By Dr. Mercola:
Colds are a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from work and school, and this season is no exception. Americans suffer from approximately 1 billion colds per year, or about two to four colds per year for the average adult.
But why do people start getting sick as the leaves start to fall?
Unfortunately in the US, thanks to the CDC, nearly anyone seeing their doctor for a cold will be told that they are infected with H1N1 and will be added to the already inflated CDC statistics.
However, according to the CBS News study, when you come down with chills, fever, cough, runny nose, malaise and all those other “flu-like” symptoms, the illness is likely caused by influenza at most, 17 percent of the time, and as little as 3 percent! The other 83 to 97 percent of the time it’s caused by other viruses or bacteria.
So remember that not every illness that appears to be the flu, actually IS the flu. In fact, most of the time it’s not.
Nevertheless, as temperatures drop, we begin to congregate indoors and spend less time in the sun. This means our vitamin D levels begin to drop, and we are more apt to spread viruses from one person to another.
It isn’t that these opportunistic pathogens magically appear at certain times of the year—they’re always around. It’s your ability to respond to them that changes with the seasons.
It is important to understand the causes of viral upper respiratory syndromes if you want to avoid them.
The Real Cause of Colds and Flu
Many people believe that colds and flu are caused by bacteria, but this is simply incorrect. Colds and flu are caused by viruses, and using antibiotics to treat a viral infection is inappropriate and completely ineffective.
Viruses are orders of magnitude smaller than bacteria and have entirely different structures that make antibiotics useless. (Occasionally antibiotics are required if there is a secondary bacterial sinus infection or bronchitis/pneumonia, but this is the rare exception.)
It is also important to recognize that, although a virus triggers your cold or flu symptoms, it is not the real cause of the illness.
So, what is the real cause of colds and flu?
My simple and short answer has always been that it’s due to an impaired immune system. That’s still true. However, research has confirmed that “catching” colds and flu may be a symptom of an underlying vitamin D deficiency! Less than optimal vitamin D levels will significantly impair your immune response and make you far more susceptible to contracting colds, influenza, and other respiratory infections.
Although there are many ways you might end up with a weakened immune system, the more common contributing factors are:
- Vitamin D deficiency, as previously mentioned
- Eating too much sugar and too many grains
- Not getting enough sleep
- Insufficient exercise
- Inadequately managing emotional stressors in your life
- Any combination of the above
THE Number One Way to Conquer a Cold or Flu: Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an amazingly effective antimicrobial agent, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi.
In the United States, the late winter average vitamin D level is only about 15-18 ng/ml, which is considered a very serious deficiency state. It’s estimated that over 95 percent of U.S. senior citizens may be deficient, along with 85 percent of the American public.
In 2009, a team of researcher’s from Children’s Hospital Boston analyzed blood samples taken from 5,000 children under age 12 and found that nearly one out of five children in the U.S. have low blood levels of less than 50 nanomoles per liter, the level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. They also found that two out of three children have a level below 75 nmol/L–which is still insufficient, based on most of the research coming out today.
No wonder colds and flu run rampant each year.
The best source for vitamin D is direct sun exposure. If natural sunlight is not an option, then using oral supplements is your best bet.
Remarkably, researchers have found that 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day abolished seasonal influenza. This is somewhat surprising, as it is half the dose of what most adults need to achieve ideal levels of vitamin D.
Please note that this is far greater than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) advised by public health agencies like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently doubled the RDA of vitamin D for children to 400 IU. This new guidance still falls absurdly short of what’s needed to keep kids healthy, especially during flu season.
In order to prevent the flu, children and adults need 35 IU of vitamin D per pound of body weight. So, for example, a child weighing 57 pounds would need 2,000 IU a day of vitamin D.
Adults typically need an average of 5,000 IU per day—but some adults have to take 20,000 to 30,000 IU daily to get their vitamin D level up to optimal levels. Exactly how adults absorb and process vitamin D so differently is still somewhat of a mystery, so the only way to know if your vitamin D level is therapeutic and nontoxic is by having your blood tested.
Not all vitamin D testing is accurate, so make sure your health care provider is ordering the correct test.
Lifestyle Options: Choose Wisely
As you know, I’m not an extremist. I advocate balancing healthful choices with enjoying life, which includes celebrating from time to time.
