According to the news, this is one of the worst flu seasons in years, with most states reporting widespread infections.
Although the flu can wreak havoc on our bodies, most of us are healthy enough to recover much faster compared to someone who is immunocompromised, such as our cancer patients. That's why it's important for us to be proactive with our own health in order to keep those around us free from infectious diseases.
Have you been one of the unfortunate ones? I know of several people who have gotten the flu even though they received a flu shot. Working in healthcare, we're exposed to so much, it's a wonder we aren't sick all the time! Certainly we know the importance of getting a flu shot, frequent handwashing, staying home if sick, etc., but is there anything you can do nutrition-wise to keep it away?
Include foods containing vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps our body ward off illness and infection. Now, this won't improve cold symptoms if you already have a cold (according to Cochrane review), but studies have found some effectiveness for vitamin C in preventing colds (especially for those that exercise in extremely cold conditions).
Foods high in vitamin C include fruits (especially citrus fruits which are in season right now), sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, and other greens. Tip: Add some lemon or orange juice along with a little honey to hot tea to help soothe a sore throat.
Choose foods that are rich in zinc. A deficiency of zinc can lead to reduced resistance to infections. Good sources include animal products such as meat and seafood, whole grains, and black-eyed peas. Remember that old standby -- chicken noodle soup? Chicken is a good source of zinc. Throw in some vegetables for vitamins, and the hot broth is comforting on a cold winter's day.
Don't forget about vitamin A.
Another antioxidant that helps regulate the immune system, vitamin A is present in foods in a preformed state (liver, eggs, and fortified foods) or as carotenoids in deep-colored fruits and vegetables. Here is a recipe for a roasted red pepper and egg wrap that would provide a great source of vitamin A.
Include herbs and spices. Many of these also have immune-enhancing properties. A recent study found that turmeric and ginger boosted the immune response in mice. Garlic also contains antioxidant properties. Crush garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife before adding them to food to release the garlic juice.
Include some yogurt. Yogurt containing live active cultures has good bacteria that are especially good for our gastrointestinal tract. Here is a yogurt, fruit and granola parfait that sounds wonderful!
Watch your weight. Obesity can actually harm your immune system. A 2011 study at the University of North Carolina actually found that obesity is associated with an impaired response to the influenza vaccine. They found that influenza vaccine antibody levels declined significantly in obese people compared to those of a healthier weight. They also found that obese people were more likely to get sicker and have more complications from the virus.
What nutrition tips can you share to help keep ourselves and our cancer patients healthy this flu season?
- Douglas RD, Hemila H, Chalker E, Treacy B. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2007;:CD000980.
- Chakraborty B, Sengupta M. Boosting of nonspecific host response by aromatic spices turmeric and ginger in immunocompromised mice. Cell Immunol (2012) 280(1):92.
- Sheridan PA, Paich HA, Jandy J, Karlsson EA, Hudgen MG, Sammon AB, Holland LA, Weir A, Noah TL, Beck MA. Obesity is associated with impaired immune response to influenza vaccination in humans. Int J Obesity (2012) 36:1072-1077.