Cold and flu season is upon us, and I’m starting to see lots of different viruses and infections spread through the community: cold viruses, the flu, RSV, pertussis, etc. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? So how do you stay healthy?
The first place most people turn to is various supplements, vitamins, and eating or avoiding some specific food. Now, most everyone you meet will have something different that they swear by. Everyone thinks that vitamin C, for example, is a miracle cold-preventing machine, but when evaluated in medical studies it doesn’t show much if any difference. In fact, no matter what the intervention, there have been none that show clear and consistent benefit when studied, so if there is a difference it is likely to be fairly minimal. Why am I such a hater? I’m not, in fact I have to admit to going through phases where I tried all that stuff. But I found that I still got sick a lot, so I looked into the literature and found no support whatsoever for any of these interventions/supplements/vitamins/etc. One year I just stopped taking any supplements, and instead focused all of my attention on hand washing, avoiding projectile snot and being cautious with door knobs and other public collections of mucus. Lo and behold, my rate and severity of infections dramatically decreased. Now, if any of you know me at all you will know that I do not rely on, nor recommend anyone relies on, a single person's story or anecdotal evidence. But in this case it is only a mirror of that which is recommended by good science. Put less particles of virus in your nose, you will catch less viruses. Some might even call that common sense. So here is my recipe for having your healthiest possible winter:
- Wash your hands.
- Most importantly, wash them at the right time (after touching potential sources of virus but before you touch your nose).
- Every time you think of reaching for a supplement, instead, wash your hands. (You’re probably more likely to catch a virus going to the store to buy vitamins than you are preventing one by taking them!)
- If you’re in public and touching lots of things, avoid touching your nose, or scratch your itchy nose with something that has not touched other people’s snot (i.e. a tissue or your upper arm).
- Before you touch your nose, wash your hands (hand sanitizer OK if not near a sink).
- Hugging is A-OK, we all need lots of love.
- Eskimo kisses are highly risky.
- Catch a ray of sunshine when you can.
- Keep your body temperature warm.
- Eat a healthy diet and get good exercise.
As for vitamins, water, food, these are all important. You don’t want to be deficient in either vitamins, healthy food or water, because that could increase your risk of getting sick. But taking excess food, vitamins or water will not be any better than having just the right amount. Is there harm in taking excess stuff? Sure! Cost, for one. But too much of any substance in your body, in my opinion, represents an imbalance, and that is the key point. Your body will only have to work that much harder to restore or maintain normal balance. Your immune system was NOT developed to function optimally on 5,000% RDA of vitamin C, nor depend on a diet of a pint of blueberries every day. But having enough vitamin C is important, and eating blueberries is one of my favorite pastimes, as evidenced by the multiple blueberry bushes in my back yard.
So, in summary, eat well, get exercise, stay hydrated, stay warm, and wash your hands at the right times. You’ll thank me.