That said, if you feel yourself coming down with a cold or flu, this is NOT the time to be eating sugar, artificial sweeteners or processed foods. Sugar is particularly damaging to your immune system–which needs to be ramped up, not suppressed, in order to combat an emerging infection.
You must address nutrition, sleep, exercise and stress issues the moment you first feel yourself getting a bug. This is when immune-enhancing strategies will be most effective.
When people come down with a cold or flu, it’s because some combination of factors has weakened their defenses. You might be able to get away with one or two transgressions, but a bucketful of poor choices will cause your immune system to crash. And then suddenly…you’re sick.
When you’re coming down with a cold, it’s time to address ALL of the contributing factors immediately.
This would be a good time to tweak your diet in favor of foods that will strengthen your immune response. Good choices include:
- Raw, grass-fed organic milk, and/or high-quality whey protein
- Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchee, miso, pickles, sauerkraut, etc.
- Raw, organic eggs from free-ranging chickens
- Grass-fed beef
- Coconuts and coconut oil
- Locally grown fruits and vegetables, appropriate for your nutritional type
- Mushrooms, especially Reishi, Shiitake, and Maitake, which contain beta glucans (which have immune-enhancing properties)
- Garlic, a potent antimicrobial that kills bacteria, viruses AND fungi
- Herbs and spices with high ORAC scores: Turmeric, oregano, cinnamon, cloves (for more on ORAC, visit www.oracvalues.com)
Make sure you are drinking plenty of fresh, pure water. Water is essential for the optimal function of every system in your body.
Pay attention to how you are sleeping. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, or enough restorative sleep, you’ll be at increased risk for a hostile viral takeover.
And don’t underestimate the importance of regular exercise for increasing your resistance to illness. There is evidence that regular, moderate exercise can reduce your risk for respiratory illness by boosting your immune system.
But at the same time, don’t overdo it. Over-exercising can actually place more stress on the body, which can suppress the immune system–and you don’t want that either. You might just go for a walk if you are coming down with something. Any rise in body temperature will be an unwelcome climate for a viral invader.
Emotional stressors can also predispose you to an infection. Finding ways to manage daily stress as well as your reactions to circumstances beyond your control will contribute to a strong and resilient immune system.
Most of the people incorporating a significant number of these wise lifestyle choices into their daily lives simply don’t get sick. And when they do, it’s mild and short-lived.
Supplements That Send Pathogens Packin’
Supplements can be beneficial, but they should be used only as an adjunct to the lifestyle measures already discussed.
Some of the more helpful ones for cold and flu are:
- Vitamin C: A very potent antioxidant; use a natural form such as acerola, which contains associated micronutrients. (By the way, intravenous vitamin C was recently used by a physician in New Zealand to cure a man with “terminal” swine flu.)
- Oregano Oil: The higher the carvacrol concentration, the more effective it is. Carvacrol is the most active antimicrobial agent in oregano oil.
- Propolis: A bee resin and one of the most broad-spectrum antimicrobial compounds in the world; propolis is also the richest source of caffeic acid and apigenin, two very important compounds that aid in immune response and even fight cancer.
- A tea made from a combination of elderflower, yarrow, boneset, linden, peppermint and ginger; drink it hot and often for combating a cold or flu. It causes you to sweat, which is helpful for eradicating a virus from your system.
- Olive leaf extract: Ancient Egyptians and Mediterranean cultures used it for a variety of health-promoting uses and it is widely known as a natural, non-toxic immune system builder.
Another treatment that is surprisingly effective against upper respiratory infections is hydrogen peroxide.
My patients have had remarkable results in curing the colds and flu within 12 to 14 hours when administering a few drops of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) into each ear. You will hear some bubbling, which is completely normal, and possibly slight stinging.
Wait until the bubbling and stinging subside (usually 5 to 10 minutes), then drain onto a tissue and repeat with the other ear. A bottle of hydrogen peroxide in 3 percent solution is available at any drug store for a couple of dollars. It is simply amazing how many people respond to this simple, inexpensive treatment.
By incorporating these strategies, you’ll be able to nip that nasty little virus in the bud–before it can say, “Big Pharma.”
