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Billings had an early start to winter with its Oct. 1 dusting of snow. Along with an abrupt temperature change — and the great germ swap that comes along with being out in public — the cold and flu season is underway. How can we prepare ourselves to best handle the dreaded winter viruses? Thankfully, our bodies have a system in place to mount a response to viral intruders: the immune system. Is it possible to support the way our immune system fights viruses? 

First, it is important to understand that cough, fatigue, fever or sore throat are signals from your body telling you that your immune system is ramping up. This is the time, if you’re not already doing so, to listen to what your body needs. Rest if you are tired. Eat small, easily digested meals when you are not feeling hungry.

Second, using over-the-counter cold and cough medicine, particularly combination formulas, suppress the immune response. More importantly, there is no evidence that they work better than a placebo in children for decreasing the duration of cold and they can have serious side-effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics has actually recommended against their use in children under 6 years of age, as it is easy to overdose on medications that can be toxic to the liver, such as Tylenol. Talk to your doctor (or great-grandmother) about home remedies to keep you comfortable while your immune system is at work.

Now, for the good stuff.

Hot tea

The basics

  • Cough into your elbow, not hands.
  • Wash your hands and use a hanky when opening public doors.
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep.
  • Evaluate your stress levels and work to reduce these as possible.
  • Get a jump on hydration by drinking a glass or two of water upon waking.
  • Get at least two to three servings of vitamin C-rich foods daily — think broccoli, cabbage, spinach, peppers, squash and tomatoes… yes, oranges too.

Next level

  • Stop eating so much sugar. Sugar depresses immune cell activity for three to four hours after ingestion. Fancy morning coffee, pastries and your office candy jar are all quick fixes; get rid of them. Count your added sugars for a couple days. If you are getting more than 25 grams, you’re over the World Health Organization’s recommended limit.

Expert level

There are other helpful substances for helping to kick a stubborn virus.

  • Elderberry syrup stimulates immune response against influenza virus and has been shown to shorten the course of flu.
  • Probiotics have been shown to reduce the frequency of cold and flu in children.
  • Vitamin C is quickly depleted during a viral infection. Intravenous vitamin C, delivered in a Myers’ IV, can boost vitamin C levels without the diarrhea that comes with high oral intake.
  • Hydrotherapy (using water applications) can be used in many ways to lower or support fever, increase circulation of immune cells and comfort sore throats and muscles.

Check with your naturopathic doctor for more options and an individualized approach.

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Danielle Phillips-Dorsett, ND, is part of the staff at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic. She may be reached at 259-5096.