Strengthen Your Immune System Naturally
As the weather cools and we spend more time indoors, colds and flus become more frequent. If you ask most people what causes a cold or flu, they’ll tell you a virus. Well, I’d like to correct that viewpoint.
Yes, colds are a leading cause of visits to the doctor and missed days from work and school. And yes, Americans are estimated to suffer a billion of them per year, which averages two to four annually for every adult. So what do I mean when I say the common cold and nasty flu aren’t rooted in a virus?
Viruses don’t come and go with the seasons. They are always present. It is thought that when we are indoors more during cold weather these viruses are spread more easily, which makes sense. But if the virus was the sole cause of these illnesses we would actually see a great deal more illness.
I cannot remember the last time I had a cold or flu. That goes for my husband, children, and 90-year-old mother! Are we just lucky? Do we know how to “run away” from viruses? No.
The true cause of colds and flu is a weakened immune system. I know this is true because after 25 years of working with patients, I see time and time again the results of normalizing a patient’s immune system. They tell me that they just “don’t get sick anymore.”
So the real issue at hand is how to strengthen your immune system and, if it’s weak, to find out why.
By the way, if you go to your doctor with a cold or flu and he or she wants to prescribe antibiotics, you may want to find a new doctor. Why? Because antibiotics don’t treat viral infections. They are solely for bacterial infections. The only legitimate reason for using antibiotics is that a secondary bacterial infection has occurred in the sinuses or lungs. Otherwise, the use of antibiotics for a cold or flu is not only unnecessary, but dangerous. The danger comes from the fact that our overuse of antibiotics has created “superbugs” that are immune to antibiotic therapy. Save the antibiotics for when you really need them.
What are the causes of a weak immune system?
If you tend to get colds and flus somewhat often, or you easily get sick when others around you are, realize that your immune system is not doing its job. Something is overwhelming it and as such it cannot perform its main function – to protect you from infectious organisms.
Some of the most common reasons for a weak immune system are:
• Food sensitivities
• Low vitamin D levels
• Poor probiotic levels
• Eating a diet high in sugar, refined ingredients, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and chemicals
• Insufficient exercise
• Lack of hydration
• Lack of sleep
• High stress loads
Prevention is always the best policy, so the ideal scenario is to get tested for the first three items and make any lifestyle changes necessary to address the last five. And yes, all these points are true for children as well.
To discover any food sensitivities it is best to find a clinician who can assist you. Please realize the distinction between food allergies and food sensitivities. They are quite different. (For more on this topic, see Food Allergies, Intolerances & Sensitivities: What’s the Difference?)
Your doctor can take a blood test and identify your vitamin D level—specifically your 25-hydroxy vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can increase your chance of “catching” the common cold or flu. Vitamin D enhances your body’s ability to kill not only viruses, but bacteria and fungus as well.
The best place to get your vitamin D is from sunshine (15 minutes of exposure between 10 am and 2 pm in the warmer months), but that can become a problem in winter months when the sun just isn’t effective enough. Here at the clinic we prescribe liquid vitamin D3 in a base of olive oil. Each drop contains 2,000 IU of the vitamin. The olive oil makes it palatable and easy to administer. Make sure that you take the D3 form, as D2 is not as effective.
While 2,000 IU is about half of what most adults need to achieve ideal vitamin D levels, research has shown that 2,000 IU is enough to annihilate seasonal flu. Statistically speaking, 85% of Americans and 95% of senior citizens are deficient in vitamin D. In the US, late winter levels have been measured at 16 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter), a severe deficiency.
Children are also at risk. Of 5,000 children tested as part of a research study conducted at the Children’s Hospital in Boston, 20% were found to have levels of vitamin D below the 50 nmol/L (nanomoles per liter) level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
While some government health agency’s guidelines state that 400 IU is an adequate daily allowance for vitamin D in children, most researchers in clinical nutrition agree that this is far below what is needed, especially during flu season. Instead the recommendation is 35 IU per pound of body weight. This would put a 55 pound child at a dosage of about 2,000 IU each day.
Adults typically require around 5,000 IU per day but some individuals are so depleted that supplementation of 20,000+ IU is required for a period of time. Vitamin D is not only going to boost your immune system, but it is anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and bone protecting as well. There are many great reasons to ensure your vitamin D levels are tested and normalized. Around 50 to 65 ng/mL is considered ideal.
