Now that we’ve “fallen back” to Standard Time, it feels like winter is already in the air even though we’ve still got some autumn ahead of us! And are you hearing more coughs and sniffles out in the world (or even in your own home)? We certainly are. It’s that time of year, and at GetzWell, we want you and your family to enjoy the upcoming holidays without being laid up in bed with colds, coughs, or the flu.
Keep reading if you’re interested in some practical suggestions to help keep you and your family healthy and boost immunity. I will also suggest ways to lessen severity of symptoms and shorten the length of illnesses if a winter virus does make it past your defenses. Keep in mind, many of the supplements mentioned below are available in GetzWell’s offices or online from our supplement dispensary as part of my Winter Illness Treatment and Prevention Protocol.Utilize our online supplement dispensary, Fullscript, to enjoy a 10% discount year-round, and don’t miss out on our upcoming Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale (valid 11/24 – 11/28) where you’ll receive an additional 10% discount for a total of 20% off!
Everyday Measures to Prevent Colds, Coughs and Flu
Keep Hands (and Noses!) Clean
- Nasal washes and/or Enovid: 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 nasal washing 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, thereby preventing many infections from happening in the first place. You can choose from a wide variety of products. Nasopure may work well, or you can use a Neti Pot, or Xlear nasal spray. Antiviral nasal spray, Enovid, is another great option if you have been exposed to any virus—not just COVID.
- Wash Your Hands: Wash hands frequently, especially before eating and avoid touching your face. 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 young children to teach them how long they need to wash. Send 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.
Food Is Medicine: Making Choices that Support Wellness
- Eat a Rainbow: Lots of colorful fruits and vegetables are protective. Unprocessed fruits and vegetables destroy free radicals responsible for weakening our immune systems.
- 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.
- 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.
- Try Mushrooms: Mushrooms are an amazing immune support, providing us with vitamin D3, among other things. Shiitake mushrooms are a great choice, but there are many 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.
- Use Bone Broth: Consider drinking broth 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 resource for broth recipes.
- 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.
Immunity Superchargers: Here are several supplements and a few other ideas that can help supercharge the immune system. Make an appointment with one of our providers to discuss a customized immune support “Rx” with specific dosage recommendations based on the age and size of your child.
Common Sense Stuff…
- 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 response. Meditation, yoga, walking in nature–all of it can help you feel more rested and centered.
- Get Outside for Fresh Air and Playtime: Moderate exercise can boost macrophages, the kind of white blood cells that “consume” bacteria and viruses.
- Vitamin D3: Researchers have hypothesized that rates of illness increase during winter months because of widespread vitamin D insufficiency, and even frank deficiency in some cases. Supplementation with vitamin D3 during the cold and flu season may 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 1000IU of Vitamin D3 for every 25 pounds of body weight, but a simple and inexpensive blood test allows us to customize the dose.
- Fish oil/omega-3s: While not specifically shown to prevent cold and flu, omega-3 fatty acids generally support a healthy intestinal tract and immune system and provide other long term benefits. Good food sources are salmon, sardines, anchovies.
- Probiotics: Many studies have shown reductions in episodes of upper respiratory infections in those taking probiotics. This pediatric study showed a notable 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 10-15mg of zinc per day can be key in warding off infection. Zinc can also be found in these foods.
- Oscillococcinum: A homeopathic medicine that not only treats, but may help to prevent, influenza and ear infections. It’s safe for use at any age and can be taken if there is a known viral exposure.
- 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.
Listen to Your Body and Take Action: Is your throat a tiny bit scratchy? 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.
- Windbreaker: This Chinese herbal formulation (called Gentle Warriors and originated in Noe Valley!) works fabulously for colds/flu and fever. The same company makes other tinctures which can be used along with Windbreaker depending on your/your child’s symptoms. For your convenience we offer Windbreaker along with other products in this line at both offices.
- Biocidin: This is one of our 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
- Umcka: Also known as Umckaloabo, this traditional African herb (also known as Pelargonium sidiodes) 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 mucus from the lungs. We carry an alcohol-free syrup called VClear. It is also available over-the-counter as Umcka Syrup by Nature’s Way.
- Cold Calm: A combination of homeopathic medicines in a single product that may help with cold symptoms.
- Vitamin C Rich Foods or supplementation with a Vitamin C product.
- Nasal irrigation or Enovid Nasal Spray: available at both GetzWell offices
- Honey: A simple natural product found to be effective at suppressing cough (though not for infants under 1 year due to botulism)
- Humidity: Try a cool-mist humidifier in the room and nasal saline drops to help moisten mucous membranes. In infants and small children, suctioning mucus with a “nose frida” is often helpful.
- Elevate the head while sleeping to reduce the post-nasal drip that stimulates coughing. (Fold blankets or towels under crib mattress to elevate).
It’s also worth noting that over-the-counter cold medications are largely ineffective and should not be used in small children under 2 years of age.
When should you or your child see the doctor?
If your child has developed flu symptoms it is best to stay home and rest, avoiding contact with others. You should seek medical attention if you or your child has:
- Fever for more than 3 days (Call your doctor at the first sign of fever if your child is younger than 4 months and check out our fever phobia article)
- Fever that disappears for 24 hours and then returns
- Confusion or excessive drowsiness
- Excessive irritability
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Dehydration (no urine for more than 6-8 hours)
- If your child is in a high risk group (asthma, autoimmune or chronic illness, etc.)
- Earache or discharge from the ear
- Sore throat that lasts more than five days (or sooner if accompanied by headache, tummy ache, and fever)
- Coughs (without respiratory distress or wheezing) that last more than two weeks OR a worsening cough
The benefits will add up quickly if we prioritize the basics including plenty of sleep, eating “a rainbow,” avoiding simple sugars and processed foods, taking a few key supplements like vitamin D, spending time outside and moving our bodies. These (even some of them – try not to let perfection be the enemy of the good) plus common-sense hygiene, will go a long way toward preventing many illnesses. And if you or the kids do get sick? Not to worry – everyone will bounce back faster, thanks to the consistent effort.