Do you feel that?
The leaves have fallen, and the cold air has swept in. You may have already had your first snowfall of the year.
Yes, winter is on its way, and while the shift from fall to winter pleases many, it also comes with its consequences for our health.
With the onset of winter comes the onset of cold and flu season.
Many people only report getting sick a few times a year - typically during the change of seasons.
Whether you blame it on the holiday stress, the holiday food, or the chill air - why is it that illness often follows the change of seasons?
The answer comes back to how you define health.
Health is your ability and capacity to adapt to an ever-changing environment.
Transitional times in our lives can often leave us feeling a little under the weather with symptoms such as changes in appetite, energy and mood. A transitional time shared by most of us, which has a direct affect on our physical health, is the change of seasons.
This is because many of us have deficiencies in our health that only come out when our bodies are under a little extra stress. I believe that its important to pay attention to how your body responds to the change of seasons as it is a great indicator of your underlying health.
Those of us who get sick during the change of seasons could likely benefit from improving our exercise, getting outdoors, and shoring up our eating habits. But you might already be worrying that it’s too late - the cool weather is already coming in fast, the leaves are already falling off the trees, and the sniffles have already arrived.
You might feel that finding some additional support for your immune system wouldn’t hurt and might actually help you get through the change of seasons unscathed.
I surveyed some time-tested supplemental and herbal remedies that may help support your immune system this year:
Vitamin D is actually a potent hormone that affects every tissue known to the body. Beyond bone health, Vitamin D is actually a strong supporter of immune health. Maintaining healthy vitamin D levels has been suggested to help prevent the flu (1). Be sure to stick toVitamin D3 which is better absorbed thanVitamin D2 also known as ergocalciferol.
Vitamin C is one of the most well-known immune supports known to many families. Often, we take high does of Vitamin C to help reduce the duration of the flu, but maintaining your levels with a healthy diet or supplementation may also help prevent the flu (2). Many dosages start at 250-500mg, but some doctors dose much higher. A buffered vitamin C with bioflavonoids can help with gastrointestinal upset.
Vitamin E is known as an important antioxidant for our fatty tissues and cell membranes. Vitamin E also helps support our immune system, and may specifically support viral immunity (3; 4). Look for a "mixed tocopherol" form of Vitamin E.
Zinc is known to support healing of tissues, particularly the reddened and inflamed tissues often associated with a scratchy and sore throat. Zinc lozenges are another remedy that is commonly turned to during the Fall season.
One review of Zinc for the common cold showed positive benefit in 7 of the 11 studies included in the study, but despite the positive evidence, the authors concluded that the therapeutic benefit of zinc had still yet to be established (5). Zinc also helps support the health of the gastrointestinal lining, where at least 60% of our immune system resides.
Echinacea is widely noted for its anti-bacterial and immune-stimulating properties. Colds and flus, however, are caused by viruses - not bacteria. This leads some to believe that echinacea can be misused when it comes to colds and flus.(6). Seek a high quality Echinacea from a natural health professional as quality can vary significantly. I like MediHerb's Echinacea Premium which should be dosed at the discretion of your health provider.
Honey & Bee Propolis:
Honey-lemon tea is commonly turned to for sore throats. The honey helps coat irritated membranes and soothe coughs. Honey itself also has anti-microbial properties. The tartness of the lemon may help to reduce phlegm. Bee propolis is different from honey and is actually bee “spit” that can be taken as a daily supplement. It is also known for its antimicrobial and immune-enhancing properties. I personally like Dr. Ohhira's Propolis Plus from Essential Formulas.
Garlic, tasty as it is, offers general immune-enhancing support alongside it’s well-known cardiovascular health benefits. Support for it’s use against cold and flu is still thin according to the research (7), but it has been suggested in the research that when you improve cardiovascular health, you inevitably support immune health, therefore secondarily helping to prevent the cold and flu. Garlic allergies and sensitivities can be more common than you think, possibly due to its high sulfur content.
There were reports earlier this year of the FDA seizing Elderberry juice from a manufacturer, claiming that Elderberry was an “unapproved drug”. Elderberry extract has been suggested to help reduce the duration of an existing cold or flu. I’ve personally had great experiences with over-the-counter elderberry extract, but results may vary per individual.
Andrographis is a well-studied Ayurvedic herb used in Indian folk medicine for centuries that may help to prevent and treat colds and flus, leading to quicker recovery times and fewer complications (12; 13; 14).
You may find Andrographis in a standardized extract known as Kan Jang which is widely used in Asia.
Monolaurin has been recognized for 50+ years for its anti-viral activity against lipid-coated/enveloped viruses like influenza. Discovered in breastmilk, but commercially derived from coconut oil, monolaurin is recognized for its wide-spectrum anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.
Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, the "father of integrative medicine", recommends monolaurin for use for Herpes infection associated with cold sores.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.
I hope that you can now embrace the shift from summer to fall with confidence that there’s a wide variety of natural supports available to you.
With the shift of seasons comes both a time to reflect on the past, recharge, and gather up fresh energy to take on life’s upcoming challenges.
Nature provides so many valuable tools to us - too many to summarize in just a short article. Eating a healthy diet is only most of the battle. We are hunters and gatherers by nature, and as such, we may depend on nature's botanical gifts in order to coax our bodies into higher levels of health. Please do so with appropriate guidance and in context of existing medications and health conditions.