Feel like everyone is hacking all around you? As cold season gets into full swing, we are all looking for ways not to get sick. The Ebola crisis does certainly does not help ease our concerns about the spread of germs. However, at this time the developed world is much more likely to contract other viral infections.
Perhaps there are some simple measures we can all take to avoid getting unnecessarily ill. Simple hand washing is probably the easiest thing we can do. Avoid touching surfaces such as door knobs and then touching your face. Also wash hands regularly before eating. Antibacterial gels can also be used but the old fashioned method of washing hands with warm water and soap is the preferred thing to avoid alcohol and other harsh chemicals in these gels. Likewise prevent the spread of germs by coughing or sneezing into your elbow rather than your hands.
Another habit that can help boost our immunity is getting a good amount of sleep. You’ve heard us harp on sleep before, but here again it is so important to allow your body that restorative time. Sleep is a useful way for your body to refuel and build up all of its best defenses against illness.
Stress reduction may also be important in protecting our immune system. Numerous studies have shown that higher levels of stress lead to more and worse infections. This is likely due to production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. We know that too much cortisol tends to open us up to infections.
Other lifestyle measures that are known to help reduce rates of infection are stopping smoking and age appropriate vaccination. Smoking impairs the lungs, sinuses and upper airways in their ability to rid themselves of harmful bacteria, therefore quitting (at any stage in life) is worth while. Vaccination is perhaps the most proven way to reduce rates of and severity of infection from a variety of illnesses including Influenza, Pertussis, Pneumococcal Pneumonia and more. Look at age specific guidelines.
When it comes to vitamins for Immune Health, the most commonly talked about Vitamin for preventing colds is Vitamin C. This water soluable vitamin is found in citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers and many other fruits and vegetables. While its role in immunity has been long debated Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties may help with healing and disease fighting. We know it is helpful in skin, wound and bone healing for these reasons. There is some research to suggest that Vitamin C does help shorten the duration of colds and some to suggest it can help prevent colds, especially among those who are in cold environments or extreme exercise situations. There does not appear to be a great benefit to using supplemental doses higher than 500mg daily. There are potential side effects from using too much such as GI symptoms and kidney stones.
Another Vitamin that seems to improve Immunity is Vitamin D3. One of our favorite vitamins, this fat soluble vitamin seems to play a role in immunity. It’s deficiency is associated with higher rates of illness. Even centuries ago people treated Tuberculosis with sunlight (this likely worked because sunlight stimulates Vitamin D production in the body). While conclusive studies have not been done to link using supplements to preventing the common cold, it makes intuitive sense that this important vitamin should be taken to prevent deficiency. Unfortunately most of us are deficient in this vitamin because it’s main source is the sun. A few foods naturally contain it (Wild caught Salmon and calf liver) but these do not tend to be staples in our diets. Milk and orange juice are fortified with it but usually not in significant quantities.
Zinc’s role in decreasing the duration of the common cold has been explored and validated. It does appear to have some effect on reducing the rhinovirus (a common virus that causes colds). We know it can also be helpful in wound healing, so there may be a role for zinc in helping tissues to return to normal. We are not advocates of daily zinc for cold prevention since oversupplementation with heavy metals may be toxic. Rather, we think it is most useful as an occasional as needed supplement when most at risk for an illness such as after being exposed or at the onset of an infection.
A variety of herbs have been suggested to play a role in immunity, namely Aloe Vera, Echinacea, and Ginseng. Unfortunately the data is not compelling enough for us to recommend their routine use for this purpose.
Probiotics can be helpful for recovering from GI illnesses and prevention of certain bacterial infections of the gut. See our blog on this topic, “The scoop on Poop: Good Bacteria for IBS and GI Symptoms”.
All in all there are certainly measures one can take to minimize risk of getting or staying sick. Common sense lifestyle measures and certain vitamins can be helpful when used properly. Find out what vitamins you should be taking daily in the form of a custom all in one vitamin by taking our vitamin quiz. Also be prepared for this cold and flu season by having our Immune Blast™ Situational Supplement on hand to take when you are run down or exposed to illness.
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 teen agers. 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 survey 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.