Flu Hacks

Keep the ah-choos at bay with these eight simple ways. by deborah lin

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Keep the ah-choos at bay with these eight simple ways.
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It’s the height of the flu season (May to July), and it’s easy to catch the bug when everyone around you is sneezing and sniffling away. Spare yourself the agony of a drippy nose, scratchy throat, fever, fatigue and the chills by boosting your body’s defences. If you’re not sure you want to get the flu jab, and you’ve already popped your vitamin Cs, consider these other ways to stay healthy.

Be Good To Your Gut

Research shows that good gut bacteria may help the immune system respond faster and more effectively against a viral or bacterial threat. According to Harvard Medical School in the US, certain bacteria in the gut influence the development of aspects of the immune system, such as correcting deficiencies and increasing the numbers of various cells.

In a study published in British Journal of Nutrition, people who took probiotic supplements had increased levels – up to 66 per cent – of an antibody. They also had a reduced rate of infection, compared to the placebo group. A recent meta-analysis published in The Cochrane Library also showed that probiotics were 47 per cent more eff ective than placebos in reducing the risk of acute upper respiratory tract infections.

Valerie Teo, a food and juice therapy consultant and founder of health food cafe, Good Food Heals, swears by probiotics too. Flu-free for nine years now, she credits it to her diet that’s rich in cultured (fermented) foods. Think lassi (Indian yogurt drink), sauerkraut (German fermented cabbage) and kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables). Besides probiotics, cultured foods are also high in vitamins, says Valerie.

Drink Up!

A dehydrated body is less capable of fending off viruses. That’s because the body’s first line of defence – the mucus membrane and mucus within the nasal cavity – become less effective in trapping foreign particles when dry.

If you’re already feeling under the weather, try drinking more fluids in the form of chicken soup (research shows it alleviates symptoms like inflammation) and coconut water. The latter is a good source of electrolytes, including calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. In order for your cells and organs to function properly, you will need more electrolytes to replenish what you’ve lost through sweat, vomiting or diarrhoea.

Add Oil

Made from highly concentrated plant components, essential oils are widely used in folk medicine for therapeutic purposes. Essential oils like oregano, eucalyptus and peppermint have also been studied by scientists. The first two are said to have antimicrobial effects, while the last can act as a decongestant.

According to Young Living Singapore, a company specialising in essential oil-based products, essential oils can be applied directly to the soles of your feet (one to two drops), inhaled directly or used in a diffuser.

When buying essential oils, remember to check the label. For instance, the eucalyptus species E. globulus is stronger than E.radiata, and might be unsuitable for children. So don’t be tempted to buy unusually cheap oils as they may contain fillers, additives and chemicals that could cause side effects.

As a homoeopathic medicine, essential oils are not required to be licensed for sale in Singapore, so get your oils from a trusted source to ensure they are safe for use. You may also want to seek your doctor’s opinion before using them, especially if you or your child have a pre-existing health condition.

Wash Up Good

You’re probably aware of the importance of hand hygiene – and that includes trying not to rub your eyes and nose in case you’ve touched a contaminated surface – but are you cleaning up right?

Common antibacterial soaps or sanitisers do not actually help because the flu is caused by viruses, and not bacteria. While the final verdict isn’t out yet, the main active ingredient in antibacterial soaps and sanitisers – triclosan – has also been shown in recent animal studies to cause other health problems, including hormone disruption.

Use good ol’ plain soap and warm water to wash your hands. And don’t just wash and go. Hum Happy Birthday to yourself twice to make sure you’ve cleansed your hands thoroughly. Scrub the backs, wrists as well as nails – these parts are often neglected!

Hoof It Outdoors

According to a study by Appalachian

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I don’t pass your flu virus on. If you don’t have a napkin or handkerchief, sneeze or cough into the inside of your elbow instead. When you reduce the occasions you touch your face (eyes, nose and mouth), the chances of passing your bug on lessens too.

State University in the US, those who exercise five or more days a week spend 43 per cent fewer days with upper respiratory infections than those who work out less. On the other hand, the study also found that sustained and intense exercise could increase your risk of upper respiratory infections. The conclusion? Get active, but don’t overdo it. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily instead.

And if you’re wondering whether exercising indoors or outdoors makes a difference, we say head out. During flu season, you want to minimise contact with other germy people – especially those still hitting the gym. So avoid confined spaces and get some fresh air outside.

Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine has also shown that people with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to develop flu. Get a little sun and boost your diet with fish, fortified dairy and a supplement for adequate vitamin D levels.

Dump Ciggies

Smokers have a higher risk of respiratory infections, and heavy smokers get more severe colds more frequently. Cigarette fumes paralyse cilia (delicate hairs in the nose and lungs that act like a filter), which eventually lose their protective function.

The good news? After you give up smoking, the cilia can regrow within one to nine months, according to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in the US. If you need help stubbing out, try the internationally renowned Allen Carr Method, which has a 90 per cent success rate in quitting or a money-back guarantee. It has helped celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Jason Mraz, as well as local actress Pam Oei. Find out more at Allencarr Website

Zone Out

You are more likely to develop cold symptoms when chronically tense, say researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in the US. Faced with prolonged stress, the body is unable to respond to hormonal signals which usually regulate inflammation.

Try meditation. A study by University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US found that mindful meditation can reduce your chances of catching a cold by up to 50 per cent. Or how about qigong? Also known as walking meditation, this martial art’s practice of breath control and slow movements have been shown to reduce stress, improve focus and even combat colds. Researchers from University of Virginia in the US studied 27 varsity swimmers, and found that those who did qigong at least once a week had 70 per cent fewer respiratory infections that those who didn’t.

Brush Your Teeth

Here’s something to smile about: An Israeli study of hospital patients found that those who brushed thrice daily reduced their pneumonia risk by up to 50 per cent. Why? A similar study by the American Academy of Periodontology showed that teeth brushing reduced bacteria that not only causes periodontal disease – but is also associated with an increased risk of pneumonia.