Ask the Pharmacist: November/December 2019

Q: I always get sick around the holidays. What can I do to try and stay healthy?

A: All illnesses seem to increase between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. No one wants to miss out on holiday parties or family gatherings. Many people are traveling in enclosed spaces on airplanes. Plus, it’s a stressful time of year, and stress weakens your immune system. When your immune system is depleted, bacteria, viruses, and toxins overwhelm your body.

To strengthen your immune system, first, get a flu shot. This is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from the flu. Second, wash your hands often with soap and water. Viruses can live for hours on surfaces. If you can’t get to a sink, use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol. Keep your hands away from your face. Cold and flu viruses enter through your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Third, get plenty of aerobic exercise and sleep. Aerobic exercise increases your body’s natural virus-killing cells. As little as 20 minutes of fast walking three times a week has been shown to improve immune response. Sleep is important too because sleep deprivation is known to suppress immune-system function. Fourth, maintain a healthy diet, something that is difficult to do over the holidays. Limit alcohol and sugar because microbes love sugar. A diet rich in antioxidant vitamins can boost resistance to infection.

Fifth, take supplements and vitamins. Get vitamin C and zinc (in lozenge form) and helpful herbs, like echinacea, elderberry, ginseng, and garlic. Probiotics have also been shown to improve immune function. Finally, relax. Evidence shows that your immune system revs up when you destress. Take time for yourself over the holidays. Get a massage. Do anything that relaxes you.