What's UP with Natalie: How to beat the flu with tips from the Health Center

By Natalie Nygren | March 21, 2019 6:19pm

Community Engagement Editor Natalie Nygren met up with Health and Counseling Center to get some tips on how to stay healthy in the last few weeks of school. Photo courtesy of Courtney Warta.

Media Credit: Courtney Warta / The Beacon

Hey Pilots, Natalie here. While springtime is definitely in the air, there are still plenty of UP students battling the wintertime sicknesses. Pretty much everyone I know — including myself — has gotten sick at one point this semester, and I personally know how hard it can be to fight off a cold or the flu while also balancing school, jobs and extracurriculars. 

In order to help everyone on campus kick the wintertime sickness to the curb before spring arrives, I talked to Courtney Rau, the associate director of primary care services and one of the Health Center’s nurse practitioners, and Kaylin Soldat, the other nurse practitioner at the Health Center, to see if we could come up with some quick tips for college students to stay healthy. Here are some tips they suggested.

Eat healthy foods

While eating healthy is always important, it’s particularly important during cold and flu season. Sugar or fast food — a major part of any college student’s diet — can actually lower your immune system and make you more susceptible to getting sick. According to Rau, eating getting a hefty serving of fruits, veggies, proteins and good fats is key to helping your immune system fight off illness.

Get 7-8 hours of sleep

We’ve all heard it before: “College students need sleep.” It can seem like an impossible feat when you’re trying to get schoolwork done, work a part-time job and have a social life. But getting enough sleep will actually make your waking hours more productive and support your immune system. 

“Missing sleep can lead to depressed mood as well decreased memory function and impaired immune function,” Soldat said in an email. 

A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 27 percent of US adults have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights, and college students are no exception to this issue. If you have trouble falling asleep, managing your sleep schedule or getting sufficient sleep, the Health Center providers are fully equipped to help you deal with these issues and figure out a plan that works for you. 

“If any students are struggling with sleep, whether having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, we’re happy to have a conversation with them that doesn’t involve prescribing controlled sleep medication,” Rau said. “If they want to schedule an appointment to talk about it, that’s always a conversation we’re happy to have.”

Stay healthy, Pilots! Photo courtesy of Courtney Warta. 

by Courtney Warta / The Beacon

Stay hydrated

While almost every building on campus has a water fountain or water bottle filling station, students still forget to drink water throughout their busy days. But keeping your body hydrated is vital for your overall health. 

“Staying hydrated helps support your immune system,” Rau says. “Even more so when you’re sick, drinking a lot of fluids can help.” 

As someone who has personally struggled to stay hydrated in the past, I recommend exploring some technology designed to remind people to drink water, like the Hidrate Spark bottle or the Daily Water app for your phone, which allow you to set a goal and help you stick to it throughout the day. It’s recommended that adults over the age of 19 drink somewhere between 95 and 120 fl. oz. per day depending on your size, how active you are and where you live. 

Take daily vitamins and supplements

Rau’s background in integrated medicine has made her a big advocate for natural remedies like vitamins and supplements. She highly recommends a daily multivitamin and a daily dose of Vitamin D, but you can also schedule an appointment at the Health Center to talk about your own situation to get some further recommendations tailored to you and your diet. 

“Vitamin D deficiency is a big one we see in Portland,” Rau says. “Vitamin D supplements are a great way to support the immune system during the winter months.” 

Not only do supplements support your overall health by helping to balance vitamins, nutrients and hormones in your body, they can also be big helpers in your body’s ability to fight illnesses. There have been various studies that deficiencies in certain vitamins or nutrients in your body, like zinc, iron and vitamin A for example, can alter the way your immune system attacks pathogens in your body. Although there is still little research on supplements and vitamins, the bottom line is it’s important to balance your diet to support your immune health.

Get your flu shot

While flu season is coming to a close, it’s still possible to get the flu, so getting your shot at the local Fred Meyer or Walgreens can help you avoid those last remaining flu viruses circulating on campus. Flu shots often take two weeks to have an effect, so now is a great time to get one. 

“It’s never too late,” Rau says. “Unless flu season is completely over, which probably won’t be for a couple weeks, it certainly shouldn’t hurt.” 

In addition to these tips for staying healthy for the last few weeks of cold weather, Rau said the Health Center is often misunderstood by students. Many students either don’t know about the resources available to them or have heard misinformation through the grapevine. Rau wants to make sure students have the full picture about the Health Center so they can be as healthy as possible.

One of the misconceptions things Rau hears from students is that they think they can only go to the Health Center for free once. However, the Health Center is open and available to all students free of charge throughout their time at UP. They do not accept or collect insurance at all, so if you’re on the UP health insurance plan or your own plan, you can always schedule an appointment with one of the nurse practitioners. 

Another big point of misunderstanding is the Health Center’s resources on sexual health. Since we are at a Catholic institution, the Health Center has some guidelines it must follow in regard to sex and students’ sexual health. 

“We are always happy to have conversations about having healthy sexual relationships,” Rau said. “We can’t hand out condoms on campus, but I don’t discourage their use for the prevention of sexually transmitted illnesses.” 

Both Rau and Soldat are more than happy to talk with students about sex, as it is important to be educated on these topics and issues to be as safe as possible. 

“First and foremost, students are welcomed and encouraged to come talk to us about any aspect of their physical or mental health,” Soldat said in an email. “Discussions at the HCC are confidential. We are always available to have discussions with students about their sexual health, whether or not they are sexually active.”

Perhaps the biggest misconception about the Health Center’s sexual health resources are in regard to birth control prescriptions. 

“As far as birth control goes, we can prescribe birth control for medical purposes, and if a student is requesting birth control for pregnancy prevention, we can help connect them with resources in the community,” Rau said. 

Regardless of if you’re having a conversation about sex, drug and alcohol use or other medical concerns, the Health Center is completely confidential and non-judgemental. Anything that you talk about with one of the nurse practitioners stays in the room, and no one, not even members of UP’s administration, can get information about your visits. 

In closing, Rau has just a few things she wants UP students to know and takeaway… 

  1. Come see the Health Center for medical testing. The Health Center is equipped to do a variety of tests, such as testing for strep throat, mono, STIs, HIV and even pregnancy. 
  2. Take advantage of the after hours health care resources. You can call ProvRN at (503) 574-9606 for 24/7 advice and guidance from a real nurse practitioner or use the Providence Virtual Express Care from 8 a.m. to midnight daily to get real treatment or prescriptions without having to visit an office. 
  3. The Health Center is a safe space. No one in the Health Center is going to judge you, and all providers are going to treat your health, wellness and comfort as a priority. Nothing is off limits, and they encourage you to have conversations with them, even if it seems small or insignificant. 

So, Pilots, if you feel like your immune system needs an extra boost, make sure you follow these tips and don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with Rau or Soldat.  

Natalie Nygren is the community engagement editor at The Beacon. She can be reached at nygren20@up.edu.