ATLANTA - It may not feel like fall, but CentreSpring MD's Dr. Taz Bhatia says cold and flu season is right around the corner.
"This is the season where so many people get sick, and we really want to do things to make sure your immune system is primed," Bhatia says.
The flu vaccine is your best protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Americans 6 months and older get vaccinated, with a few rare exceptions. This flu season you can choose between the flu shot, a high-dose vaccine for people 65 and up, and the FluMist nasal spray vaccine, which is back this year. To keep your immune system healthy, Dr. Bhatia says to make sure you're taking care of yourself.
Try to get at least 6 hours of sleep a night, and exercise most days. Dr. Bhatia recommends tweaking your diet, cutting back on sugar, and loading up on healthy fats, protein, and fruit and vegetables that high in immune-boosting antioxidants. If you do get sick with a cold or flu virus, she says, you have options.
"There are medical options," Bhatia says. "Everything from anti-flu medications, to antihistamines, to decongestants, to just help you to feel better."
Fall also means ragweed season, which can kick up your allergies. An over-the-counter antihistamine can help, or, Bhatia says, there are natural antihistamines you can try.
"Things like quercetin and bromelain, are found in foods like apples and pineapples," she says. "And, paying attention to your gut health seems to make a difference. This is where paying attention to foods that may not suit your digestive system well, or taking probiotics, can be helpful."
And as the days get shorter and the nights longer, some people suffer from a form of depression known as a seasonal affective disorder or SAD. It typically hits people in the fall and can last through the winter.
"You may sleep more," Bhatia says. "You may have less motivation to get through the day. You may want to eat more."
Those are all signs of SAD, which tends to hit women, young adults and people with a family or personal history of depression harder. People who suffer from SAD tend to have lower levels of Vitamin D. This type of depression may be treated with Vitamin D supplementation, medication, light therapy or talk therapy. If your depression symptoms are severe, talk to your doctor. Getting outdoors especially during the daylight hours can help ease mild seasonal depression symptoms.
"So, again, (you have) lots of options," Dr. Bhatia says. "Get out there. Get some exercise. Really develop some habits you can look forward to keep that motivation up. Think about supplementing with Vitamin D heavy foods like salmon or nuts or even fortified dairy."