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Freezing Out Colds and Flu This Winter: The P's and Q's of Boosting Your Immune System

11/27/2013 03:38 pm ET | Updated Jan 27, 2014

It has arrived. The sneezing, coughing, fever-ridden season has officially begun. Affecting children and adults, winter viruses often don't discriminate based on age, race or gender. Many of my patients want to know what they can do to stay healthy this winter and enjoy the approaching holiday season.

Prepare:
Don't let a cold catch you by surprise. As a parent and busy mom, one of my secrets that I pass on to my patients is to begin a cold and flu prevention regimen before the season hits. While flu vaccines can help, they only protect against the flu. Taking certain supplements and herbs early can boost your immune system and keep all viruses away.

Vitamin D3-vitamin D is an anti-inflammatory and antiviral. In the winter, our levels of vitamin D3 often drop due to the lack of sunshine. Increasing vitamin D3 levels through supplementation can help protect against colds and flu. Most adults benefit from an additional 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 through the winter. For those with very low levels of vitamin D3, increasing to 5,000 IU is recommended. Children benefit from vitamin D3 supplementation as well.

Astragalus is another personal favorite. Astragalus is a Chinese herb that also boosts the immune system while offering antiviral protection. Begin protecting your immune system by taking one dropper of astragalus daily, but increasing to three times per day when sick.

Oscillococcinum is a great homeopathic remedy that can help minimize cold and flu symptoms. This remedy works best when taken at first onset of cold or flu symptoms.

Keep these supplements stocked and available as you prepare for winter. Taking these supplements consistently through the season and increasing intake when sick can keep you healthy this winter.

Protect:
Protect your immune system by observing the tried and true technique of hand washing. Teaching children to wash their hands before eating and after coming home can keep the entire family healthy. Remember to wash your hands after shaking hands with friends or colleagues.

Wiping off shared work spaces with a disinfectant can also protect against germs. Many studies show that germs live on counters, doorknobs and desktops for up to three days.

In Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, keeping the neck covered using a scarf or turtleneck protects the immune system. Protecting "wind invasion" or the immune system in Chinese medicine, requires staying bundled and wary of extreme temperature changes.

Juicing is another way to protect the immune system throughout the winter. Juicing brightly colored fruits and vegetables like carrots, beets, spinach and kale provides a power punch of antioxidants that work as immune enhancers. Try juicing three times per week for immune protection.

Pack:
As you prepare for the holiday season, don't forget to pack hand sanitizer, your immune boosting supplements and low-sugar snacks for travel. Sugar depletes the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to colds and flu. Use your hand sanitizer to disinfect airplane seats, trays and shopping carts.

Prescriptions:
If you do get the flu, there are prescription medications that can help. Tamiflu is a prescription medication that can help fight off the flu if taken within the first 48 hours. Tylenol and motrin can also help manage the fevers that accompany colds and flu.

Quit:
Patients often ask if they should exercise when they get a cold. Moderate exercise boosts the immune system, but extreme or strenuous exercise can worsen a cold and is definitely not recommended if you have the flu. It is okay to quit exercising in the first few days of a cold and allow your body to rest.

Quiet:
The stress of the holidays and end of year deadlines can leave you susceptible to winter viruses. Take time to rest and recuperate through the holiday season. Consistent sleep, weekly massages and meditation can quiet the mind but boost the immune system. Carve out 15 to 20 minutes per day to relax, unwind and reconnect with yourself.

This winter, enjoy the holidays and the months to come by remember the p's and q's of cold and flu prevention. Happy holidays to all, with these living healthy naturally tips.