Time to kick off the cacophony of coughing, sneezing, sniffling, nose blowing and groans of misery.
Winter is upon us and so are the cold weather maladies. In the northern hemisphere, the cold and flu season is in full swing from December to February.
To prepare yourself for the battle ahead, make sure you’re armed with the best winter immune boosters – natural ones, of course. You don’t have to fight seasonal cold and flu viruses with the toxic, chemically-loaded concoctions from Big Pharma.Whether or not you’ve turned your back on flu vaccinations, here are our top 7 picks for the best supplements for cold and flu season.
You can’t talk about cold and flu remedies without mentioning echinacea. There’s extensive literature on this herb’s ability to reduce the duration and symptoms of the common cold.
Echinacea can enhance immune activity by increasing the number of immune cells. That means more allies circulating in your bloodstream to attack viruses.
At the first sign of a cold, start taking echinacea daily, but it’s not recommended that you take it for more than 10 days in a row.
In general, we haven’t taken full advantage of monolaurin – at least not yet. But its time to shine is forthcoming.
Monolaurin is a monoglyceride derived from coconut oil, and it has powerful antimicrobial properties. Monolaurin can inactivate various pathogenic fungi (Candida, ringworm), bacteria (H. pylori, staph, strep) and viruses, including the influenza virus.
Monolaurin supplements can be taken for flu prevention and after the fact to lessen the duration of symptoms. And monolaurin works its magic without the toxic chemicals found in flu shots and without contributing to drug resistant strains.
3) N-Acetyl Cysteine
NAC will give you two great benefits during the cold and flu season, but it works year round, too.
First off, this derivative of the amino acid cysteine is a precursor to glutathione, one of the body’s self-made antioxidants. You need antioxidants to protect fragile cells from damage caused by free radicals, but you also need antioxidants, like glutathione and others, to support proper immune function.
Immune cells seek out invading pathogens (bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi) to limit their destructive nature. Without a fast-acting immune system, you’re more susceptible to communicable diseases, like cold and flu, and inflammatory conditions.
Oral glutathione doesn’t fare well during digestion and isn’t well absorbed. Taking a glutathione precursor like NAC, however, allows for the production of intercellular glutathione, and NAC is readily absorbed during digestion.
And let’s say you do succumb to a cold or flu virus that leaves you with an upper respiratory infection. You’re body starts producing goopy mucus and phlegm as an immune response to help trap allergens and pathogens. Which is good, but now your chest and nasal passages become heavy with immune secretions.
Enter NAC, which helps to break down thick mucus and phlegm so you can easily expel it through the airways. NAC may also help to reduce the coughing and wheezing associated with cold and flu.
4) Vitamin D
During the winter months, we’re experiencing fewer hours of daylight. And for those living closer the poles, your days are even shorter.
The cold and wet weather may persuade you to stay indoors, decreasing your time in the daylight. And that’s not always a good deal. When your skin is exposed to sunlight, the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays trigger a chemical reaction that converts a prohormone in the skin into pre-form vitamin D3. The final transformation happens in the liver, where D3 is activated into its usable form.
Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the US. That’s a year round statistic, but your chances of a deficiency are even greater if you’re seeking refuge from the cold by spending more time indoors. And a chronic vitamin D deficiency can have some pretty serious consequences, as vitamin D plays significant roles in bone mineralization, immune function and cancer prevention.
This time of year also brings out the SAD in some people. Also referred to as the winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the depression and fatigue associated with getting fewer hours of daylight. The changes in the natural day/night cycle seem to change how the body secretes certain hormones – more feel good serotonin during daylight and more mellowing melatonin during darkness.
Some healthcare professionals believe that maintaining optimal vitamin D levels can help to keep seasonal depression under control.
It has been estimated that 60-80% of your immune system function comes from your digestive tract. And that’s largely due to the good probiotic bacteria in the gut. Maintaining a thriving probiotic population is important for digestive health, but probiotics also act as a barrier against microbial infections.
Beneficial probiotics help in the production of immune cells and enhance the germ-killing activities these antibodies have against cold and flu viruses.
But not all strains are created equally in the eyes of prevention. Studies have been done to determine which probiotics show better effects against cold and flu viruses. The winners thus far include: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus pentosus, Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
Probiotics work best as a preventative measure, so eating fermented foods or taking a multi-probiotic supplement on a regular basis is wise.
Like other darkly colored berries, the elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is rich in phytonutrients that are high in antioxidants and great for all around health. They especially come in handy when the respiratory system is in trouble.
Elderberry anthocyanins have been shown to boost the production of cytokines, protein secretions that help to regulate immune response. Natural components in the berries help to reduce the swelling of mucous membranes, such as those in the sinuses and lungs, to alleviate congestion.
Concentrated elderberry extracts are the preferred preparations to maximize the cold and flu benefits.
7) Zinc Lozenges
Zinc is an antioxidant mineral that supports immune system function and helps in the prevention aspect, too. But if you do end up a victim of a cold this season, oral zinc won’t do much to lessen the misery. Zinc lozenges, however, may offer reduced severity and duration of symptoms.
As the lozenge slowly melts in your mouth, zinc showers the throat where the virus can be neutralized. Simply swallowing or chewing a zinc supplement isn’t the most efficient way to reap zinc’s benefits. Maximize contact with the throat by sucking for the best results.
Start sucking on zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold and allow them to dissolve completely (avoid chewing them). Just watch out for added sugar content and avoid popping them like candy – no more than 1 every two hours. And avoid using them for more than a week because elevated zinc intake can deplete your copper stores and actually weaken your immune system.
So there you have it. Consider yourself ready for battle!
Give the gift of health this holiday season. Your friends and family would love getting any one of these essential winter supplements – always the right fit and no empty calories!
If you’re looking for more prevention tips, check out this companion article Cold & Flu: How Not To Get It or Spread It.