We are heading into the peak of cold and flu season, and I’ve received several questions in The Myers Way® Facebook Community about how to maintain a healthy immune system during cold and flu season. This is an important question because keeping the cold and flu away helps limit stress on your immune system or risk a flare-up of other chronic illnesses.
Getting a cold or the flu can also often lead to secondary infections, which may require antivirals, steroids, and antibiotics. While modern medicine has its benefits, these types of medications can damage your gut microbiome.
Antibiotics work by blocking bacterial processes. They either kill the bacteria or stop them from multiplying. Unfortunately, antibiotics cannot tell the difference between the “bad” bacteria causing an infection and the “good” bacteria that belong in your gut. It’s the beginning of a turbulent relationship between antibiotics and gut health.
Before we get into cold and flu season tips and how to support your immune system, let’s take a look at the differences between a cold and the flu.
The Difference Between a Cold and the Flu
If you start to feel a tickle in your throat or a bout of congestion coming on, how do you know if it’s the cold or flu?
With sickness going around this cold and flu season, you need to understand that both the flu and the cold are respiratory illnesses but are caused by different types of viruses.1
Symptoms are very similar, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold, the flu, or even Covid-19. One way to tell whether it’s a cold or flu is the severity and onset of symptoms.
Flu symptoms are usually abrupt, meaning that one day you may feel healthy and the next day you feel awful. Flu symptoms are usually accompanied by a fever and body aches, which are rare or mild with the common cold.2 Flu symptoms can include:
- A dry, hacking cough
- Moderate to high fever
- Sore throat
- Severe body aches
- Stuffy and runny nose
- Severe fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
In contrast, cold symptoms will gradually onset and are milder. It is rare to have a fever or chills. If you have a cold, you are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Common cold symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Headache or mild body aches
- Mild fatigue
Now that you understand the difference between cold and flu symptoms, which are critical for keeping you healthy during cold and flu season, let’s talk a bit about what causes these illnesses and how they spread.
Causes of Cold and Flu
In order to provide the best cold and flu season tips, it’s important to reiterate that the cold or flu is caused by different viruses. The difference between cold and flu viruses is that the flu is only caused by the influenza virus. The common cold, on the other hand, can be caused by any number of viruses such as rhinovirus and parainfluenza.
Most viruses are spread from person to person. This typically happens when you come in contact with infected body fluids, such as saliva, blood, or urine. Droplets can also travel through the air and are spread by coughing or sneezing.
You may have noticed there’s more sickness going around during fall and winter months. This begs the question, can you get sick from cold weather? The answer is yes, you certainly can. In fact, new research shows that the immune cells in your nasal and respiratory systems are directly affected by cooler air, making them less effective.3
This causes you to be more susceptible to illness.
Do you need some ideas to strengthen your defense system and keep these bad bugs away? Below are my top eight ways you can naturally support your immune system through the cold and flu season.
How To Support Your Immune Health
Wash Your Hands Frequently and Thoroughly
Of all cold and flu season tips out there, the number one way to bolster a healthy immune response to the flu and other respiratory infections is to wash your hands frequently. The good news is that more people are washing their hands more than ever due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic.
You should scrub your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds in order to kill viruses. Cold and warm water are equally effective in killing germs.4 Twenty seconds is about how long it takes to sing the ABC’s one time through. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
Repair Your Gut
Your gut is the foundation of your whole body’s health because 80% of your immune system is located there. Without a healthy gut, you can’t have a healthy immune system. Without a healthy immune system, you’re open to infections, viruses such as the cold and flu, inflammation, and autoimmune disease.
That’s why it is critical to reestablish a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut to reduce your risk for getting the cold and flu.
When we are in optimal health, we live symbiotically with the bacteria in our bodies. If balanced, they promote optimal digestion and immunity, both of which are crucial to every aspect of your overall health and wellness. Taking a probiotic supports an optimal balance of synergistic bacteria to optimize your digestive health, especially during the upcoming holidays.
Reduce Sugar and Alcohol Consumption
You may plan on indulging in some sweets and a few cocktails over the holiday season. That said, another one of my cold and flu season tips is to keep in mind that both sugar and alcohol can contribute to systemic inflammation. This lowers your immune system’s ability to fight off infection.
As cold and flu season rages on, consider cutting back the sugar and alcohol. This gives your immune system a chance to rest, reset, and be fully optimized to battle what viruses may be around.
Consuming too much sugar can suppress your immune system and make it more difficult for your body to fight off infections. This includes the flu virus. It also leaves you open to gut infections such as Candida and SIBO, which suppress your immune system and cause leaky gut. Even moderate alcohol consumption suppresses your central nervous system, directly impacting your immune system.
Reduce Your Stress
As I mentioned earlier, 80% of your immune system is found in your gut! So what does that have to do with reducing your stress?
