THOMPSON: How to dodge a cold or the flu this winter | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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THOMPSON: How to dodge a cold or the flu this winter



Contrary to what we hear on Facebook - the modern repository for scientific and medical half-truths and wild-ass conspiracy theories - cold weather doesn’t make us sick, not exactly.

But long before social media, my mom - and likely millions of others - cautioned us as kids that cold weather would make you sick. She wasn’t completely wrong, despite her belief that it was something in the cold air that got to you, giving you flu and every respiratory affliction from coughs and colds to pneumonia.

Generally speaking, the colder it gets outside the more time we spend inside…in close proximity to friends and family…who often have flu, colds and coughs. We’re touching everything in sight - especially kids - and few of us wash our germ-laden hands as often as we think. Collectively, we are - to blend a metaphor - the “Typhoid Mary” of influenza and common colds.

Spoiler alert…scientific fact coming up. The single best way to avoid flu…is to get a flu shot a few months back.

Another reason for the misperception that cold weather causes sickness is that flu season happens, indeed, in Winter. That is because viruses survive cold weather better.

Also, we tend - unless we’re on the ski slopes a lot - to be less active in Winter. Regular exercising or meditating can reduce the duration, severity, and impact of respiratory infections by up to 25 percent, according to the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Stress and depression - certainly not uncommon during these too-long Winter months of cold and bleak weather - can affect or immune systems…and that can lead to respiratory infections, as well.

I played on my high school baseball team for three years and my coach always said we could “sweat out a cold.” Just to be clear, coach had less knowledge of medicine than mom…and he was wrong.

Even so, any of us on the team who had colds, fever, chills…you name it…were out there running wind sprints, shagging fly balls and taking cuts at the plate. The coach’s proof that he knew of what he spoke? Seven to ten days later…we were always well.

There’s another thing that few of us do to prevent colds and flu…and that’s wear a mask or scarf…anything that allows us to breathe slightly warmer air. Just a five-degree Celsius reduction of the temperature inside the nose kills nearly 50 percent of the billions of virus and bacteria-fighting cells in the nostrils, according to a study released last month by The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

With temperatures dipping by 30 degrees Celsius overnight a couple weeks ago in the Okanagan…well, there should be a bumper crop of colds out there this week. Even in Florida on Christmas Eve…it was -6 C. I tried to stay inside…and wore a mask when I went outside.

If - despite your precautions - the flu bug or a cold succeeds in making you sick…then what? According to a legion of doctors and more studies than I can name, eat foods that contain nutrients that can boost your immune system…vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, zinc, magnesium and calcium.

Specifically, oranges, red bell pepper, avocados, Kiwi fruit, broccoli and strawberries can help relieve symptoms. And while we often lose our appetites with colds and flu…you can take supplements that work just as well.

And, yes, a good bowl of hot chicken noodle or vegetable soup…again a salute to moms everywhere…actually helps both symptoms and can moderate the duration of your illness.

Finally, drink lots of water…and caffeine-free hot tea. Stay away from Gatorade - as much as it hurts a Florida Gator alumnus to say - along with coffee, beer and other alcoholic beverages, as well as sugary soda and fruit drinks. Science says sugar suppresses our immune systems.

Winter started less than two weeks ago…we have at least two and a half more months of trying to dodge the cold and flu bullets aimed at us. If you had a flu shot, and take the advice of science, medical professionals - and don’t forget mom’s sage counsel - you might make it through the season without so much as a sniffle.

And if you don’t…well, take two aspirin and call your doctor in the morning…they’re expecting you.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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