SURVIVING COLD AND FLU SEASON By Jolie Root LPN
VISTA MAGAZINE ISSUE 97
hether you’ve just sent your child back to school, you’re a frequent traveler worried about staying healthy, or you are just trying to avoid catching the latest bug going around the office, here are some basic tips for keeping your resistance powered up during this busy time of year. If viruses are the enemy and your immune system the troops that defend you, think of the major antioxidants as a highly skilled special ops team. Key members on this team include vitamins A, C, D, and the mineral zinc. Antioxidants are the nutritional Special Forces that boost immune function. Vitamins A, C, D, and zinc defend our health from infections. Vitamin A works tirelessly to support healing and is especially vigorous at empowering the immune system. Vitamin A is found in butter, milk, fish and eggs and cod liver oil is a great source. People who are only mildly deficient in vitamin A have a higher incidence of respiratory disease compared to those who consume sufficient vitamin A. Anti-infective vitamin A is fundamental for normal functioning of the immune system. The skin and mucous membrane cells that line the airways, digestive tract, and urinary tract form the body’s first line of defense against infection. Vitamin A is required to maintain the health and strength of these cells. Vitamin C is another important member of the immunity-boosting team. Vitamin C concentrations in the body and in immune cells drop rapidly during infections and stress. Abundant in many fruits and vegetables, vitamin C makes the white blood cells more active against bacterial or viral invaders. There is one exception. In one study, marathon runners, skiers, and soldiers exposed to extreme cold or physical exertion got sick half as often when they took vitamin C as a preventive measure. Regular vitamin C supplementation at levels at or slightly above 1000 mg/day is the dose consistent with reduced incidence and duration of colds. So, while the vitamin doesn’t ensure that you’ll never catch a cold, it does seem to help you get better faster, and feel better while you fight the infection. What if the respiratory infection is something a little more serious than the common cold? Three studies showed an 80% reduction in the incidence of pneumonia among vitamin C users. In one large study
involving 700 students, vitamin C supplements, when started at the first sign of symptoms (1000 mg per hour for the first 6 hours followed by 3000 mg per day), reduced flu symptoms by 85%. The sunshine vitamin is also a must if you wish to keep your family healthy year round, but especially during the cold and flu season. Vitamin D boosts the immune system and enhances the body’s ability to kill bacteria or viruses, those hostile invaders that make their way into body cells. Vitamin D is necessary for cells in your lungs to fight infection. Immune cells everywhere in the body, including in your lungs, use vitamin D to produce a germ killing compound called cathelicidin. Your immune cells then release cathelicidin to kill bacteria and viruses. This response does not work if there is a lack of vitamin D. Studies reveal that having adequate levels of vitamin D (levels of at least (75 nmol/L) not only boosted the bacteria-killing cathelicidin, but also improved the ability of immune troops to identify invaders. In one of the largest studies looking at the link between vitamin D and respiratory infections, people with the lowest blood vitamin D levels reported having significantly more respiratory infections and or cases of the flu. The risks were highest for those with chronic respiratory disorders, such as asthma. So don’t let a vitamin D deficiency put you in harm’s way this cold season. Insufficient levels of the sunshine vitamin are widespread. Since vitamin D levels naturally decrease during autumn and winter when days are shorter and sunlight is much less strong, vitamin D supplementation, especially in vulnerable groups such as students and the elderly, could strengthen people’s wintertime resistance to viral infections. The mineral zinc boosts the production of white blood cells that fight infection and zinc increases natural killer cells that fight against cancer and helps white cells release more antibodies. Taking zinc lozenges at the first sign of cold symptoms can help to reduce the number of days you are sick. If you do become ill, rest is the best medicine. Gargle with warm salt water and use a saline nasal rinse to kill germs in the nose and throat. Get plenty of fluids and use a humidifier to moisten the air to soothe your sinuses and airways.