Is a little virus affecting your holiday season?
“Sneezes can travel at a speed of 100 miles per hour and the wet spray can radiate five feet.” At least according to the Library of Congress. In an experiment from the guys at MythBusters however, they found that the speed of their sneezes clocked closer to 35-40mph. And the mucus traveled closer to 10-20 feet. Whatever the case, it kind of makes one want to claim a snow day tomorrow. Even living in Southern California.
And, it gets even more graphic… the MythBusters took it a step further to demonstrate their findings in this video that shows some highlights from their experiment of how fast and far sneezes travel. Warning: this video is tough to watch even for the most mild of germaphobes! Seriously folks, don't click on this link unless you can handle a cloud of germs and mucus being released in a room faster than you can run away.
The video does an excellent job of helping to highlight one of the many reasons that the holidays are a perfect breeding ground for colds, flus, and other respiratory infections this time of year, however. Not only are most of us busier, under more stress during the holidays and generally spending less time caring for ourselves, there are a bunch of germs literally flyin' around. To make matters even worse, we are often inside with the windows closed. This may shed a little light on why a survey from the National Sleep Foundation found that 100% of people polled in Germany aired their bedroom at least once per week.
Long-term damage from short-term fixes
Recent research estimates that a third of all anti-biotic prescriptions are not necessary, since they are given in cases of viral infections when anti-biotics are not generally helpful. This research also suggest that demand from patients is at least partially to blame. The author suggests the over-prescription of anti-biotics may be partly due to a lack of time to educate patients, "explaining why an antibiotic is not needed almost always takes longer than writing a prescription." And, few people seem to be willing to pay out-of-pocket for any extra time with a doctor. (Even if their health depends on it.) Additionally, this article reports concerns of bad reviews or lawsuits, if the doctors don't prescribe these medications and someone gets seriously ill.
This over-prescription of anti-biotics may not seem like a big deal, especially because many of us expect to go to the doctor to fix the problem and that an anti-biotic is the best solution. It doesn't seem like a big deal until you start to consider what has been called the "The Crisis of Antibiotic Resistance" by some scientists. The CDC estimates that 2 million Americans are infected with anti-biotic resistant bacteria every year and 23,000 people die in the US every year due to complications from these anti-biotic resistant bacteria. Most suspect that this prescription of unnecessary anti-biotics is at least partly to blame. It seems that our recent war against bacteria is causing some rather long term damage to our health and putting us at even greater risk in the future. Keep in mind, pharmaceutical anti-biotics have only been around for less than 100 years, folks. So we are creating some rather serious long-term risks with these short-term fixes.
Still, colds and flus are still nothing to be taken lightly. They can really hinder your holiday plans, but they also can be dangerous. The CDC estimates that over 300,000 people were hospitalized due to complications from the flu during the 2015-2016 flu season. And, viral infections that cause cold and flu can lead to pneumonia and damage to other parts of the body such as the heart, kidneys, and muscles, as well as making you more susceptible to bacterial infections. Plus, many other illnesses can appear to be a cold or flu when they are more serious to you or those around you. So make sure to work with your healthcare provider(s), before beginning these or any other recommendations. Especially if you are older, a child, pregnant, have a history of asthma, or any other immune dysfunction.
The courage to change the things you can
My interest in holistic medicine could be seen from a very young age. I would regularly lie awake in my bed at night and ponder two questions. The first: when you have a headache and take an aspirin, how does the aspirin know to only go to the head? We know that it doesn’t. Drugs (pharmaceutical or “natural”) taken internally can affect the entire body. And we can see this through the myriad of side effects from these drugs.
We know now that anti-biotics don't just kill bacteria in the respiratory track, they also kill "good" bacteria especially in the digestive track which can lead to other complications like an overgrowth of bacteria such as Clostridium difficile. "C diff," as it is more commonly known, can be a potentially life-threatening infection in the colon. Mayo estimates that more than half a million people in the US develop these infections every year. And this number is increasing.
