Kindergartens in Hong Kong will close for 2 weeks starting this Saturday due to outbreaks of upper respiratory tract infections across the city, a precautionary step amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season.
Besides getting your flu shot, what else can you do to stay healthy and prevent infection?
Here are some tips to help you stay healthy and well during cold/ flu season:
1. Wear a mask in public places or crowded areas. It is important to wear a mask or face covering that covers your nose, mouth and chin. While people in Asia have been wearing masks since the beginning of the global pandemic, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally confirmed yesterday that wearing a mask not only protects others from your expelled respiratory droplets, it protects you as well.
2. VITAMIN D: Researchers in Japan have found that besides getting the annual flu shot, vitamin D is also a potent flu-fighter. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial comparing vitamin D3 supplements (1200 IU/day) with placebo in school-aged children, researchers found that the children receiving the sunshine vitamin had a 42% reduction in contracting influenza A compared to those not receiving it. The study also found that the group not getting the vitamin D had six times more asthma attacks. Another study found that among 800 military men in Finland, those with lower vitamin D levels took significantly more days from active duty to recover from upper respiratory infections than recruits with higher vitamin D levels (above 40nmol). As part of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic guidance, the Scottish government has recommended that people start getting a daily dose of vitamin D in April 2020. It turns out that people with a vitamin D deficiency who contracted COVID had a higher risk of health complications and death.
Vitamin D plays a very important role in supporting the immune system. “Vitamin D helps your body produce a protein called cathelicidin that fights bacteria and viruses,” says Carlos Camargo, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Other studies show that people with adequate levels of vitamin D are less likely to get the flu, and when they do, they tend to recover faster compared to those who are deficient. In Dr. Yik‘s practice, she finds many adults and children in Hong Kong who are deficient in vitamin D. Before you start taking vitamin D supplements though, get your level checked so you can supplement at the correct dosage. Too much vitamin D puts you at a higher risk for kidney stones.
3. Eat foods rich in probiotics. Up to 80% of our immune system lies in our gut, so it makes sense to boost immunity through the gut! Studies show that probiotic supplementation increases T-cell count, which makes you less vulnerable to infections. In a study involving 3- to 5-year-olds, daily probiotic supplementation for 6 months reduced fever, rhinorrhea, cough and antibiotic prescription incidence, as well as the number of missed school days attributable to illness. Different strains of probiotics treat different conditions, so it’s important to find the right type. A supplement with various probiotic strains including a high(er) amount of Lactobacillus rhamnosus is beneficial for boosting immunity.
4. Eat well balanced, wholesome meals. Make sure you’re eating adequate protein, good fats and a variety of vegetables and fruits. Include immune-boosting foods such as garlic, onions, ginger, shiitake/ maitake/ reishi mushrooms, green vegetables and berries in your diet. Vitamin C and zinc play important roles in immune defence, so remember to eat foods high in those nutrients.
5. N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC). This nutraceutical offers protection to cells as it supports the body’s antioxidant systems during infections and inflammatory conditions by raising the levels of glutathione, a potent antioxidant. Studies show that patients with low levels of glutathione have more severe COVID-19 infections compared to those with higher levels. We also know that in coughs and upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), NAC breaks bonds in the mucus, making it easier for your body to cough the mucus up.
Click here to read more on how to support your health during the global pandemic. Remember, we are all human, we are all vulnerable to illness and we are all in this together. Please do your part in social distancing and practising good hygiene. Stay safe and healthy during these turbulent times.