Health & Beauty Weekly: Easy tips to fight the flu this season

As the cold and flu season approaches, many are trying to stay healthy and keep their immune systems strong. Between five and 20 percent of Americans will catch a cold or flu, and over 200,000 are hospitalized every year, according to WebMD.

When suffering from a common cold or the flu, it may be hard to determine which one you have. Although both have similar symptoms, they have different effects on the body.

Dr. Vini Angel, faculty leader and assistant director of the Santa Monica College nursing program, said that a cold can be caused by as many as 200 viruses in the body, and can have a range of symptoms including nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing and sore throat.

“Colds are usually self-limiting and will resolve in a week in most cases,” said Angel.

“Flu is caused by the influenza virus with an incubation period — the time of infection to the first symptoms — of 24 to 72 hours,” she said.

The flu has symptoms of the cold plus fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, watery eyes, cough and sore throat.

Natural and organic products seem to be trending right now, and since many people are looking to find more information on them, some local markets may have qualified professionals such as vitamin specialists available for guidance.

Visiting a local health food store can be overwhelming with the number of products offered for both cold and flu. The countless items in various shapes and sizes may prompt some to just pick the first bottle they come across.

“The wellness formula is an herbal vitamin that is meant to be taken to keep your immune system strong,” said Diane Gentilini, who has been a vitamin specialist at Whole Foods for more than 15 years.

“It’s a daily vitamin that can be taken every day to maintain, or in high dosage to help fight off sickness,” she said.

Echinacea and goldenseal are also common herbs that can be taken to help fight sickness, Gentilini said.

“Other popular remedies are boiron oscillococcinum, which helps relieve flu-like symptoms, and Umcka cold and flu care.” Gentilini said.

She added that there are herbs like oregano oil that are very powerful virus fighters.

Making sure to keep hands clean and staying away from dirty surfaces can also play a part in keeping sickness at bay.

“Hand washing is the most important measure to prevent the spread of infection,” said Angel. “Eat a balanced and healthy diet. Avoid crowds. Ask your health care provider about a blood test which measures the vitamin D level in the blood.”

Eating green, leafy vegetables and taking multivitamins can also have a positive impact on health during the flu season.

Angel advised students to consult with their healthcare provider regarding supplementation with vitamin D3 if blood levels show insufficiency or deficiency of vitamin D. She also advised that sunshine exposure is a natural way to boost vitamin D levels in the body.