LAST YEAR I RECEIVED frequent calls about how to support your immune system toward the end of the year. No one likes to get a cold or flu. Recent research confirms many ways we can stay healthy. For example, studies have shown that people with vitamin D deficiency are 11 times more likely to get a cold or flu, while supplementing with vitamin D can reduce colds and flu by 42 percent.(i )
I wanted to share with you some suggestions for staying healthy. There are many simple things you can do and some extra supplements you can take.
First let’s review the controversy over the flu vaccine and then I will share exactly what you can do and what to take. The guiding principle of functional medicine is personalized care, not the one-size fits all belief that everyone should have the same treatment. This applies equally to vaccines. There is risk and benefit to every medical treatment or procedure.
Here are the 2 important facts to consider when it comes to flu vaccination:
- The Center for Disease Control recommends vaccination for high-risk groups, not necessarily everyone. The key groups that would benefit most from the vaccine are health workers with direct patient contact, pregnant women, caregivers of children younger than 6 months, children and adults under age 24, and adults who have underlying medical conditions, such as asthma , heart disease , or diabetes . If that doesn’t describe you, you should think twice about having the vaccine.
- The multi-dose vials of the vaccine contain mercury  as a preservative. This is the majority of vaccines. If you are a pregnant or nursing woman you should insist on the single dose vial which does not contain mercury. Unfortunately there are a limited number of the mercury-free vaccines.
That is why I only recommend vaccination for high-risk individuals. But whether you get vaccinated or not, it is critical to support your immune system through natural means to help you prevent the flu.
Remember, Let Food Be Your Medicine!
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially warmer fluids. With the dryer air inside and out, winter can be a particularly challenging time to stay hydrated! Consuming adequate fluids supports all of your bodies’ functions including the immune system. Make soups and broths  (from scratch with fresh vegetables is always best) and have them throughout the week. Drink herbal teas like ginger and echinacea daily. Keep a bottle of filtered water with you at all times. Avoid concentrated fruit juices and sweetened beverages, as the sugar content is harmful for the immune system. If you do drink juice, dilute it with 2/3 water!
- Try a daily saline flush. Along with staying hydrated, flushing your sinuses with mild salt water helps to keep mucous membranes moist which protects you from microbes. You can use a neti pot, or easy to carry plastic bottles that come with saline packets to take with you when traveling or even at the office! Be sure to rinse them well with warm water and soap and air dry between uses. Studies have also indicated that flushing one to two times daily is appropriate and you should not go over this.
- Avoid simple sugars as much as possible! This includes those sweet treats and desserts but also the white flour and refined grain products that turn into sugar quickly. Studies have shown that refined sugars can suppress your immune system for hours after ingested.
- Have protein with each meal. Proteins are the building blocks of the body. This includes your immune and detoxification systems. Organic, clean, and lean animal protein as well as plant-based (legumes, nuts/seeds) proteins are important to get with each meal and snack.
- Add garlic, onions, ginger, and lots of spices (oregano, turmeric) to your meals! Add these to your soups and vegetable dishes, as well as bean dips and sauces. Garlic and onions offer wide spectrum antimicrobial properties.
- Eat multiple servings of colorful fruits and vegetables high in vitamins C, A, and phytonutrients that support the immune system. Choose more leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower), peppers, sweet potatoes, and squashes. Aim for three to four servings of fruits and four or more servings of vegetables daily!
- Get sufficient sleep! We all know sleep  restores and heals the body. Without adequate sleep, optimal immune function is next to impossible! Get in a better rhythm and head to bed earlier on those dark winter nights. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Incorporating various relaxation and breathing techniques  throughout the day to help with stress and allow the mind to rest is also very helpful!
- Get regular exercise. Mild to moderate exercise (for approximately 30-45 minutes) helps boost the immune system. Avoid overexertion such as training for endurance events when you are feeling run down. This will lower your immune defenses.
It is critical to support your immune system through natural means to help prevent the flu.
Supplements for Adult Immune Support
Here is an overview of the vitamins, minerals, and herbs you need and why they are important.
- Multivitamin/Mineral: This is the foundation for any health support regimen. It’s a good way to cover the basic vitamins and minerals your body needs for day-to-day function. If you aren’t on a good mulitivitamin you should get and stay on one. Look for a high-quality, broad-spectrum multivitamin and mineral.
- Vitamin D3: Adequate vitamin D status is critical for optimal immune function and this cannot be achieved without supplementation during the winter months. It is best to get your levels of 25 OH vitamin D checked for accurate dosing. Blood levels should be above 30 ng/dl. However, optimal levels are probably closer to 50 ng/dl for most. Many need 5,000 IU or more of vitamin D3 a day in the winter. Start with 2,000 IU for adults, 1,000 IU for children.
- Buffered Vitamin C: The role of vitamin C in supporting the immune system has long been known. Take 500-1,000 mg throughout the day with meals and snacks.
- Zinc citrate: You can take an additional supplement or consume more foods high in this powerful immune supporting nutrient. Seafood—especially oysters—red meat, and pumpkin seeds are the best food sources. Take 30 mg per day.
- Probiotics: A healthy gut flora supports a healthy gut, a major barrier against pathogens and integral to the immune system. Look for brands that offer several species of good bacteria and contain at least 5-10 billion organisms per capsule.
- Fish Oil (Artic Cod Liver Oil): This old time remedy for good health and robust immunity still stands true! In addition to the good fats, cod liver oil contains additional vitamin A and D for added immune protection.
- 1-3, 1-6 Beta Glucans: Research has shown that these compounds up-regulate the function of the innate immune system. This part of your immune system is the first line of defense against viruses and bacteria. It helps your white blood cells bind to and kill viruses and bacteria.
Note: Patients with autoimmune diseases should not take this.
- Natural Anti-Viral/Anti-Bacterial Herbs: Many herbs have broad-spectrum antimicrobial or immune-enhancing effects. Formulas contain different immune boosters such as astragalus, echinacea, green tea extract, elderberry, andrographis, goldenseal, monolaurin, various immune-enhancing mushrooms, and beta 1-3 glucan.
- Cordyceps and Mushrooms Extracts: These provide immune supporting properties. Cooking with medicinal mushrooms like shitake is also helpful.
How to Order Your Immune-Supporting Supplements
To order the kind of supplements I’ve described simply go to The Healthy Living Store  click on Adult Immune Support Kit  or Kid’s Immune Support Kit and add the items you want to purchase to your cart and check out. Supporting your immune system when you may need it most couldn’t be easier.
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below – but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD
(i) Cannell, J., Vieth, R.; Umhau, J., et al. 2006. Epidemic influenza and vitamin D. Epidemiology and Infection. 134 (6): 1129.