Probiotics, found in the small intestine, are an integral part of the health of the immune system. Food sensitivities and infectious organisms in the gut can diminish the effectiveness of probiotics to strengthen the immune system, as do medications such as antibiotics and steroids.
Working to keep all these factors functioning optimally is a day to day commitment but the result is a robust immune system that strongly defends against any virus that comes your way. What if all has not been optimal and life has been difficult and you suddenly find yourself with that niggling feeling that you’re getting sick?
The most important thing to do is to take action the moment you first realize that you are getting ill. I cannot stress how important taking immediate action is.
Here’s what to do:
1. Stop eating any sugar, including artificial sweeteners. Sugar feeds bugs and weakens the immune system.
2. Go to bed. The immune system works at night. Give your body an opportunity to heal itself by getting extra sleep.
3. Start taking immune supporting supplements:
• A good vitamin C, at a dose of 500 mg per hour. If you start passing gas or getting loose stools,you’ve taken enough to saturate your tissues. Give it a break for a several hours and then start up again.
• Zinc lozenges are beneficial when taken early on. They must be sucked on, not swallowed, to be effective.
High levels of zinc aren’t common but the sign that you shouldn’t continue the lozenges is a feeling of nausea.
• Vitamin D. As mentioned previously, having healthy levels can prevent infection and you should definitely get yours tested.
• Echinacea. There are many forms of this herb. I like a liquid tincture because it is easy to give to children as well as adults and the liquid form seems to act faster.
• Certain herbs such as garlic, ginger, oregano, cloves, turmeric, and cinnamon are immune boosters. Cooking with these herbs is beneficial.
• Oregano oil and olive leaf extract each have shown to have strong natural abilities to kill bacteria, viruses, and yeast. They typically are sold in 500 mg capsules and taking two per day is recommended.
• Continue taking your daily multiple, antioxidant, and fish oil supplements while you’re ill. I consider these
to be foundational nutrition that everyone should take, in most circumstances.
4. Hydrate. Many people are dehydrated and should get more water on a daily basis, but when you feel you are getting ill it is especially important to drink extra water so that your body can easily flush out toxins. Warm liquids can feel good when you’re ill because they increase your body’s core temperature, which helps to kill bad organisms.
5. Eat 9 servings of vegetables and fruits, organic preferably. The nutrients in veggies and fruits are beneficial to the immune system. You can make green smoothies or fresh vegetable soup.
6. Exercise. Regular exercise is a good immune booster. If you’re starting to feel a little sick, only mild exercise is needed, such as taking a walk. Any more than that can act as a stressor, something you want to avoid.
7. Hydrogen peroxide drops in the ear. This home remedy has been around for a long time. Place three to five drops of 3% hydrogen peroxide (the kind you can find in the drug store) in the ear. Allow it to bubble for about 5 minutes (you may also feel a mild stinging) and then let the liquid drain into a tissue. Do the same thing for the other ear and re-apply every 2 hours as possible. The virus is believed to enter through the ear canal, so killing it prevents the spread of symptoms. If you already have body-wide symptoms, it is likely too late for this treatment.
8. Reduce your stress load. Ah, that’s easier said than done, I do realize. But sometimes just “deciding” that you are going to put something on the back burner until you feel better will give you some relief.
A Word About Coughing
Nobody likes coughing. It can keep you awake at night when much needed sleep is required. What you should know is that over-the-counter cough syrups are not especially effective and, along with cold medications, can have dangerous side effects. Better to follow the protocols we discuss here.
When a cough gets too annoying, try making your own syrup by heating raw honey (make sure that it’s raw) on low heat. Add to it a whole lemon that you have boiled in a little water for a few minutes. Let the lemon cool, cut it in slices, and add to the honey. Cook on low heat for an hour and then strain. Once cooled, you can place it in a jar and store it in the refrigerator for a couple of months.
The dosage is ½ teaspoon for a child weighing 25 pounds or less, 1 teaspoon for a 50 pound child, and 1 tablespoon for adults. This can be used several times per day as needed.
Always seek the advice of a qualified medical professional for specific medical concerns.
Written by Dr. Vikki Petersen