets, because they affect through the stomach and blood circulation.
- Echinacea: Echinacea is a flower which belongs to the daisy family. It has been used in traditional medicine for a long time to reduce inflammation and to strengthen the immune system. It is a well-known natural remedy for alleviating the flu symptoms. Echinacea helps to prevent flu and to shorten the duration of the flu and its effectiveness is based on activating the body’s own defence mechanism. Echinacea is more effective when the immune system is weakened as the result of stress, for example. Products which contain echinacea are available as lozenges, chewable tablets, mouth sprays and drops.