12 Not-So-Common Tips to Fend Off Cold and Flu

 by Luz Plaza

We all want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to avoid being taken down by cold and flu this season. Here, Dr. Woodson Merrell, M.D.


We all want to make sure we're doing everything we can to avoid being taken down by cold and flu this season. Here, Dr. Woodson Merrell, M.D., Executive Director of the Beth Israel Medical Center's Center for Health and Healing in New York City, shared some great tips and tricks to prevent cold and flu, as well as some suggestions to make the symptoms go away faster. From checking your vitamin D levels to doing inhalations with essential oils, read on to find out 12 tips to stay healthy this cold and flu season.

1. Be Cautious With Neti Pots and Antibiotics

Dr. Merrell pointed out that there are two common mistakes that people make when treating themselves when they're using neti pots and taking antibiotics. If you have the flu, using a neti pot will hurt you rather than help you. He recommended neti pots for colds only and favors steam inhalations for the flu or when you're not sure whether you have a cold or the flu. Dr. Merrell also pointed out that antibiotics will only be effective if you have a bacterial infection, as opposed to a virus.

2. Do Eucalyptus and Menthol Steam Inhalations

It might sound old-school, but grandma did it for a reason. This home remedy works! Eucalyptus and menthol inhalations work as an expectorant, decongestant and can even help kill the infection for both colds and flu. Dr. Merrell recommends buying organic eucalyptus and menthol essential oils. Here's how to do the inhalations: in a cooking pot, heat up water almost to a boil, then turn off the stove and add a few drops of each essential oil. Place the pot in a steady and protected area. Now, put a towel over your head to create a tent-like effect over the pot. Then inhale the steam, but be sure not to get too close to the water -- you don't want to get burned. An easier – and possibly quicker – way to accomplish this, is to put a few drops of the essential oils on a washcloth and place it on your shower floor when you take a hot shower.

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3. Increase the Humidity in Your Home and Bedroom

Research suggests that there might be a reason why cold and flu season coincides with winter. Studies show that the influenza virus is more likely to survive in low humidity conditions, thus increasing its chances of getting more people sick. In warm weather the air has the capacity to hold more water, which is why it feels humid. "It seems that the influenza virus' ability to survive and be transmitted person-to-person is greatly affected by how dry or wet the air is," said Shaman. An easy fix is to run humidifiers in your home and bedroom as a preemptive measure.

4. Get Moving – Go for a Daily Walk!

Research shows that light to moderate exercise on a regular basis can reduce your risk of getting a cold by a third. In a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers from the University of South Carolina and the University of Massachusetts examined rates of infections in the upper respiratory tract among 641 healthy inactive and moderately active adults ages 20-70 for one year. They found that moderately active individuals reported fewer infections. The benefit seemed highest in fall and winter. Those who participated in moderate physical activity during that time reduced their cold risk by 33 percent. Another study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, showed that sedentary postmenopausal women who started walking five days a week for a year had 50 percent less risk of catching colds compared to those who did not exercise on a regular basis. So, to avoid cold and flu, get moving!

Read more: 7 Reasons to Do Moderate Intensity Exercise More Often

5. Check Your Vitamin D Levels

Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D -- we just need a little sunshine for this to happen. But surprisingly, it's estimated that about one billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient, according to Harvard School of Public Health. "Vitamin D could arguably be the most powerful vitamin for the immune system," said Dr. Merrell, who suggested that people ask their doctors to check their vitamin levels to ensure their immune systems are operating at optimum capacity. In one study, 340 children were followed during flu season. Half of the participants were given 1,200 IU of vitamin D and the other half, placebo pills. The participants who were given vitamin D were 40 percent less likely to contract the flu. Other studies have shown that vitamin D might help you fend off infections in general, not just the flu.