It was this question that led later in life to my fascination with homeopathy largely because it does examine the effects of a drug on the whole person. Making it truly holistic. Though research suggests that homeopathy is likely helpful and people that use homeopathy are more satisfied with this type of treatment for colds and flus, it also seems to suggest that may also be more effective when prescribed by a trained homeopath rather than self-selecting an option over-the-counter. Even for those of us trained in homeopathy, we most often ask someone else to select a homeopathic medicine for us when we are ill. So if you do chose homeopathy as an option this cold and flu season, probably best to consult with an expert.
My second question as a child was this: how come not everyone that is exposed to cold and flu viruses gets sick? This question gave rise to my interest in preventive medicine. And, it is in prevention that we can each begin to take control back of our health.
So what do you do? Well, strengthen your body’s resistance, of course!
Taking steps to prevent colds and flus becomes especially important when you consider that many over-the-counter pharmaceuticals marketed for cold & flu symptoms contain acetaminophen. And research has shown that around 78,000 people go to the emergency room every year from acetaminophen overdoses.
So it would appear as though one of the best defenses against the cold and flu (at least for most of us) is the body's natural immune system. Here are some Health "Secrets" to supporting your body along the way....
Health Secret #1: Decrease the spread of germs
First and foremost, wash your hands... repeatedly throughout the day. Especially if you are sick or around someone else that is sick. And be aware of touching your face or mouth.
If you are sick, please cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow instead of your hand. And, then still best to wash your hands again. It will help all of us to keep our germs to ourselves this season.
Health Secret #2: Consider Vitamin D supplementation
A study published in 2010, found that schoolchildren who were given Vitamin D supplementation were less likely to get seasonal flu symptoms. Some estimate that over 40% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. With less sun exposure in the winter, this increases even more in the winter months for many of us.
Though there are plenty of recommendations on the internet about how much Vitamin D one should take, new evidence is finding that too much Vitamin D can also be damaging. Plus, Vitamin D supplementation can interact with a variety of medications. You can test your Vitamin D level with a simply blood test ordered by your doctor.
Health Secret #3: Consider adding in probiotics
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, school-aged children who were given probiotics had significantly less symptoms like fever, runny nose, and cough. Plus, they missed less days of school. Another study found that supplementing with probiotics reduced the duration of colds by nearly 2 days, plus the study participants noticed less severe symptoms. Though research suggests probiotics may not reduce your risk for catching a cold or flu, it may decrease how long and severely you get sick.
Health Secret #4: Get some exercise
A study in the UK found that people who got regular aerobic exercise (5+ days a week) had a 43% reduction in the number of days they were sick as well as a 31% reduction in the severity of their symptoms. Even better? If your weather and your health permits, go outside for this exercise. This way, you get a little Vitamin D with your exercise.
Health Secret #5: Let Food Be Thy Medicine
One of the hardest hits to the immune system during the holiday season is our diet. We tend to take in far more of the foods that seem to work against the body's natural immunity such as: sugar, booze, salt, fat, and other processed foods. A great way to help protect yourself is to eat a healthy diet filled with vegetables, fruits, and other plants. Research seems to particularly supportive of increasing foods like garlic, onions, ginger, and mushrooms in prevention colds and flus.
Health Secret #6: Rest your body
It is really easy to get caught up in all of the things to do during the holiday season and to forget to rest. Or in some of our cases, not giving ourselves permission to rest. Research is pretty clear that those that sleep less are more likely to get sick. It seems as though some of the chemicals our immune system uses to fight off infection seem to peak at night as we sleep.
Somehow along the way, many of us seem to have adopted Thomas Edison's seemingly incorrect view that sleep is merely a "bad habit" for most of us. In a fairly recent article entitled Real Men Go to Sleep, the Harvard Business Review highlights some of the reasons behind our "heroic wakefulness" view on life. This article also speaks to some of the very progressive ways that some companies are supporting the need for sleep for their employees. Apparently, Huffington Post has even put in nap rooms for employees!
Some 25 million of us get sick during cold & flu season. With a little support for your body, it doesn't have to ruin your holidays though. Take care of yourself and your family this holiday season, it will be so much better if you feel good.
****Make sure to check with your doctor or other health care professional before beginning these or any other recommendations to make sure they don't have better suggestions for you. And, make sure to stay in contact with your doctor's office if you are ill and getting worse or not improving.****