Some people seem to survive cold and flu season with nary a sniffle. And yet plenty of others seem to catch cold after cold, sidelined with a perpetually stuffed-up nose and hacking cough that lasts all winter. So what’s different between these two groups? Research shows your cold and flu vulnerability may come down to a few important — and unexpected — habits, like how much sugar you eat or how dry your nose is.
Assess your risk with these five signs of impaired immunity, and learn what you can do to stay healthy.
1. You have a sweet tooth. Eating too much sugar doesn’t just pack on pounds. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating 100 grams of sugar (think three cans of soda) significantly hampered the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria for up to five hours afterward.
2. You don’t drink enough. There’s a reason moms and doctors always push fluids on you when you’re sick. Your body needs plenty of water to flush out toxins — and yes, coffee and tea are acceptable sources. How much fluid you should drink daily varies from person to person. You’re drinking the right amount if your urine is pale yellow.
3. You’ve got weight to lose. You know excess weight is unhealthy for your heart, brain and other organs. But it’s also bad for your immune system. Those who become the most seriously ill with swine flu tend to share the same characteristic: a body mass index over 40, meaning they are morbidly obese. Excess weight can cause hormonal imbalances and inflammation that impairs the immune system’s ability to fight infection.
4. Your nose is dry. As uncomfortable as it may be, a runny nose is actually a good defense against colds and the flu. Sounds gross, but mucus traps viruses and clears them from the body. If your nasal passages are too dry, germ invaders have an easier time. If the dryness is a temporary problem, irrigate your nasal passages with a squeeze bottle or neti pot of saline solution. A humidifier also can help. If dryness is chronic, see your doctor to determine the underlying cause.
5. You’re seriously stressed. It’s no coincidence that you tend to catch a cold after a big work deadline. According to a report by the American Psychological Association, long-term stress weakens the responses of your immune system. In addition, if you become stressed while you have the flu, your symptoms can get worse.