Cold and Flu Prevention: Immune System Boosting 101
Are you doing everything you can to avoid colds and flu this winter? At my clinic, I’m seeing a steady stream of patients suffering from symptoms of both conditions, so I thought it would be a good time for a refresher course on how to stay healthy, especially when so many others are sick.
First, let’s take a look at symptoms. Here are signs that you have a common cold:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Itchy, burning, or watery eyes
- Fatigue, even after sleeping
- Headache, especially in the sinus area (above the eyes, in the upper nose, alongside and behind the bridge of the nose, and inside the cheekbones).
By contrast, here are the most common flu symptoms:
- Fever of 100 degrees or more
- Aching muscles
Generally, flu symptoms seem to appear very quickly, as opposed to a cold, which usually starts with a sore throat, with other symptoms following a day or two later.
Six Ways To Stay Well This Winter
If you have not yet had a flu shot, please take a look at my earlier newsletter on why you should avoid these. I realize that doctors, pharmacies, and even the media are hyping these shots as lifesavers. But the truth is quite different. Not only are flu shots loaded with toxins that can harm your health, even in very small amounts, but also they have a poor track record when it comes to actually protecting people from the flu.
Fortunately, you can minimize the risk of both flu and colds with a few simple steps. I tell my patients to begin the process by strengthening the immune system. A great deal of your immune system is centered in the intestinal tract, so food and beverage choices are important.
Start by declaring sugar, processed, prepared foods, and alcohol off limits. These things weaken immunity and do absolutely nothing for your health, so it’s important to eliminate them. Instead, drink plenty of fresh, purified water and fill your plate with real, live food that has not been refined or processed. In other words, instead of strawberry-flavored yogurt, try plain yogurt with fresh strawberries.
Speaking of yogurt, beneficial bacteria known as probiotics are the key ingredients involved in strengthening the immune system. Probiotics are especially useful for anyone who has taken antibiotics, since those drugs destroy both the good and bad bacteria in the intestinal tract. Yet even if you choose an organic yogurt with little or no sugar, it’s difficult to get therapeutic quantities of probiotics. Instead, I recommend supplements containing at least 10 billion live organisms per dose; simply follow dosage instructions on the product you choose.
Garlic is another food that can help protect against colds and flu. Garlic contains a number of compounds that have been shown to boost immune system activity. One recent study, for example, found that aged garlic extract supplements reduced severity of colds and flu symptoms, as well as the number of days individuals felt sick.
And don’t forget your greens! An effective immune boosting diet needs plenty of organic fruits and veggies. For days when it’s difficult to eat properly, having a good greens supplement on hand can help keep your healthy diet plans on track.
Here are three additional steps I recommend for boosting immunity:
Get lots of sleep:
If you’re tossing and turning for a good portion of the night, your immune system is suffering, too. Cells that have been damaged during the day need to be repaired while you’re sleeping, and that’s something you don’t want to miss out on. For most people, the repair process requires at least eight solid hours of quality sleep in a dark room. This is when the pineal gland produces melatonin, a powerful hormone and antioxidant involved in deep, restful sleep. Melatonin production falls with age, which is one reason why many older individuals have difficulty sleeping. If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, melatonin supplements can help.
Let go of stress:
Chronic, unrelieved stress weakens the immune system. When you’re in a potentially dangerous situation, the stress response kicks in, accelerating your heart rate, sharpening your senses, and delivering extra oxygen to your muscles, in case you need to make a run for it. These days, we seldom need to run from predators, but chronic stress has become a fixture in daily life. And unfortunately, being constantly poised for flight or fight means your immune system is powered down, leaving you vulnerable to illness and infections. This is why it’s common for people to catch a cold or come down with the flu a few days after a stressful experience.
If you’re feeling stressed, I urge you to look into mindfulness meditation. Simply put that term in your favorite search engine, and you’ll find hundreds of links to free resources that can help you learn this very simple practice. Taking a few minutes to meditate once or twice a day supports healthy immunity, and often improves sleep difficulties. And don’t forget that regular, moderate exercise is an outstanding stress reliever, too.
Take your supplements:
Vitamin D3 is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because your body can produce it when your bare skin, free of sunblock, is exposed to bright sunlight for about 20 minutes daily. Unfortunately, winter is not the best time for sunbathing. In addition, many middle-aged and older people have lost the ability to convert sunshine into D3. As a result, about 99% of the patients I see have low levels of D3. This puts them at risk for a long list of health problems, including weak bones, irregular heart beat, blood pressure issues, elevated blood sugar, weight gain, and immune dysfunctions.
It’s very difficult to get therapeutic levels of D3 from food, so supplements are the best solution. I recommend 1,500 to 5,000 IUs of D3 daily. To make certain you’re getting enough, have your blood levels of D3 tested by your health-care provider. Ideally, your levels of D3 should be in the 50 to 60 ng/mL range. For your convenience, I’ve combined vitamin D3 with my omega-3 marine oil product, another excellent nutrient for immune system health.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are another nutrient that too many people are missing out on. Omega-3s have repeatedly been shown to support a healthy heart and brain, as well as improved mood, reduced joint pain and stiffness, lung health, and a strong immune system. In fact, omega-3s provide so many benefits and are so important to your health that entire books have been written on their importance.
If you’re avoiding omega-3s because you don’t like fish, let me assure you that today’s products are free of taste and do not cause digestive upsets. Furthermore, these oils have been molecularly distilled to remove toxins, pollution, and impurities that are commonly found in fish. I suggest taking 3 grams (3,000 milligrams) of omega-3s daily in divided doses. For best results, look for a product containing about twice as much DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
Please be aware that omega-3s thin the blood. If you are taking prescription blood thinners, such as Plavix, Coumadin, or Pradaxa, talk with your physician or pharmacist about adding omega-3s to your daily regimen.
NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) has a well-deserved reputation for enhancing lung functions, making it useful for treating bronchitis and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). NAC is simply a slightly altered form of a naturally occurring amino acid (cysteine). NAC is a powerful antioxidant, with impressive abilities to combat free radicals that harm your health. NAC also increases levels of “master antioxidant” glutathione, a compound recognized for its ability to protect against cancer, Alzheimer’s diseas e, heart disease, and a number of conditions. And, last but not least, NAC can bolster the immune system, making it an outstanding cold and flu fighter.
One recent study, for example, tested NAC on senior citizens during cold and flu season. The results demonstrated that taking 600 mg of NAC twice daily reduced the number of individuals with flu symptoms — even though blood tests indicated they had been infected with flu virus!
I recommend taking 600 mg daily throughout the year, and increasing to twice daily during cold and flu season.
Vitamin C is the go-to cold supplement for many of my patients. But vitamin C actually does much more than help prevent sniffles. For example, it boosts the benefits of vitamin E, which has been shown to improve the immune system in older individuals, and even helps you deal with stress.
Humans can’t manufacture vitamin C in the body. So in order to get sufficient supplies, you must eat a diet built on fresh fruits and veggies, or take supplements. I recommend 2,000 to 4,000 mg of vitamin C daily, in divided doses throughout the day. Since vitamin C is water soluble, any excess is flushed out of the body in your urine. High levels of vitamin C can lead to diarrhea for some individuals, so if this becomes a problem for you, simply reduce your dosage to a level your bowels can tolerate.
If you’re concerned about catching a cold or coming down with the flu this winter, I think you’ll find these suggestions useful. I work very closely with people who are sick nearly every day of the week, and yet rarely get sick myself. So instead of hoping that a risky, not very effective flu shot will protect you, take charge of your health and enjoy a winter free of colds and flu!