You can feel it—autumn is here. Halloween is behind us, we have switched the clocks back from daylight savings time, and the air is getting chillier. With this seasonal shift, many of us are already dealing with more colds and other viruses. And even though we grown-ups may be thoroughly washing our hands for at least 20 seconds and avoiding touching our faces, others (including our children) are still learning to do those things consistently. The bottom line is this: we’re all around germs every day and nobody wants to get sick. So what are our best defenses? And how do we boost our immunity? Read on! We have answers.

Common-Sense Prevention: Hand (and Nose!) Washing

  • Wash Your Hands: Good hand washing with plain old soap (not the antibacterial stuff) and water is a common sense measure that will help keep everyone healthy. Try singing songs (3 rounds of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” for example) with your little ones to teach them how long they need to spend washing. Send your big kids back for a do-over if they just wave their hands through running water, slide them down the fronts of their jeans and call it done. And, if all this washing results in your suffering from dry hands, try The Balm By Nieves, a blend of safe essential oils that helps relieve dry skin anywhere on your body, and it’s especially great for hands.
  • Try Nasal Washes: One of the MOST preventive things you can do is to irrigate your and your children’s nasal passages at the end of every day, and after any exposure (at work, school, playgroups, on BART/buses/planes, etc.). In addition to regular hand washing, daily and frequent nose washing (you can’t overdo it) is one of the most important things that you can do to protect against influenza and other viral infections. After a viral exposure, germs need to multiply in the nasal passages for at least 1-2 days before any symptoms develop. Nasal irrigation can wash away viral particles before they have the opportunity to take hold, and thereby prevent many infections from happening in the first place! [If you have never used a nasal wash, they’re basically salt water solutions that you send up one nostril and the solution comes out the other nostril (along with dried mucus, allergens, and the viral particles you want to banish). There is a wide variety of products available on the market to do the job. This one may work well for you or your child. You can also use a Neti Pot, or Xlear nasal spray. (As a general rule, don’t share nasal wash bottles unless you also want to share germs.) Invite your child to watch you irrigate your own nose once you’ve got the hang of it and when it’s their turn, be sure to give them as much autonomy as you can. And be patient. Water in the nose may feel uncomfortable and take some time to get used to.]

Food Is Medicine: Make Delicious, Healthy Choices

  • Hydrate: Aim to drink filtered water equal to half of body weight in ounces (90 lb person = 45 oz) is the daily target. Water is important to every organ system in the body, so be sure to get enough.
  • Eat a Rainbow: Lots of colorful fruits and vegetables are protective. Unprocessed fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that destroy free radicals responsible for weakening our immune systems.
  • Try Mushrooms: Mushrooms are an amazing superfood, providing us with vitamin D3, among other things. Shiitake mushrooms are a great choice, but there are lots of other types out there. Experiment and see what you and the kids like. You can add thin mushroom slices to soups, chop them into tiny pieces for a stir fry, sauté them as a side dish, or even roast them whole. Just remember that they need to be heated so that the nutrients are available for use by the immune system.
  • Cook With Bone Broth: Consider drinking it first thing in the morning and using broth in your cooking for its rich (and easily absorbed) mineral and micronutrient content which supports gut health and overall immunity. Here’s a great resource and recipes for broth.
  • Use Veggie Broth—It’s Great Too: If bone broth isn’t an option for you, you can try a mineral rich vegetable broth instead.
  • Avoid Simple Sugars and Processed Food: Did you know that your blood shows evidence of a diminished immunity within 30 minutes of eating simple sugars (like glucose, refined sugar, and fructose), and results in a 50% reduction in your white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs? Conversely, keeping blood sugar levels steady has been shown to enhance immunity.

