With cold and flu season rapidly approaching, it’s a good time of year to think about what you can do to prevent colds and flus in your whole family.
If you have gotten the flu in the past, have a new baby at home or older kids who tend to pass colds to each other, or if you have gotten a complication of a cold or flu like pneumonia, sinusitis or an ear infection, then it’s a good idea to take a few extra steps this year to stay healthy.
The basics count:
- Keep yourself healthy by sleeping 7-9 hours each night
- Eat a healthy diet. With the colder weather, focus on soups and stews with cooked vegetables, whole grains, good quality fats and meats. Limit processed foods, white bread, and sugar, especially if you are feeling run down.
- Moderate exercise can boost the production of macrophages, the kind of white blood cells that “eat” bacteria and viruses. But don’t overdo it — intense exercise stresses the body and can temporarily decrease immune function.
- Allow time for relaxation. Stress has been shown to lower our white blood cells’ ability to kill germs.
- If you smoke, consider quitting or cutting back. Don’t smoke around your child or in the car or around the house.
Supplements for prevention:
- Vitamin C: The studies on treatment of colds and flus are mixed. However, Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration of cold symptoms when taken before the onset of a common cold. Although generally safe, vitamin C in high doses (3 to 6 g daily) may cause upset stomach and diarrhea. 500 mg of vitamin C twice a day makes sense for prevention.
- Vitamin D3: Several studies have shown that people who supplemented with adequate levels of Vitamin D3 during the cold and flu season had significantly lower rates of infection. One study from 2010 looked at Japanese school aged children and found that children who received 1200 IU for vitamin D3/ day had a 42% decrease in influenza A. For children, 600 IU is considered an adequate intake, but it may not be sufficient. For children over 1 year old, you can safely give 1000-2000 IU/day. For adults, 1000-2000 IU/day also maintains current vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and the dosage needed to get back to adequate levels may be higher for people who are deficient. Your vitamin D level can be measured with an easy blood test through our office. This is a good time of year to check your level so that if it’s low we can boost it for the winter to protect you against colds and flus.
- Probiotics: The good bacteria in your intestines serve an important function in regulating your immune system. A study published in 2009 showed a significant reduction in fever and upper respiratory symptoms in children who took a probiotic with a specific combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium daily throughout the cold and flu season. This combination is found in Metagenics UltraFlora Plus. The recommended dosage for children and adults is ¼ tsp or 1 capsule 2x/day. Eat fermented foods high in probiotics, like plain yogurt, kefir or sauerkraut. Eat foods high in prebiotics, which are foods that feed the good bacteria in your gut. These are found in foods that are rich in fiber and resistant starch: fresh vegetables, whole fruit, legumes, whole grains, and cooked and cooled potatoes and rice.
- Elderberry: This berry makes a delicious immune boosting syrup that can be taken daily for cold and flu prevention or multiple times a day at the first sign of illness. Generally considered safe to be given over 2 years old. This study showed a shortening of cold and flu symptoms with the use of Sambucol. This is my personal go-to as soon as I feel like I am getting sick and I also take a teaspoon daily for prevention during cold and flu season. My son loves it and calls it “purple juice.”
Alex Zaphiris MD, MS is an integrative primary care provider who brings together the best of Western and alternative medicine to help patients restore and optimize their health. She has specialty experience in osteopathic manual medicine and treating drug and alcohol addiction.