People regularly ask for my recommendations for staying healthy during the winter season. I always preface my response with the line: “Well, I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but here’s what I do to keep bugs at bay.” Due to some combination of luck, genetics, careful measures and healthy eating, I rarely get sick, and when I do, it’s typically very mild–a runny or stuffy nose for a few days and maybe an annoying tickly cough from the post-nasal drip. I get a bad cold every 5-7 years, usually after allowing myself to get run down, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve had the flu. (I’m touching wood here!!)
Give your body’s natural immunity a fighting chance by going light on the sugar–just 1 teaspoon of sugar can significantly suppress your immune system (see Sugar: How Much Is Too Much). Wash hands often, and get plenty of sleep are the other two mantras of winter bug avoidance strategies. But if you want to “buy” a little extra insurance, these are my recommendations.*
Vitamin C: Take 500 mg once or twice per day. The RDA is about 70 mg, but most of the studies showing the benefits of Vitamin C usage–from preventing eye disease to protection against cardiovascular disease, used at least a 500 mg daily dose. If you have a sensitive stomach, consider taking a non-acidic, buffered option.
Vitamins D3: Take at least 800 IU but up to 2,000 IU per day (The RDA is 800 IU, but there is much discussion about increasing this amount. See Vitamin D: Why Are We Hearing More About It.) I like the liquid version from Source Naturals.
Elderberry extract: I take this (according to instructions) whenever I feel rundown, had a bad night of sleep or know that one of my little ones is coming down with something. It’s an herbal immunity booster. It’s also known as Sambucus and comes in many different forms. I like the liquid extract from Herb Pharm because it’s alcohol-free and doesn’t have added sweeteners like many of the “syrups” do.
Astragalus: I take capsules of this herb (according to instructions) as a preventative measure all through the winter season.
Omega 3: Take 1000+ mg every day all year long for overall health and inflammation reduction.
Echinacea extract: This herb is often combined with Goldenseal, and is most effective when taken at the onset of a cold. It can be taken throughout the day, but formulations containing Goldenseal should not be used by pregnant women.
Zinc: I take this in combination with Selenium to shorten the severity and duration of a cold. In addition to fighting colds, zinc has been used to prevent recurrent ear infections and lower respiratory infections.
I also try to incorporate fresh citrus fruits into beverages and food for the extra Vitamin C and bioflavonoids they provide. Honey made locally by local bees is believed to help with seasonal allergies, which only serve to aggravate cold and flu symptoms. Try a non-caffeinated herbal tea with a teaspoon of honey and half a squeezed lemon added in.
Best wishes for a healthy winter season!