9 tips for surviving winter’s worst

Getting the flu vaccine is a complete waste of time, as I reported earlier this week.

Last season’s vaccine protected just 47 percent of people who got it. And since 2004, its effectiveness has continually fluctuated from 10 to 60 percent. And it topped 50 percent (barely) only four times over the past 13 years.

If any other vaccine had such poor results, experts would never consider it an acceptable public health strategy or useful investment of public and private funds.

Fortunately, these nine, simple tips can help you avoid the flu this winter — without resorting to a worthless vaccine. As an added plus, these same steps can protect you from other viral and bacterial infections.

  1. Practice good hygiene

Improvements in personal hygiene have played a much bigger role in eliminating infections over the past century than many vaccines and antibiotics.

And regular hand-washing is the most protective habit.

Just think about it — you first come into contact with bacteria and viruses via your hands. Then, you eventually touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

So, I recommend frequent hand washing with plain, old soap and water. Wash gently for at least 15 seconds in warm water. You can even submerge your face in warm water to release and remove germs.

After you wash up, don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — dry your hands or face with a paper towel. Those messy, noisy blow dryers notoriously harbor and spread germs throughout the bathroom. You should also use the paper towel to turn off the water faucet and to open the door.

When you don’t have access to soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can work in a pinch. (But don’t substitute hand sanitizing for actually washing your hands whenever you can. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers show good results in controlled studies, but they don’t work as well out in the field.)

Choose a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Or, you can try my daughter’s simple trick: Just put 100 percent rubbing alcohol in a small spray bottle to make your own hand sanitizer. It will kill the germs on your hands and evaporate quickly.

  1. Watch where you put your hands

Resist touching your eyes, nose and mouth — especially if you haven’t recently washed your hands. Also, don’t bite your nails or stick your fingers in your nostrils. These bad social behaviors provide easy entry for microbes to infiltrate your respiratory and gastrointestinal passages.

  1. Carry your own pen

Public pens used at banks, post offices, retail check-outs, and other places that are highly contaminated — just like the gas pumps handles I mentioned in Tuesday’s Daily Dispatch.

So, use your own pen to avoid these sources of germs. You can even use it to push buttons on credit card consoles, ATMs and elevator buttons.

I also recommend wiping down the handles of shopping carts and shopping baskets in retail stores. Simply carry an antibacterial wipe with you — they even make pocket-sized singles you can fit in your wallet or purse, or stash in your car. Some markets provide them at the entrance.

Unfortunately, lots of places now have electronic touch screens. These technological “advances” seem to take more time, don’t work as well, and harbor germs. If you simply can’t avoid touching a screen while you’re out and about this holiday season, be sure to wash up as soon as you can.

  1. Avoid crowds

Colds and cases of the flu are more common in the winter because people spend more time packed together indoors. In general, public spaces are microbial havens. But most viruses can’t travel more than three to six feet and often require direct contact to transmit an infectious dose. So, if possible, avoid crowds during cold and flu season.

  1. Build a strong immune system

You can take a few simple steps, starting now, to build a healthy immune system capable of fighting off infections. Taking these key nutrients — daily — can help dramatically:

  • Vitamins C: Good natural dietary sources of vitamin C include berries, broccoli, citrus fruits, peppers, and tomatoes.
    I recommend 250 mg, twice a day daily.
  • Vitamin D: You find vitamin D naturally in foods like eggs, liver and oily fish such as salmon and tuna.
    I recommend 10,000 IU daily.
  • Vitamin E: Some of the best sources are nuts, seeds, spinach, and eggs. (Note that the vitamin E in eggs is found in the yolk. So, be sure to eat the whole egg — not just the white.)
    I recommend 50 mg daily.
  • Selenium: Great sources of this mineral include broccoli, brazil nuts, tuna, cod, turkey, chicken, eggs, and garlic.
    I recommend 100 mcg daily.
  • Zinc: The best way to put some zinc, and zip, in your diet is by following recommendations to eat seafood (fish and seafood) at least twice a week, and include meat on a regular basis.Of course, the current RDA for zinc is woefully low — 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women.
    I recommend you substantially increase that dose if you feel like you’re coming down with a cold — up to 100 mg of zinc acetate lozenges a day.
  1. Eat a balanced diet

Strive to follow a balanced diet that includes dairy, meat, seafood, fruits, and vegetables. (But avoid soy — I’ll tell you why next week.)

Your diet should also include nuts, which are like little natural vitamin and mineral supplements. Also, add some fermented foods, like pickles and sauerkraut, which support a healthy gut. Fermented foods are especially important if you have taken antibiotic drugs. (Stay tuned, as I’ll also cover the dangers of antibiotics in tomorrow’s Daily Dispatch.)

  1. Keep your blood pumping

Although the weather outside might seem frightful, keep up physical activity to support the circulation of virus-fighting blood cells. You can walk outside or do some yard work when properly dressed (raking leaves or shoveling snow is a great workout). Or, find an indoor saltwater swimming pool. I also find I can really get my heart pumping simply by working around the house, in the basement, the attic, or in the garage.

  1. Manage stress

Stress disrupts your hormonal balance, which affects your immune system and your ability to fight off infections. So, find ways to manage your stress with mind-body approaches. You can learn about which mind-body approaches will work best for you by taking this short quiz.

  1. Nestle snug in your bed…for a long winter’s nap

If you don’t get enough sleep from night-to-night, you won’t be able to effectively fight off the flu or common cold. In fact, if you sleep fewer than seven hours per night, you’re almost three times more likely to come down with a cold. So, strive to get seven to nine hours sleep each night to help support your body.

By following these simple steps, you’ll not only protect yourself from the flu and other viral and bacterial infections — but you’ll also take your health into your own hands. Good health should not be a coin toss; and considering the success rates and side effects of flu vaccinations, my recommendations provide much safer, more effective solutions.