Seems like every year around this time you start feeling worn down, a little congested, maybe develop a scratchy throat, and before you know it, you're faced with a full-blown cold. But this year can be different! Arm yourself with these 6 tricks to evade nasty bugs before they knock you out. (Already sick? Make sure you stock your pantry with these natural remedies.)
Hand washing is so important to keeping those harmful germs out of your body, but there is a right and a very wrong way to do it. The biggest bad-news culprit when it comes to washing your hands? Antibacterial soaps. Triclosan, the antimicrobial chemical, is a hormone disruptor; it damages your heart, and creates antibacterial-resistant superbugs. And it's totally pointless! The Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association have found that antibacterial soaps are no better than using regular soap. (In fact, triclosan is so toxic that Minnesota is banning the stuff.) Check out this list to make sure you're not making these 5 classic hand-washing mistakes.
Can't find a sink? Hand sanitizer is the next best thing. Just make sure you're not slathering on more triclosan. Instead, try this natural recipe from Renee Loux, author of Easy Green Living, for a clean hands spritz.
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon plain aloe vera or lemon witch hazel
1/8 teaspoon tea tree oil
24 drops essential oils of lavender, lemon, cinnamon, peppermint, and/or thyme (use two or more varieties for good action and a balanced aroma, and also because these oils are potent)
4 drops grapefruit seed extract
1. Mix all the ingredients in a 1-ounce glass spray bottle.
2. Shake well before using.
3. Spray two or three times on grimy paws and rub them together.
Staying warm doesn't just help your immune system focus on the real threat; it can also help protect you from germs in the environment. Avoid warm winter clothing with claims of being "antibacterial," "germ-fighting," or "odor-free." These are often catchall terms for chemical- or nanoparticle-based ingredients. For a safe, warm, naturally antimicrobial material, look for hats and winter gear made of wool, like those from Icebreaker.
"Stress really hammers the immune system," says Danny Penman, PhD, author of Mindfulness. He explains that the human body evolved to suppress the immune system during times of great stress, such as getting chased by a tiger. "Under acute stress, the body diverts all its resources to escaping," he says. "The body doesn't waste time when we're being hunted with maintenance. The problem is, under long-term stress, the body has the same reaction, so it can't repair itself the way it's supposed to." And, while most of us aren't getting chased by tigers, we do face sustained stress from sources like jobs or financial worry.
The good news is meditation is the perfect solution to immunity-killing stress. Research has shown that participating in meditation programs decreases biomarkers associated with disease and increases activity of the immune system's protective "killer cells."
Your gut bacteria are also proving to be insanely important for a strong immunity. In fact, research has shown that probiotic foods can help prevent colds in kids (a demographic that's especially prone to getting sick since young ones tend to constantly put things in their mouths).
Not only is breakfast a chance to load up on nutrient-rich foods, such as eggs, but it also may keep you healthy. Research from Cardiff University found that eating breakfast was significantly related to lower rates of illness. This is a correlational study, so it's possible that those who ate breakfast also generally took better care of themselves, but we'll never balk at a good reason to eat some breakfast greens (warning: hilarious but explicit language), or these make-ahead breakfasts for your busiest mornings!