Immunity Superchargers

  • Sleep: Our bodies need adequate sleep to do their work and keep us healthy. When we don’t get enough sleep, we are more susceptible to illness.
  • Relaxation/Stress Reduction: Stress causes the body to produce greater levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and over the long term, elevated cortisol can weaken our immune system, leaving us more vulnerable to everything from the common cold to autoimmune diseases. Stress can also leave us depressed and anxious. Consider committing to a consistent meditation or yoga practice to boost your immunity. In addition to helping you feel more rested and centered, your example might even inspire your children to begin meditating.
  • Vitamin D3: Researchers have hypothesized that rates of illness increase during winter months because of widespread vitamin D deficiency given short days and little sunlight. Supplementation with vitamin D3 during the cold and flu season can significantly lower rates of infection. Vitamin D3, among other things, increases the body’s production of cathelicidin, which is an antimicrobial. The Vitamin D Council recommends a maintenance dosage of 1000 IU of Vitamin D3 for every 25 pounds of body weight, but we prefer to customize our vitamin D recommendations by testing our patients.
  • Fish Oil: While not specifically shown to prevent cold and flu, omega-3 essential fatty acids generally support a healthy intestinal tract and immune system and provide other long term benefits.
  • Probiotics: Many studies have shown reductions in episodes of upper respiratory infections in those taking probiotics. This study showed a drastic reduction in fever and upper respiratory symptoms in children who took probiotics.
  • Vitamin C: Studies on vitamin C’s role in helping colds/flu have been mixed. However, it is indisputable that vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant.
  • Zinc: Zinc is essential for white blood cells to function normally. Just 10-15 mg of zinc per day can be key in warding off infection. Here are some good food sources of zinc.
  • Elderberry: Elderberry has been used for hundreds of years to boost immunity during cold and flu season, and modern studies are confirming its effectiveness. Taking a high-quality elderberry syrup daily during flu season or drinking elderberry tea is delicious and may help maintain health during the winter months.
  • Oscillococcinum: A homeopathic medicine that not only treats, but may help to prevent, influenza infection. Safe for use at any age, taking the contents of one small tube per week for cold and flu prevention is good practice. It can also be used if there is a known viral exposure: put the contents of one tube under the tongue immediately following any exposure!

GetzWell patients should contact us for help with personalizing dosages of any of the above supplements.

Listen to Your Body and Take Action:

Did you just notice a throat tickle? Was that another sneeze? Are you feeling run-down? Don’t ignore these first signs that an illness may be brewing in the hopes that “it’s nothing.” The following are some safe remedies we have discovered may help shorten the duration and severity of colds, coughs and flu. It’s important that these be started as soon as symptoms are noted—we have found them to be the most effective when you start taking them within 12-24 hours of the onset of symptoms.

For convenience, most of these products are available at GetzWell, and members get 10% off retail!

  • Windbreaker: This Chinese herbal formulation by Kan Herbs, a local business, works fabulously for colds/flu and fever. They make several other tinctures which can be used along with Windbreaker, depending on your/your child’s symptoms. The botanical taste can be strong, but mixing it with elderberry syrup can make it more palatable for some kids. For your convenience we offer Windbreaker and other Kan Herbs products in both offices.
  • Biocidin: This is one of our current favorite herbal products that can be used as soon as symptoms of cold or flu appear (or even to prevent catching viruses!). Once you start using it for winter travel or other high-risk situations, you’ll never leave home without it. We carry throat spray, drops, and a liposomal version. Talk to us about which form is best for your child and family.
  • Elderberry Syrup: Keep taking it! Elderberry has been found to prevent invasion by viruses and bacteria and also helps relieve coughs. This study found that elderberry inhibited H1N1 infection in vitro. The study’s authors have stated that “the H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Amantadine.”
  • Umcka: Also known as Umckaloabo is an herb that is native to the region of South Africa. Long used in traditional African medicine, it can significantly shorten the duration and severity of colds, bronchitis, sinusitis, and throat infections. Studies have shown it improves macrophage activity, kills bacteria and viruses, and aids in clearing mucous from the lungs. At GetzWell we carry an alcohol-free syrup called VClear. It is also available over-the-counter as Umcka Syrup by Nature’s Way.
  • Oscillococcinum: While marketed a homeopathic flu remedy, it can be taken at the onset of any cold or flu symptoms. We recommend the contents of 1 vial every 6-8 hours for 3 to 6 doses. It is safe for use at any age (ask us how to administer to your infant/small child!).
  • Cold Calm: A combination of homeopathic medicines in a single product to help with cold symptoms. Like Oscillococcinum, it is safe to use even in infancy.
  • Vitamin C rich foods or supplementation with a Vitamin C product.
  • Nasal Irrigation: Keep up the rinsing! You’ll be so glad you learned this technique when you were feeling well.

Consistency Counts

If we address our wellness every day, even when we are feeling good, the benefits will add up quickly. Prioritize the basics for yourself and your children: get plenty of sleep, “eat a rainbow,” avoid simple sugars and processed foods, take recommended supplements, drink plenty of water, get time outside, and move your body. All of these, plus solid hygiene, will help prevent many illnesses in the first place. And if you do get sick? Never fear. You’ll bounce back faster, thanks to your effort. Consistency counts.