"Button up your overcoat, when the wind blows free, take good care of yourself . . . ," advised the old song, suggesting that staying warm and toasty is the surest way to remain healthy. The truth is that walking around in an unbuttoned overcoat -- or without an overcoat of any kind -- won't necessarily mean you'll become ill. What will cause all the colds and flu during this season are the viruses transmitted between people who are confined indoors.
Colds and flu share much in common: They are the result of highly contagious viruses that enter the human body via mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes. They result in symptoms such as respiratory congestion, sore throat, headache, watery eyes and aches and pains.
The differences between the two illnesses is in onset and duration. Colds begin gradually, generally preceded by a couple of days of a sore throat and an "out-of-sorts" feeling. Influenza attacks quickly -- the sick person feels fine one moment and terrible the next. Most people, although they may be uncomfortable, can function with a cold. The flu-suffering victim, however, barely has enough energy to crawl into bed.
But there always seems to be one or two people who sail through the season without a sniffle. These folks are lucky enough to have a strong immune system -- and the good news is, you can have one, too.
One way to help become virus-free this winter is by developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Get plenty of rest and eat a balanced diet.
Some nutritionists believe that certain foods can decrease immune system effectiveness. These include refined sugars, sweeteners, preservatives and alcohol. Anything that places a large strain on the digestive system (such as fried foods or heavy proteins) can also reduce immune system efficiency.
Another way to turn your immune system into a disease-fighting machine is by reducing stress through techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and even laughter. Studies show that stress has a direct correlation to illness because it causes the adrenal gland to release hormones into the body. The thymus gland then shrinks, reducing immune activity.
Studies also show that chiropractic care can help strengthen your immune system. Ronald Pero, Ph.D., chief of cancer prevention research at New York's Preventative Medicine Institute discovered that patients under the care of a chiropractor had an immune competence 200 percent greater than those who were not. A similar study indicated that spinal difficulties can contribute to ear infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, colds and flu. These results aren't surprising -- after all, a misaligned spine scrambles messages between the brain and the body, and the immune system can suffer from this miscommunication.
Another secret of people who avoid colds and flu is they take hygienic precautions by washing their hands regularly. They also disregard the myth that cold and flu viruses can't survive outside the body. These germs can live for hours on hard surfaces. For example, if you touch a telephone that someone who has a cold used, that virus will have found a new home -- on you.
Even with all your preventative action, a virus could still attack. If you find yourself miserable with a stuffy nose and scratchy throat, drink plenty of fluids such as water and tea which help flush out toxins and prevent dehydration. If you can, make sure one of those fluids is chicken soup. It seems that mom knew what she was talking about after all.
Irwin Ziment, a pulmonary specialist at the University of California at Los Angeles reports that chicken contains a natural amino acid called cystine. Cystine has a chemical similarity to acetylcysteine, a drug that doctors prescribe for respiratory infections. Vitamin C, zinc lozenges, garlic, and herbs like echinacea can help keep a cold from progressing.
In the meantime, keep a positive attitude. Many people claim that they feel better after visualizing healthy white blood cells attacking the virus invading their bodies. There is no proof that such visualization works, but it can help you feel better. And when you feel better, you've won half the battle against viruses.
Dr. Suzan J. Smith is a chiropractor in Carrollton, TX. She teaches yoga on a regular basis and has released a yoga video for beginners and intermediates and a second yoga video for pregnant women.
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