As we enter into the fall months, there is much talk of illness and the upcoming cold and flu season. The pandemic continues, taking new twists and turns each week and everyone wants to know how we can stay healthy this time of year. It is true, that fall and winter is when colds and flus run rampant. In addition thus far COVID numbers seem to rise as we spend more time indoors. So how can we stay healthy during these times?
It turns out there are a number of measures we can take to maintain health in the months to come. To start, we can follow the recommendations re vaccination for all respiratory illnesses. This not only includes the COVID vaccines which are readily available and now proven to be safe and effective, but also many of the tried and true vaccinations we have been using for decades. This means flu shots (recommended for all people over 6 months of age– specific formulations vary). Flu shots are helpful at reducing the severity of what can be a life threatening illness. They are not perfect and there can be break through infections, but they do help reduce the illness and yes people do die from the flu every year (about 50,000 every year in preCOVID days). And no you can not get the flu from the flu shot, they are not live vaccines (with the exception being the nasal mist used in kids). So while it’s easy to focus on all things COVID, let’s not neglect this real illness which we’ve battled for many years and is also worth taking measures to prevent.
What other vaccines are useful? The Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertusis vaccine is also important and often forgotten after childhood. Kids get several of these early on. They often get their last pediatric dose at age 15 or 16 and then let things slide. It turns out that this shot should be repeated every 10 years. Pertussis is a respiratory infection that can be lethal to infants and young kids and while not usually life threatening in adults, it is unpleasant and a real nuisance to say the least (think coughing until you vomit repeatedly). Best to avoid this one and stay up to date with the DTP shot every 10 years (also helpful if you step on a rusty nail to prevent tetanus).
Other useful immunisations can include Pneumonia vaccines for those who are eligible. Typically these are given in people starting at age 65 or if you have specific conditions which put you at risk for respiratory illnesses, such as asthma or if you are immune compromised.
What else can we do to avoid and minimise the impact of illness? For starters we can take care of our basic bodily needs. Getting adequate sleep is essential to keeping your body healthy and able to withstand illness. What is adequate sleep and how can you help achieve it? Read more here.
Additionally, staying in good physical shape can be helpful. It only makes sense that physical fitness, through regular aerobic exercise (which includes brisk walking, we are not necessarily talking hours at the gym here), can help your body prepare to withstand any assaults to it. The relationship between obesity and respiratory illness has been interestingly brought to the forefront in the era of COVID. Obesity is one of the greatest predictors of bad outcome in those with COVID. Thus perhaps the pandemic has highlighted more than ever our need to get into better physical shape and to lose those extra pounds. For more on the role vitamins can play in weight loss read here.
Another back to basics health measure not to be overlooked is hydration. Hydration is an essential element of immune health in both preventing and shortening the duration of illness. It is very easy to get dehydrated when sick due to lack of appetite, sweating from fever and from certain over the counter cold medicines. Do not undervalue the role of good old chicken soup! It turns out that having something that is not plain water and is full of electrolytes is very important. Learn more about the role of vitamins and minerals for hydration.
We of course saved our favorite topic for last. What role can vitamins and supplements play in immune health? It turn out that vitamins can be an important part of overall health and support for immunity. The most important way to use vitamins is to take them on a regular basis to help maintain your health. Most of us have some vitamin deficiencies but our needs vary based on our individual diet, lifestyle and health issues. Thus taking a good daily personalized vitamin is a great way to get exactly what you need every day to improve and maintain overall health.
When it comes to immunity in particular, there are several vitamins that have been shown to play a role. It turns out that good old Vitamin C does have some importance in this realm. Studies show Vitamin C can help fight common colds and viruses or at least shorten the duration of certain illnesses. It likely also plays some role in prevention. The challenge is of course taking a proper and safe amount without overdoing it since as with most vitamins, too much can be harmful. Many people should supplement daily and increase dosing when starting to get sick.
Another Vitamin that has become widely recognised during the pandemic for its role in immune health is vitamin D3. This vitamin, which is actually a hormone, has been long known to play a role in modulating inflammation. It turns out that white blood cells have many vitamin D receptors and this is likely why Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with poorer outcomes in illness ranging from COVID to cancer and heart disease. As usual, proper dosing is essential. It is our belief that a daily dose of D is useful for most people to avoid deficiency and some extra during illness can also be of use.
Zinc has been in and out of fashion for many years in regards to cold symptoms. It too has been touted as a cure all for COVID. This is likely not the case, but we do know that zinc can shorten the duration of some common viruses and may be useful in this setting. It however is a heavy metal that is likely not good to take all the time (there are concerns about metals depositing in different parts of your body such as the brain). Taking zinc in the setting of needing to support immunity makes sense. It can be found for this reason in our Immune Blast Situational Supplement.
Other vitamins that may support immune health include Magnesium (one of those very key electrolytes that helps with hydration), certain B vitamins and iron for those who need it. Determining who needs what and how much is the greatest challenge. One thing the pandemic has taught us that throwing the kitchen sink at the problem is not helpful and can be harmful (early on many drugs and supplements were given to people with poor outcomes).
It pays to be thoughtful and follow the medical evidence in guiding treatment, be it prescription drugs or supplements. Vous Vitamin was in fact created for this reasons. As doctors we believe that many people can benefit from safe, evidence based use of vitamins to improve their health. Taking a custom multivitamin is a great way to do so. Our on line personalized vitamin quiz helps you determine exactly what you need based on your diet, lifestyle and health history. When you feel an illness coming on or are in the throws a cold, flu or virus, sometimes a little extra in the form of Immune Blast can be just what you need.
Romy Block specializes in Endocrinology and Metabolism and is mother to three active adolescent boys. Arielle Levitan is a Doctor of Internal Medicine with a special interest in Preventive Medicine and Women’s Health. She is a mother of three teenagers. As professional women with active family lives, they recognize that people often neglect their own health needs and are uncertain about what vitamins to take. Each person is different in her diet, exercise and health history, and will benefit from different nutrients. After years of advising their patients about the proper vitamins to take, Drs. Block and Levitan created Vous Vitamin® to provide people everywhere with quality vitamins that are suited to their individual needs. They are authors of the award winning The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health (She Writes Press, 2015). Take your vitamin quiz now to get exactly the right vitamins for your needs.
The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products offered by Vous Vitamin® are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Nothing contained herein is intended to be a diagnosis or constitute medical advice. The symptoms described in this Blog may be a result of a serious medical condition which requires medical treatment. You should consult with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this Blog and before beginning any vitamin or supplement regimen.