How to Survive the Cold and Flu Season
Date: 11.29.2013
A woman with a cold, blowing her nose
Ahhh.....Choo! Is getting sick
the worst thing in the world?

I can’t begin to count the number of people who ask me about flu shots: are they supposed to get one? are they needed? Without telling anyone what to do, here is my professional opinion:

Every year the the good ‘ol cold and flu season comes around. Every year some people die from the flu. However, most people do NOT die from the flu. Most people recover just fine. It might put you down-and-out for a few days to a week or more, it might make you feel crummy with fevers, body aches, and the like but it is also a reminder that your body actually knows how to be sick, and THAT is a good thing! Yes, that is right, I just said: IT IS A GOOD THING TO GET SICK every once in a while. It lets us know that our immune system is working properly. Ever heard of the person who winds up getting a scary maybe terminal disease, but they “haven’t been sick for years and now this?!?” Is it really that they haven’t been sick for years, or is it possible that their body wasn’t strong enough to produce symptoms of being sick?!?!

Fevers for example:

When you get a fever, it is your body’s way of heating up to kill the bacteria, virus or other pathogen (path = disease; gen = to generate a pathogen is a disease causing organism). It is the fever that cooks those pathogens to death, just like we cook meat. Since our body is also made of muscle tissue, fevers cook the muscle too? which is why someone gets body aches after fevers.

As we age, typically our immune response to things lessens. Think of an infant; they mount a fever just from teething! Their immune systems are very active. In general, children tend to get sick a lot more than adults. This is because our mature adult immune system carries memory cells to help us fight off past illness quickly should we be reexposed. This is similar to the concept of vaccines, where we try to get the body to create memory cells without actually being exposed. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, and sometimes someone gets quite sick from the vaccine itself.

The flu vaccine:

One of the problems with the flu vaccine is that the flu virus mutates each season, and when they make the flu vaccine each year they guess at which mutation the flu is going to take. Sometimes they are right, sometimes not. Meaning sometimes you may choose to get a flu shot that offers NO protection against the strain of the flu that comes around.

A second concern about the flu shots is that they are currently the only vaccine still on the market that contains thimerosal as a preservative. Thimerosal is a mercury based preservative, delivering a whopping 2550mcg of mercury per .5ml dose.1 This is true of the multidose vial injections, not the nasal spray. Mercury levels have been correlated with many behavioral, autoimmune, respiratory and gastrointestinal effects. “Mercury is considered by WHO as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.”2 Though mercury levels are very concerning, the goal here is to protect you from the flu, not scare you! Let’s discuss ways to boost the immune system to keep you safe this season.

Immune support for the cold and flu season: For starters it is important to keep up on basic nutrients to make sure the body has what it needs to adequately function. I recommend that most people take a quality multivitamin and quality fish oil along with making healthy diet and lifestyle choices. Secondly, it is important to address digestive health. Did you know that 80-90% of our immune system is located in the gut? Thus, keeping the gut healthy is very important! An easy way to start this is to add quality probiotics. These are the beneficial bacteria that are suppose to be in our gut to helps us digest and absorb properly? thus providing the nutrients that our body needs to stay healthy. Also, keep in mind that stress is probably the largest contributor to a depleted immune system. Stress has been shown to decrease the probiotics in the body(3), making it more difficult to keep the immune system healthy. Make sure to take some relaxation time for yourself, doctor’s orders!

Beyond the basics, vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin D can all be used as maintenance to keep the body well and also be taken in higher amounts if getting sick. I frequently say that when getting sick, someone can take vitamin C to “bowel tolerance,” meaning it will produce loose stools when the body cannot absorb any more. This level is different in everyone, so take caution! Caution also has to be taken with vitamin A and vitamin D as they are fat soluble vitamins and can cause toxicities when taken in too high amounts over time. That being said, RDA amounts typically aren’t going to be enough to create this immune stimulating effect.

Other ideas

Many of our culinary herbs such as garlic, thyme, ginger and mushrooms are also immune stimulating and can be very effective in warding off or treating the flu. Vitamin IV’s can be used to get nutrients into the bloodstream fast to keep someone from getting sick if exposed and get someone on their way to recovery faster if already sick! I frequently recommend using wet/warming socks to stimulate immune systems of my patients. This process uses cold wet socks to trigger the body to send warm blood to the feet while someone is sleeping. Since many immune cells live in the blood, it keeps your immune system circulating while sleeping and speeds up the recovery process.* Wet/warming socks also seem to promote good sleep and healthy circadian rhythm, the importance of which was discussed in last month’s article, The Hormone Game, part 1 and part 2.

Stay tuned for more immune and mood support ideas as we further discuss vitamin D, seasonal affective disorder and hormone balancing.

1. US Food and Drug Administration, Thimerosol in Vaccines:
2. World Health Organization, Media Center:
3. The Role of Microbiota and Probiotics in StressInduced
Gastrointestinal Damage. Lutgendorff, Fenke, et all.
Current Molecular Medicine, Volume 8, Number 4, June 2008 , pp. 282298(17)