The first thing I do when I get to the office each morning is listen to messages on our voice mail system. This week, some of those voices sounded stuffy, scratchy, and hoarse! It sounds like cold and flu season is here. Make it a good season by preparing your immune system to fight off these common nuisances. Also, have a couple things on hand in case you do come down with a bug.
Good hygiene like frequent hand washing will certainly help prevent the spread of germs. Good food and smart supplementation help your immune system do a better job at fighting colds and flues.
Many of us live on refined foods: breads, pastas and cereals. Our foods contain lots of added salt, sugar and fat. These foods taste good, fill us up, and are cheap and easy to come by. They do not, however, support good health.
Refined foods raise our blood sugar quickly. Increased blood sugar effectively puts your immune system to sleep. Research shows that the white blood cells that look for and attack viruses and bacteria are much less active when blood sugar increases. Refined foods are also low in many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants needed for proper immune function.
Concentrate your diet on whole foods that provide essential nutrients without adding to our sugar burden. Fresh vegetables and fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which help the immune system function well. Many people think of fruits as too sugary, but they don’t increase blood sugar as much as many “unsweetened” foods such as breads.
I remember getting together for meals with other families when my children were toddlers. Their little toddler friends would be forbidden by their parents to eat dessert before they’d finished their bagels! Truth is, the bagel and the dessert are both basically pure sugar as soon as they hit your stomach. Avoid them both.
Healthy fat and protein sources also make up part of a healthy diet. Free-range grass-fed meats, poultry and eggs all provide important nutrition, as do raw nuts, seeds and fish. Yogurt and cheeses are also good if you aren’t sensitive or allergic to dairy products.
There are so many supplements and claims on the market. Where do you even begin? I like to begin by plugging potential holes in our food supply. A multivitamin or whole foods supplement provides the vitamins and minerals we are supposed to get from our food. I tend to prescribe standard multivitamins when I want someone to get a specific amount of some nutrient, like B-vitamins for example. In most situations though, I prefer whole foods supplements like Juice Plus™ which are made from dried fresh fruit and vegetable juices. They contain all the nutrients found in these foods without the calories, sugar, or fiber, so they are compact.
I am particularly fond of Juice Plus™ because is helped my own kids. Both of them have experienced significantly fewer illnesses since starting on that supplement. And these are kids that eat very healthy diets. Juice Plus™ is a multi-level product, which automatically makes me averse to it! However, I have researched and tried other products, and I keep coming back to Juice Plus™. It’s that good!
Another important supplement is cod liver oil. When my father was a boy, most people took cod liver oil, and with good reason. Cod liver oil is packed with omega-3 essential fats and fat-soluble vitamins like A and D. These are all critical for proper immune system function, and they are all woefully absent from most people’s diets. Note that “fish oil” may not contain substantial amounts of these vitamins. “Cod liver oil” does. Research shows that children who take cod liver oil and a multivitamin significantly reduce the number of doctor visits they make for upper respiratory infections. Toddlers and children can take up to 4,000 mg daily, which is one teaspoon of oil. Adults can take 1 -3 teaspoons daily. Take it with food to improve absorption and reduce fishy burps. Use capsules if you can’t take it by the spoonful.
Lastly, take a probiotic supplement like Lactobacillus acidophilus daily. A study of 376 children compared those that took probiotics daily for six months to those that took a placebo. Those who took the probiotics had 50% - 60% fewer coughs, fevers and runny noses. They took a staggering 68% fewer antibiotics, and missed 30% fewer days of school. That’s a nice effect from a simple supplement. Take probiotics on an empty stomach at bedtime.
What about vitamin C?
Vitamin C and the herb Echinacea both have hefty reputations both as preventative and curative substances for colds and flues. The medical literature is mixed. Most studies find them to be ineffective compared to placebo, but very few studies actually use the doses that are commonly used. Because I know that probiotics and zinc make a difference, that is where I start with my supplementation recommendations.
For example, studies of vitamin C generally use less than 1,000 mg daily. Many of my patients use several thousand milligrams daily! Nobel laureate Linus Pauling demonstrated that he could cure cancer with very high intravenous doses of vitamin C, so it stands to reason it can help with a common cold! But there isn’t hard, fast, indisputable evidence that it does.
If you catch a cold:
At the first sign of a cold take zinc, and you will get better faster. Take 75 mg per day until you are better. High doses of zinc over long periods of time may cause other problems, so please follow this recommendation only for the duration of the illness. In the office we use formulas that combine zinc with other vitamins and herbs, and we match them to the characteristics of the illness. People with lots of mucous will tend to get a formula with Oregon grape root or goldenseal. Dry stuffy colds are better treated with formulas containing Echinacea.
The homeopathic preparation Oscillococcinum is clinically proven to reduce the duration of influenza infections. Begin to take it at the first sign of flu symptoms. My instructions are slightly different than those on the package. I recommend a small pinch of the pellets four times daily rather than an entire vial three times daily.
When you follow the basic rules set forth above, and still get sick repeatedly, you have more work to do. My next two steps are elimination diets and homeopathy.
Some people have a sensitivity to one or more foods which disrupts the healthy functioning of their immune systems. Identifying and removing that food from the body can make a huge impact on overall health. To identify food sensitivities, you have to eat a very limited and hypo-allergenic diet (lamb, pears, carrots, and brown rice) for ten days; then reintroduce one new food every two days. If you feel poorly within two days of eating a certain food, don’t eat it anymore. Continue in this fashion until you know what foods you can eat and what foods you can’t. Avoiding the foods that make you sick will dramatically improve your health. It is difficult, but for many people it’s worth the effort.
You may be able to cut this process short by eliminating only those foods that are common triggers to the immune system. Eliminate anything made with wheat, milk, and sugar, and see how you do. Alternately, try eating just fruits, vegetables, whole grains that you cook from scratch, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, and seeds. Nothing else. Either of these two dietary strategies can make a big difference in your health.
Homeopathy is my passion because it can have an effect on the body unlike any other modality. Think of it this way: nutritional intervention helps a body do more effectively what it is supposed to do. An elimination diet removes a source of stress from a poorly functioning body. Neither of these interventions actually changes the body’s innate intelligence to heal. Homeopathy does.
I am often able to help people reduce their incidence of colds, coughs, sore throats, and the like substantially, and without mega doses of supplements or huge diet changes. By stimulating the patient at the constitutional level, homeopathy improves immune function and eliminates many symptoms of disease.
So give your body its best chance to stay healthy this winter. Eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meats, fish and poultry. Take a good multivitamin or whole food supplement, cod liver oil, and a probiotic with Lactobacillus acidophilus. You may just notice your friends and co-workers getting sick when you aren’t!
If you are still struggling, consider an elimination diet or contact a qualified naturopathic doctor who can help restore your body’s natural ability to get and stay healthy.