5 Tips to Avoid the Winter Cold & Flu

Make these moves to make sure you don't fall sick this season, and what to do if the cold and flu strikes in your household.

December 2, 2016
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Fall and winter keep us in the cozy indoors, with family, friends, schoolmates, and coworkers. Which is seasonal and lovely, but also the spread of viral colds, coughs and flu's from our hands and mouths and the air we breathe. Here is what we do at my house to stay well:

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1. Sleep

For real. Avoiding sleep deprivation may be the most powerful immune booster you have! And who doesn't want to sleep when it's dark and stormy outside?

More: 50 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight

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2. Eat well

That includes lots of antioxidant rich dark fruits and veggies, beans and omega-3 rich nuts will nourish your bodies ability to fight disease.  Fall and winter provide us naturally with antioxidant and vitamin C rich fruits—apples, kiwis, pineapple guavas, and all citrus fruits. 

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3. Limit your exposure

Just like your mama said, wash your hands (and encourage your sick friends and children to do the same)! Cough into your elbow, where the germs can stay, rather than into your hand where they can easily spread.

More: 30 Herbs for Colds and Flu

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4. Consider immune boosting food and supplements

Eating mushrooms (a top immune-boosting food) or taking an immune-boosting supplement like mushroom extract by tincture or capsule can keep your immune system humming all winter. Astragalus, a Chinese herb available by tincture or capsule, is also wonderful for long term immune resistance to viral infections.

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5. Treat 'em once you've got'em!

EXPOSED! So now your adorable viral-laden niece or neighbor just sneezed in your face, or you simply feel that scratchy-throat, tickly nose, "I'm about to get sick" dread...What to do?  As a mother of pre-school aged toddler twins, I perfected my cold-avoidance strategies and here's my secret formula:

  • As much sleep as you can get.
  • Avoid caffeine as much as possible (your body needs its strength for fighting illness, don't push it further)
  • Only gentle exercise, meditation or stretching (ditto the above)
  • Vitamin C 1000 mg three times daily 
  • If you (or your kissing partner) can take it, fresh garlic chopped and mixed in honey applied to the back of the throat every several hours throughout the first day or two of illness.
  • A combo immune herb/supplement containing Echinacea, Astragulus, Andrographis, Vit. C, and  Zinc.  Elderberry/Ginger syrup (see recipe below!) 1 tsp three times daily. Elderberry and Echinacea are as effective as Tamiflu in reducing length and severity of flu symptoms!
  • And chicken soup (or the vegetarian equivalent) really does help clear mucous and shorten colds--not to mention help you feel loved, which is the only real benefit of being ill in the first place!

So enjoy the crisp beauty of winter, celebrate with friends and loved ones, and be well!

Recipe for homemade elderberry syrup (delicious and much cheaper than at the store!)

Add 4 cups water:
2 cups dried elderberries
1 cinnamon stick
1-inch peeled fresh ginger root, sliced (or 1 tsp dried ginger)

Make it:
Simmer for 30 minutes.
Strain liquid from solids and stir in 2/3 cup raw honey until well mixed.
Keep in a glass bottle or jar

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Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, is a family practice physician with a specialty in integrative health, relationships and sexuality. She runs the award-winning Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine Clinic and has been voted "Best Doctor" in Santa Cruz County every year, from 2009–2016. Rachel teaches and speaks widely and is the author of the upcoming book, BodyWise: Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing, as well as the online course, BodyWise with Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD

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