Read more: 15 Ways to Get More Vitamin D

6. Eat More Plant-Based Foods

According to Dr. Merrell, favoring a plant-based over an animal-based diet will help you stay healthier. Why? Unlike animal-based foods, plant-based foods are rich in phytonutrients, which play a key role in keeping us healthy and fighting diseases. According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, phytonutrients have been proven to lower the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, fruits, like papaya and pineapple, contain proteolytic enzymes, which help to break down and dissolve the debris produced from infections being killed in your system. Dr. Merrell not only recommended a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, but additionally consuming them raw and juicing.

Read more: 12 Vegetarian Meals Under 400 Calories

7. Cook with Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Bacterial Herbs and Spices

You would be surprised about the number of alternative medicine remedies that you could find in your kitchen. Dr. Merrell shared two of them: garlic and turmeric, both of which have surprising qualities that extend further than just adding flavor to your meals. Garlic, for example, has anti-microbial properties. Turmeric, a spice popular in Indian cuisine, Dr. Merrell called "the most powerful anti-inflammatory spice." He suggested trying to incorporate them both in your meals as much as possible and said that because of its mild flavor turmeric could be added in small quantities to just about any dish.

Read more: 8 Foods That Boost Your Immune System

8. Wash Your Hands and Don’t Touch Your Face

To get sick, first a virus or a bacteria needs to get into your system, and there is no easier way for them to do so than through your eyes, nose or mouth. Every time you touch your face with dirty hands, you are increasing your chances of getting sick. The average person touches their face about 16 times per hour, and that's 16 more chances of getting sick that could have been avoided. Because viruses and bacteria are not visible to the human eye, your best preemptive measure is to wash your hands often and try to minimize the number of times you touch your face. Wash your hands with soap and water often and have a hand-sanitizing gel handy for when washing your hands is not an option.

9. Keep Tea Tree Oil Handy

You might know Melaleuca alternifolia by its more common name: tea tree oil. One study published in Letters in Applied Microbiology showed this Australian plant to be effective as an antiviral against influenza. Dr. Merrell believes that even though the antiviral properties of tea tree oil were proven successful in the contained environment of the lab, the benefits still translate to every day life out in the real world. He recommends carrying around a small bottle of organic tea tree oil and taking a small inhalation when walking into crowded spaces like the subway or a bus.

Read more: Study: Antiviral Activity of Melaleuca Alternifolia Essential Oil

10. Throw Away Your Sneezes…Literally

Just as you should frequently wash your hands and avoid touching your face, you should also make sure to cover your mouth every time you sneeze or cough to avoid spreading your germs onto others. Even better, try to have tissue paper handy to sneeze into, and then be sure to throw it away right after. This will also help to avoid getting more germs on your hands and spreading them onto the surfaces you touch. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing may help prevent those around you from getting sick. If you don't have tissue handy, sneeze into your elbow rather than your hand since your hand can shake someone else's hand or touch your own face in due time.

11. Discover Manuka Honey

Adding a little Manuka honey to your hot tea, smoothie, or even oatmeal, might help you fend of infections. It's known that honey in general has antibacterial properties, but recent research has shown that Manuka honey's antibacterial properties are superior. The lead researcher, microbiologist professor Elizabeth Harry, from the University of Technology, Sydney, said, "When tested against other honeys, Manuka honey was the most effective at inhibiting the growth of all the bacteria." According to the research, the less processing the honey undergoes, the better its antibacterial properties.

Read more: Manuka Superfood Honey

12. Don’t Forget to Stay Hydrated

You might already be familiar with this one, as it is quite possibly the first thing any doctor will tell you at the first sign of a cold or the flu: "Drink plenty of fluids." Water keeps your system moving so that it can dispose of what it doesn't need. "In order to move the phlegm, you need to be hydrated," said Dr. Merrell.

Read more: How Much Water Do I REALLY Need to Be Drinking?

What Do YOU Think?

Do you often get afflicted with cold and flu? Were you surprised by these tips? Have you tried any of them before? Do you know any other tips and secrets to fend off cold and flu? Let us know! We want to hear from you -- leave us a comment below.

Read more: 8 Foods That Boost Your Immune System


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