The Role of Vitamin D in Disease Prevention
A growing body of evidence shows that vitamin D plays a crucial role in disease prevention and maintaining optimal health. There are about 30,000 genes in your body, and vitamin D affects nearly 3,000 of them, as well as vitamin D receptors located throughout your body.
According to one large-scale study, optimal Vitamin D levels can slash your risk of cancer by as much as 60 percent. Keeping your levels optimized can help prevent at least 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate and skin cancers.
How Vitamin D Performance Testing Can Help Optimize Your Health
Is it any wonder then that no matter what disease or condition is investigated, vitamin D appears to play a crucial role? This is why I am so excited about the D*Action Project by GrassrootsHealth. Dr. Robert Heaney is the research director of GrassrootsHealth and is part of the design of the D*action Project as well as analysis of the research findings.
GrassrootsHealth shows how you can take action today on known science with a consensus of experts without waiting for institutional lethargy. It has shown how by combining the science of measurement (of vitamin D levels) with the personal choice of taking action and, the value of education about individual measures that one can truly be in charge of their own health.
In order to spread this health movement to more communities, the project needs your involvement. To participate, simply purchase the D*Action Measurement Kit and follow the registration instructions included. (Please note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the kits go to fund the research project. I do not charge a single dime as a distributor of the test kits.)
As a participant, you agree to test your vitamin D levels twice a year during a five-year study, and share your health status to demonstrate the public health impact of this nutrient. There is a $65 fee every six months for your sponsorship of this research project, which includes a test kit to be used at home, and electronic reports on your ongoing progress. You will get a follow up email every six months reminding you “it’s time for your next test and health survey.”
Source: Dr. Mercola: “How to Prevent the Flu” – Dec 03, 2009
It’s Flu Season… What’s the Most Important Step to Staying Well?
If you listen to public health agencies, you’ll quickly hear the message that ‘the first and most important step in protecting against the flu’ is yearly vaccination. But upon what data is this strong recommendation based?
During the 2012-2013 flu season, the flu vaccine’s effectiveness was found to be just 56 percent across all age groups reviewed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) —in essence, the statistical equivalent of a coin toss. In seniors, aged 65 and over, the US flu vaccines were only 9 percent effective.
The “gold standard” of independent scientific evaluation and analysis, the Cochrane Database Review, has issued no less than five reports between 2006 and 2010, all of which decimate the myth that flu vaccinations are “the most effective flu prevention method” available.
In real-world and not laboratory conditions, when a flu vaccine at least partially matches the circulating virus, 100 people need to be vaccinated in order to avoid just ONE set of influenza symptoms, according to Cochrane’s findings.
Yet as another flu season approaches, all these facts are conspicuously ignored by conventional medicine and media alike, and you’ll certainly never see them mentioned in any flu vaccine promotion campaign. What else won’t you typically see mentioned?
The fact that the status of your immune system is the most powerful determinant of whether or not you’ll get sick this flu season… with flu or one of the hundreds of other flu-like illnesses going around.
Your Flu Might Not Actually Be the Flu
When it’s fall or winter and you start to feel feverish with a cough, sore throat, fatigue and body aches, most people automatically think “flu.” If you’ve had the flu vaccine, you may wonder how you still became sick. If you didn’t, you may wish you had. Yet, how many of these illnesses are actually the flu?
Most physicians don’t bother to do the laboratory testing required to find out, because the treatment for most flu-like illnesses is the same.
Only about 20 percent of all influenza-like illness that occurs every year is actually associated with influenza viruses because many types of respiratory illnesses with flu-like symptoms can be mistaken for influenza. About 80 percent of cases of suspected influenza sent to the CDC for analysis lab test negative for type A or type B influenza.
What is also not widely shared is the fact that “most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks” (this is a direct quote from the CDC2).
Those who do not are much more likely to be those with compromised immune systems who develop flu-related complications, like pneumonia or bronchitis. Most deaths attributed to the flu are actually due to bacterial pneumonia, and these days, bacterial pneumonia can be effectively treated with advanced medical care and therapies like respirators and parenteral antibiotics.
