The misery that is cold and flu season is currently at its peak, meaning your chance of catching whatever is circulating around your office is higher than ever. The key to staying well (despite the coughing coworker who refuses to take a sick day): good old-fashioned handwashing and these natural cold prevention strategies.
Cut back on sugar
Sure, eating well is always important for your overall health, but especially this time of year. “Sugar can deplete the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off viruses” says Taz Bhatia, M.D., integrative health expert and author of Super Woman RX. In addition to passing on the sweets, focus on in-season, warming foods, like a stew that’s plentiful in root vegetables. “This stems from an Ayurvedic philosophy,” notes Taz. “The thinking is that it puts less stress on your digestive system, helping the gut, which is ultimately at the root of our immune system.”
Take healing herbs
Adding certain anti-inflammatory plants, via diet or supplements from natural health food stores, can help boost your immune function. Taz loves mushrooms like turkey tail and reishi, curcumin (it’s found in the spice turmeric, which is good news for golden milk latte fans), and is particularly impressed with astralagus, an herb used for treating a variety of ailments in Asia for centuries. You can take it daily for general immune support, but Taz suggests upping to three times a day for during cold and flu season.
Apply essential oils
They’re must-haves for their aromatic powers (chic diffusers are now replacing toxin-loaded air fresheners, thankfully), but essential oils have real body benefits as well. “Essential oils are antiviral, antibacterial, and stress-relieving—a triple win—and that can help prevent you from catching germs,” says Taz. Some of the best essential oils for natural cold prevention include bay laurel and ravintsara, which are not only top notch when it comes to antiviral and antibacterial properties, but are said to support lymphatic drainage, curbing the buildup of fluids like mucus.
Get fresh air
The temperature dipping below 50 degrees is not a cue to hibernate. In fact, it’s imperative you get fresh air even when it’s chilly (so long as you’re dressed appropriately). “Cold and flu viruses thrive indoors and are passed easily this way,” notes Taz. In addition, holing up indoors only exacerbates the vitamin D deficiency that’s so prevalent in winter, especially among women. Taz recommends adding vitamin D to your supplement routine for general health and for cold prevention; research demonstrates it can prevent respiratory tract infections. “You can safely take up to 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day, but may need more depending on your level,” says Taz.
Commit to calm
Another reason to keep your stress levels in check: stress hormones like cortisol suppress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to contracting a cold or the flu. “Meditation, yoga, and acupuncture all boost immunity by lowering stress hormones,” explains Taz. The trick is identify the self-care rituals that truly bring you peace—whether that’s meditation, masking, or reading a book—and then integrate those practices into your life. Regularly. If you’re having trouble sticking with them, schedule them into your week like you would an important meeting so you’ll make them happen.