If you wake up sneezing, coughing and feeling tired, you could have caught a cold or even worse, the flu! Differentiating between a cold and the flu is not easy, as both illnesses share a number of the same symptoms such as a stuffy nose, sore throat and cough. However, the flu comes on suddenly and with greater intensity, with symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches and tiredness.
The flu is contagious
Colds and the flu are both viral respiratory illnesses but are caused by different viruses. The virus can be easily transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets emitted via sneezing or coughs from infected people. People can be infected by the droplets deposited on their mouth or nose, or by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose. The flu virus can generally survive on hard surfaces for up to 8 hours!
People infected with the virus may spread it to others one day before the symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. The flu is mild in most cases, but there are chances that it may lead to other serious health complications such as sinusitis, bronchitis, ear infections or even pneumonia. Younger children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are especially susceptible to the flu and other upper respiratory infections.
What weakens your immune system?
The immune system is a network of cells and organs that work together to defend your body against diseases caused by infectious bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. As you age, the immune system begins to decline, leaving you more vulnerable to developing an array of infectious diseases. Besides, your immune responses can be weakened by various external influences.
You tend to ignore stress, but it may have a major influence on your immune system. Modern lifestyle habits such as a sedentary lifestyle and lack of sleep can make you more prone to infections. Excessive consumption of highly processed foods and alcohol, cigarette-smoking, medications and exposure to radiation can impede the functioning of immune cells, increasing your susceptibility to infectious diseases. Lack of proper hygiene habits exposes your body to more germs, thus, leading to poor immune systems.
How to ward off viruses?
Remember, antibiotics treat bacterial infections, but do not work on viruses. You should take precautions and rebuild your immune system as a preventive measure against viral infections. Look out for natural herbs such as elderberry, reishi mushroom and astragalus to strengthen the immune functions. It is crucial to get enough sleep and rest to allow the body to de-stress and rejuvenate.
Drink plenty of water to keep the body hydrated and have a regular exercise regimen to build a stronger body. Practice a healthy lifestyle and nourish the body with a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
With a long history of medicinal use, elderberry has earned its reputation as a powerful immune-stimulating herb. It has been clinically proven to shorten the duration of the flu and relieve flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, coughing, nasal-mucus discharge, and nasal congestion within a few days. Dozens of studies offer strong evidence that elderberry provides potential prevention and protection against influenza flu A and B, swine flu (H1N1), and bird flu (H5N1).
Of all the different varieties of elderberries, Sambucus nigra is one of the most popular species which packs a healthy punch of anthocyanins. The anthocyanins are shown to strengthen the immune functions by boosting the production of cytokines, the proteins involved in regulating the immune responses to diseases. Elderberry has 5 times more anthocyanins than blueberries. It is thought to have a more potent antiviral activity than Echinacea. It contains an antiviral compound which can disarm the virus and prevent it from entering healthy cells.
Reishi mushroom, commonly known as lingzhi, is a fungus that has been cherished for over 4000 years as a longevity-promoting tonic. Researchers have identified the water-soluble polysaccharides in reishi mushroom which have potent immune-modulating effects.
They can suppress an overactive immune response, which in turn helps to control the symptoms of allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases. They also enhance the production of endogenous antioxidant enzymes in the body, thereby, supporting the body’s natural immune defenses against free radicals.
Astragalus has also long been used to strengthen the body’s natural defence. It is thought to possess antiviral activity and help with the prevention of colds and flu. Unlike echinacea, astragalus can be taken on a daily basis. It is effective at protecting the bodies against colds, the flu and upper respiratory infections.