Every year it seems, the flu approaches an epidemic. Hospitals and pharmacies can’t keep up with the current demand and even with the incidence of vaccinations increasing; we’re still not seeing dramatic improvements in terms of prevention. There are many simple and effective ways to fight off infection. Starting with some the basics like washing your hands throughout and day and avoiding sick people is good but sometimes difficult. Let’s be honest, you will encounter pathogens every day and even more so during this time of year. Giving your body a fighting chance starts with creating natural defense in your body. The food you eat directly affects your body’s immune response. For instance, garlic works similar to a broad-spectrum antibiotic and has no known poor side effects (other than less than ideal breath). Simple sugars and processed foods have an almost immediate immune-suppressing response. These foods tend to diminish the healthy gut flora and feed pathogenic yeast and viruses responsible for poor health. The modulation of the immune system by the digestive tract is a burgeoning field. Broad spectrum antibiotics can decimate the normal, healthy population of gut bacteria. For immune boosting effects, consider taking a quality probiotic.
Sleep is another foundation of a health immune system. This one is simple. Without proper rest, your body has inadequate energy to repair. Sleep is critical but quality sleep is ideal. When we talk about quality sleep, it can entail many details; something for another blog. In general, sleep the same time every night and on the weekends. Sleep in a dark space and consider a sleep mask or black-out curtains for the best effects. Limiting your light sources, such as lamps, the television, and the computer (you’re not taking my computer time away) in the few hours before bed can help perpetuate the normal circadian cascade of hormones that helps with repair.
A less known and somewhat controversial strategy is the role of vitamin D in flu prevention and faster healing. We continually discover vitamin D and its immune-modulating effects. We now know there is a crossover with vitamin D supplementation in cancer, heart disease, diabetes and even musculoskeletal conditions. It has been postulated by a few researchers that vitamin D insufficiency is correlative with the outbreak of the flu every winter. As the sun changes angles, we are less exposed to the adequate amounts of sunlight necessary for natural vitamin D production in our body. Now, let’s combine that with poor food choices and quality, which lacks vitamin D, and we can see that were digging a D-hole. The literature on vitamin D can vary when it comes to the flu. A study published in 2010 looked at the role in vitamin D supplementation and the prevention of the flu in schoolchildren. In this study consisting of 430 children, using 1200 I.U. of vitamin D daily between the months of December and March showed a significant preventive effect against the strain influenza A, but not for B. This study also cited that a daily probiotic was a safe and effective way to reduce fever and other symptoms in small children. From this study, we also know that it can take approximately three months to reach a steady serum level of vitamin D through supplementation. This study also demonstrated the supplement seemed to work better at preventing the flu in children without asthma. Interestingly enough, those with asthma suffered from less attacks while supplementing.
How often and your response to sickness is a general indicator of your overall health. Your body is not made up of bits and pieces, but rather, complex systems that are all intricately woven.
Source: Urashima et al. Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010; 91:1255-60