It often comes with cooler weather and starts with a scratchy throat, an overall feeling of malaise and perhaps a cough that starts to disturb your sleep. Despite bathing yourself in hand sanitizer and steering clear of anyone who so much as sniffles in your direction, you find yourself sick. No matter how you got it, here are five tips to get you through the cold and flu season as healthy as possible:
1. Double up on zinc
Whether it’s with a throat soothing lozenge, or a supplement, zinc is the first defence for your immune system. It’s been proven that people who are zinc-deficient are more prone to a variety of unwelcome pathogens. However recent research shows zinc deficiency can also develop with age, leading to a decline of the immune system and increased inflammation associated with many health problems.
When the animals in this study were given 10 times their dietary requirement for zinc, the biomarkers of inflammation were restored to youthful levels.
Bottom line: Take 15-25 mg per day in supplement form. If you feel a sore throat brewing, you can increase this to a maximum of 50 mg per day by adding zinc lozenges.
2. Starve a virus with NAC
According to an Italian study supplementing with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) can dramatically reduce the frequency and severity of flu-like symptoms in elderly high-risk individuals. Over 260 participants received NAC (600 mg) or placebo tablets twice daily for six months. The results were impressive: the NAC group experienced a significant decrease in the frequency of flu-like episodes, severity, and length of time confined to bed. Among the people receiving the placebo, 79 percent developed symptoms of flu, whereas only 25 perent of the NAC group developed symptoms. In a separate study NAC has been shown to improve symptoms of chronic bronchitis by reducing the thickness of lung secretions.
Bottom line: Take 400-600 mg once daily for maintenance and twice daily when you feel a cold or flu heading your way.
3. Enhance immunity with beta glucan
Beta glucan in my opinion is the most exciting development in natural immune boosters. Derived from baker’s yeast (yet free of allergens), Beta glucan has immune modulating properties — which means it boosts a weak immune system and can calm an overactive one (such as the case with autoimmune diseases). One study showed that it decreased the frequency and severity of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) in a group of university students during peak cold season.
Bottom line: Take one capsule per day on an empty stomach. For acute immune support take up to two capsules per day.
4. Add in some adaptogens
Chronic stress is the quickest way to lower your immune system, and probably the main reason why some people are more vulnerable to cold season than others. There are a few supplements out there that have a positive effect on both lowering stress levels and boosting the immune system: plant sterols and holy basil. Holy basil has been found to reduce cortisol and help the body adapt to stress. A 1991 study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, compared holy basil to siberian ginseng (eleutherococcus) and asian ginseng (panax ginseng) and found that it was the most potent anti-stress agent of the three herbs.
Bottom line: Take 2 gel caps each morning.
5. Add in plant sterols
Also considered nature’s immune regulators, plant sterols are another great option. In a double blind, placebo-controlled study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine a group of 20 athletes were evaluated both before and after a marathon run. Post-marathon results showed that the group treated with sterols and sterolins displayed a significant reduction in interleukin-6, a decrease in cortisol and increase in DHEA. As an added bonus, it has also been known to lower cholesterol levels.
Bottom line: Take a high potency plant sterol supplement 1-2 times daily either with or without food. During times of excessive stress, or during flu season, you can bump this to three times daily.
6. Get some Z’s
Research shows that lack of sleep has the same negative consequences as stress does on the immune system. In the study, white blood cells were categorized and measured from 15 young men following a strict schedule of eight hours of sleep every day for a week. White blood cell counts in a normal sleep/wake cycle were then compared to the numbers produced during the second part of the experiment, in which blood samples were collected during 29 hours of continual wakefulness. The white blood cells reacted immediately to the physical stress of sleep loss and directly mirrored the body’s stress response.
Another study found that loss of sleep, even for a few short hours during the night, can prompt one’s immune system to turn against healthy tissue and organs and boost inflammation levels. This will certainly keep you vulnerable to viruses – not to mention sicker, longer.
Bottom line: Don’t wait until you get a scratch in your throat, start correcting your sleep immediately with these natural remedies.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.