Stress can make your intestinal barrier weaker and allow gut bacteria to enter the body and create an imbalance between good and bad bacteria.5 Your immune system takes care of most of these bacteria, however, that means that it’s constantly in overdrive. This can lead to chronic illness, and in some cases trigger autoimmunity.
That’s why managing stress is another of my favorite cold and flu season tips. Healthy stress management supports a strong immune response against cold and flu viruses.
Thankfully, there are many ways to unwind, including meditation or acupuncture. Some of my favorite ways to relieve stress include getting in my infrared sauna; going on a hike with my husband, my daughter Elle, and our dogs; or taking a relaxing bath with homemade bath salts.
Get Optimal Sleep Every Night
Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get a cold or the flu. This is because sleep deprivation lowers the body’s production of cytokines, which are essential to fighting off infection and inflammation. They also aid in your body’s response to stress.6
- Eat foods rich in tryptophan and magnesium
- Eliminate fatty foods, heavy metals, caffeine, and alcohol
- Get tired naturally by establishing a regular sleep schedule, and creating a bedtime routine, exercise, and by using herbal supplements.
If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend Rest and Restore Max™, a physician-formulated combination of melatonin, valerian root, and targeted amino acids and minerals designed to support deep relaxation and a healthy night’s rest.
Get Plenty of Exercise
Another one of my favorite cold and flu season tips is staying active during the holiday season. Exercise can boost your immune system by increasing your blood circulation. Increased circulation allows antibodies to travel throughout your bloodstream faster, making it easier for your immune system to fight off viruses and infections. Exercise can also support your immune system by relieving stress and slowing the release of stress hormones in the body.
I’ve been doing a lot of at-home workouts I find on YouTube, swimming in my lap pool, and doing yoga and bodyweight workouts.
Support Your Inflammatory Response
Antioxidants are very important for your immune function. Glutathione is the chief antioxidant in your body, responsible for enhancing your immune system and helping your liver with detoxification.
Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric that fights free radicals in the body to support its inflammatory response. As great as curcumin is for you, there are a couple of factors to consider when determining how best to consume it:
- Turmeric is not easily absorbed by your body. 7 Research has shown that only 1% is absorbed through the digestive system.
- You’d have to eat two pounds of turmeric root to reap the full benefits of curcumin that clinical trials have demonstrated.
- Most turmeric supplements contain very little curcumin.
That’s why I formulated my own curcumin supplement. Liposomal Curcumin provides hundreds of times more bioavailable curcumin than many turmeric-based supplements.
Drink Bone Broth
You probably remember your mother or grandmother giving you chicken soup when you were sick, and how it always seemed to help you feel better. It’s not just folklore! Bone broth is extremely beneficial for your immune system, which is why it’s one of my best cold and flu season tips if you’re feeling under the weather. In fact, a study published in the journal Chest showed that eating chicken soup during a respiratory infection reduced upper respiratory symptoms, as well as the number of white blood cells (the immune cells responsible for cold and flu symptoms). These benefits are thought to be from bone broth’s ability to reduce inflammation, thanks to amino acids such as proline and glycine.7
You can make your own bone broth at home by using chicken or turkey bones and vegetable scraps and simply boiling them for about 8 hours (a slow-cooker comes in handy here). Or, if you want the benefits of bone broth without the messy cleanup, try Chicken Bone Broth Collagen.
Both are delicious, savory collagen bone broth sourced from USDA-certified organic chickens or grass-fed cows. When mixed with hot water, it instantly creates a delicious, healthful sipping broth that supports whole-body health during the cold and flu season.
Final Cold and Flu Season Tips
As a functional medicine practitioner and a medical doctor, I know how important it is to strengthen your natural defense system, especially with sickness going around. Supporting your immune system is dependent on supplying your body with all the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients it needs.
These days, added stress and environmental toxins mean our bodies require more immune-supporting nutrients than ever before. And to make matters more complicated, many of those same immune-supporting nutrients are incredibly difficult to get from diet alone.
Knowing the difference between cold and flu symptoms may help protect you and your family. Practicing safe, sanitary habits may also minimize the spread of the virus and shorten its duration within your personal sphere.
Supporting your immune system, strengthening your gut health, and remaining rested and stress-free are not only the keys to lowering your chances of catching the cold and flu, but they also are an integral part of The Myers Way®, and will keep you on the path to optimal health
- Cold Versus Flu. CDC. 2020.
- The Difference Between the Cold and Flu. Rena Goldman. Healthline. 2019.
- Cold exposure impairs extracellular vesicle swarm–mediated nasal antiviral immunity. Di Huang, M.D, et al. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2022.
- Everything you need to know about washing your hands to protect against coronavirus (COVID-19). Unicef. 2020.
- Stress Effects on the Body. American Psychological Association. 2018.
- Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick. Eric J. Olson, MD. MayoClinic. 2018.
- Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. PubMed. 2000.