Natural Immune-Boosting Strategies Give You Widespread Protection Against Viral Infections – Flu Vaccine Does Not
The CDC doesn’t even know how many people die each year from the flu, putting their estimates at between 3,000 and 49,000 people a year – and that is for “flu-associated” death, which means “deaths that occur in people for whom seasonal influenza infection was likely a contributor to the cause of death, but not necessarily the primary cause of death.” The reality is the vast majority of these deaths are due to pneumonia — not flu — which likely accounts for only a few hundred. Yet the CDC continues to use tens of thousands as a scare tactic to drive people towards flu shots.
Again, hearing about flu deaths (which are actually typically pneumonia deaths) further contributes to the fear-mongering urging Americans to get vaccinated against the flu… without letting the public know that they’re still entirely susceptible to all of the other flu-like illnesses going around. And also keeping quiet about the fact that a flu vaccine does not protect against the “primary cause of death” in most flu-associated deaths, which is pneumonia.
A far better approach would be to educate people about the importance of healthy eating, exercise and vitamin D levels – as, unlike the flu vaccine, these natural strategies do help protect against all of the viruses and bacterial infections going around since they work by bolstering your body-wide defense against all disease: your immune system.
Vitamin D: Are You Taking Advantage of This Flu-Fighting Nutrient?
A universal vaccine being developed by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi is based on the finding that people who have more virus-killing immune cells, known as CD8 T cells, either don’t get sick or experience only mild flu symptoms.3 The idea behind this vaccine is that by stimulating your body to produce more CD8 T cells, it may protect you from getting the flu, or at least from having severe symptoms.
However, while the drug company researchers brag that they know how to use a vaccine to stimulate the immune system to produce more CD8 T cells, they fail to mention that vitamin D is also known to have a direct immune-modulating effect on CD8 T cells. This was revealed in a study published in 2010.4 Other research has proposed that deprivation of sunlight and vitamin D at higher latitudes worsens CD8 T-cell deficiency.5 So, it may be, then, that a “universal flu vaccine” doesn’t need to be created at all because it essentially already exists in the form of vitamin D!
Vitamin D is an important player in overall healthy immune function, but it’s also an effective antimicrobial agent in its own right, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Another 2010 study6 that didn’t get any widespread attention also demonstrated the effectiveness of vitamin D as a preventive strategy against influenza. In fact, children taking just 1,200 IUs of vitamin D3 per day, which is considered a low dose, were shown to be 42 percent less likely to come down with the flu. I firmly believe that optimizing your vitamin D levels is the single most important and least expensive action you can take to help strengthen immune function and protect against getting sick during the flu season, and would STRONGLY urge you to have your vitamin D level monitored to confirm your levels are therapeutic at 50-70 ng/ml year-round.
Have You Thought About What You’re Eating?
If your diet contains a lot of refined sugars, grains and processed foods, you’re not doing your body any favors this flu season. Instead of giving your body the fuel it needs to function optimally, which means being healthy enough to fight off infectious viruses, you’re giving it more toxic elements that it must overcome.
For instance, too many carbohydrates in the form of sugar and grains is very unbalancing for your gut flora. Sugar is “fertilizer” for pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungi that can set your immune system up for an easy assault by a respiratory virus. Most people don’t realize that 80 percent of your immune system actually lies in your gastrointestinal tract. That’s why controlling your sugar intake is crucial for optimizing your immune system.
Additionally, making sure you’re ingesting plenty of beneficial bacteria in the foods you eat (specifically fermented foods) is also crucial. In one study, 3- to 5-year-old children who received either a single strain or combination of beneficial bacteria called probiotics twice a day for six months had:7
- Reduced fever by 53 percent and 73 percent respectively
- Decreased coughing by 41 percent and 62 percent
- Reduced runny noses by 28 percent and 59 percent
- Reduced antibiotic use by 68 percent and 84 percent (which is a major gain in and of itself because antibiotics are vastly overused in children and also devastate your gut flora)
It’s worth noting that each mouthful of fermented food can provide trillions of beneficial bacteria—far more than you can get from a probiotics supplement, which will typically provide you with colony-forming units in the billions. I thought this would be a good analysis, so I tested fermented vegetables produced with our probiotic starter culture to determine their probiotic potency and was astounded to discover they had 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. Literally, one serving of vegetables was equal to an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic! Fermented foods also give you a wider variety of beneficial bacteria, so all in all, it’s a more cost effective alternative. Fermenting your own foods can provide even greater savings, and is actually easier than you might think.
How’s Your Sleep Schedule and Your Stress Level?
These are important questions that your physician should be asking around flu season, and really all year long, as they also play a key role in helping you stay well. Just like it becomes harder for you to get your daily tasks done if you’re tired and stressed, if your body is overly fatigued or burned out it will be harder for it to fight the flu. Be sure to check out my article “Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep” for some great tips to help you get quality rest, and be sure you’re thinking about your stress levels, too.
When researchers from Carnegie Mellon University infected study participants with a common cold virus, those who had reported being under stress were twice as likely to get sick.8
Chronic stress also exerts a powerful negative influence on your epigenetic health, turning on and off the expression of genes that directly influence your likelihood of getting sick. Using techniques like energy psychology, you can correct the emotional short-circuiting that contributes to your chronic stress, which helps to optimize your genetic expression. My favorite technique for this is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), but there are many others, such as yoga, journaling and prayer.
Exercise Can Help You Have a Flu-Free Flu Season
If you are exercising regularly the likelihood of your acquiring a cold or other viral illness is significantly reduced, and studies have clearly shown this. In one such study, staying active cut the risk of contracting a cold by 50 percent, and cut the severity of symptoms by 31 percent among those who did catch a cold. The researchers noted that each round of exercise may lead to a boost in circulating immune system cells that could help ward off a virus.
It is actually a well-known fact that exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. The job of these cells is to neutralize pathogens throughout your body. The better these cells circulate, the more efficient your immune system is at locating and defending against viruses and other pathogens that may otherwise opportunistically overrun your body.
Due to the key role that exercise plays in supporting your immune system, it’s crucial to treat exercise like a medicine that must be properly prescribed, monitored and maintained for you to enjoy the most benefits. Essentially, you need to have a varied routine that includes high-intensity interval training (HIIT) like Peak Fitness.
Six More Steps to Avoiding the Flu Naturally
It’s a fact that disease-causing viruses and bacteria are all around us. Whether you come into contact with the flu or another variety, you need to focus on maintaining a robust and well-functioning immune system to avoid getting sick. As mentioned, I believe optimizing your vitamin D levels is one of the most potent preventive strategies available, followed by diet (including fermented foods to optimize your gut flora), stress relief, exercise and sleep.
There are other factors that can come into play too, of course. The following guidelines will also act in concert to support your immune system and help you avoid getting sick:
- Take a High-Quality Source of Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats. Increase your intake of healthy and essential fats like the omega-3 found in krill oil, which is crucial for maintaining health. It is also vitally important to avoid damaged omega-6 oils (think vegetable oils) as it will seriously damage your immune response.
- Wash Your Hands. Washing your hands will decrease your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. Be sure you don’t use antibacterial soap using synthetic chemicals for this – conventional antibacterial soaps are completely unnecessary, and they cause far more harm than good. Instead, identify a simple non-toxic soap that you can switch your family to.
- Tried and True Hygiene Measures. In addition to washing your hands regularly, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, ideally with the crook of your elbow (to avoid contaminating your hands). If possible, avoid close contact with those who are sick and, if you are sick, avoid close contact with those who are well.
- Use Natural Immune-Boosters. Examples include oil of oregano and garlic, both of which offer effective protection against a broad spectrum of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa in your body. And unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, they do not appear to lead to resistance and the development of ‘super germs.’
- Avoid Hospitals. I’d recommend you stay away from hospitals unless you’re having an emergency and need expert medical care, as hospitals are prime breeding grounds for infections of all kinds. The best place to recover from illness that is not life threatening is usually in the comfort of your own home.
- Manage your stress: Chronic stress exerts a powerful negative influence on your epigenetic health, turning on and off the expression of genes that directly influence your likelihood of getting sick. Using techniques like energy psychology, you can correct the emotional short-circuiting that contributes to your chronic stress, which helps to optimize your genetic expression. My favorite technique for this is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), but there are many others, such as yoga, journaling, and prayer.
Source: Dr. Mercola’s “Flu Attack! How a Virus Invades Your Body” – Jan 06, 2014