Updated: Feb 16, 2021
Are you worried about getting the flu or getting the flu again?
Are you worried that you cannot afford another missed day at work because of sickness?
I’ve been very fortunate to not have succumb to the bacteria and virus waves going through the community and my home. Not only once but TWICE. I’ve heard several of you getting sick twice this season. It is particularly "germy" this time of year and is especially important to optimize the nutrition of the body.
The body has amazing capabilities to fend off foreign substances and works 24/7 to keep up well. We become unwell when we are overly stressed, exposed to numerous toxic substances in our everyday living, and have little to no nutrition in our diets available to the body. It no wonder any added exposure of a virus or microbe that makes us ill can take advantage of our already weakened immune system.
When I feel myself feel like I am starting to come down with sickness, I maximize on the 4 nutrients I discuss below. If you are traveling with others or come in contact with someone who is sick, then be sure to optimize these nutrients in those times to give your body extra protection.
It has been shown that around 70-80% of the body’s immune system resides in the gut (1). Meaning our ability to be well and be resilient against microbes in the environment and not succumb to things like the cold and flu depend on the wellness of our gut. Below are 4 nutrients that are big players in creating a good foundation of gut health and provide overall wellness for the body, especially during the seasonally sick times of year.
The first one many of you may know is...
1.) Vitamin C
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid. Vitamin C is abundant in vegetables and fruits. A water-soluble vitamin and is a powerful antioxidant, it helps the body form and maintain connective tissue, including bones, blood vessels, skin, and the gut lining throughout the GI tract. Supplemental vitamin C has been shown to also lessen the duration and symptoms of the common cold and support in maintaining a healthy immune function.
You may be deficient in vitamin C if you experience fatigue, muscle weakness, joint and muscle aches, bleeding gums, and leg rashes. Prolonged deficiency can cause scurvy, a rare but potentially severe illness.
Vitamin C is easy to get through foods, as many fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C. Good sources include: apples, asparagus, berries, broccoli, cabbage, melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon), cauliflower, citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges), kiwi, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach), peppers (especially red bell peppers, which have among the highest per-serving vitamin C content), potatoes, and tomatoes. (2,3,4)
1.) Vitamin D
Vitamin D has multiple important roles in protecting against sickness. Having adequate levels of vitamin D ensures tight junctions between microvilli in the small intestines. Having low vitamin D increases the risk of intestinal permeability and the development of inappropriate immune reactions such as food sensitivities and chronic inflammation.(5)
Vitamin D has a pivotal role in increasing immune system strength and keeping the balance between innate and adaptive immune system reactions. Having low vitamin D predisposes one to develop autoimmune disease (6) as well as encourage more frequent cases of getting sick throughout the year.
Vitamin D is also considered a steroid hormone. Hormones are considered messengers that communicate various signals throughout the body giving a continued update on the status of our internal world. Vitamin D in this case is a messenger in having the ability to control the expression of over 200 genes, including many which increase the likelihood for developing autoimmune diseases. (7)
Our body’s skin can naturally synthesize sunlight to make vitamin D, however if you live in the northern hemisphere the UV radiation from the sun is not strong enough to make adequate levels our body needs to have optimal levels. In this case, I suggest using a high quality supplement with Vitamin D3 as Cholecalciferol. You can generally get your vitamin D levels checked annually from getting your annual physical with labs (which I hope you get and if not do so it is covered by insurance). Optimal Vitamin D levels should be in the 50-60 ng/ml range. If you have levels under 30 ng/ml it is important to work with your doctor or another medical professional on getting those levels up safely. Note vitamin levels are highly individualized and are only optimal for whatever your needs are. (8)
There are not many foods with vitamin D. Some foods with vitamin D are fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified foods.(9)
3.) Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it needs fat in the diet to be broken down and absorbed. Vitamin A is responsible for the antioxidant beta-carotene which is what makes the orange, yellow and red color found in foods such as carrots, peppers, and squash. It is responsible for creating an appropriate messaging system in the gut lining to know when and when not to react to substances that go through the GI tract. Those with autoimmunity have issues with an overactive messaging system in their GI tract as it has been shown that those with low autoimmunity tend have low vitamin A in their gut.
Having low vitamin A promotes the lack of ability to differentiate between “good” and “bad” microbes in the body. This means that even normal everyday foods or substances that go through the body could potentially be seen as “bad” and trigger symptoms such as diarrhea. (10) So it is important to have adequate levels of vitamin A if we want to limit our experience of symptoms of the cold and flu, as symptoms are messages to the body that things are unwell and need support.
Some foods high in the immunity building vitamin A are leafy greens such as spinach and kale, carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos, pumpkins, peppers, broccoli, beef liver, and cantaloupe.
Zinc is a metal that we need small amounts daily in our diet and must come from our food or supplementation. However, the small intake we need it is actually a very common deficiency in many people throughout the world.
Zinc is responsible for over 300 enzyme reacting functions throughout the body. Many of those functions of zinc support the health and development of immune cells. The ability of zinc to function as an anti-oxidant and help create stable cell membranes suggests that it has a role in preventing free radical injury during the various processes of inflammation. Zinc as quoted from a research paper below is also shown to control acute and chronic diarrhea often experienced with the flu, respiratory infections, and other incidences of infections.
“Several studies have shown the benefits of zinc supplementation on infectious diseases in humans. In double-blind placebo-controlled trials of zinc supplementation, zinc reduced the incidence and duration of acute and chronic diarrhea and acute lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children . Zinc supplementation of sickle cell anemia patients in a placebo-controlled trial resulted in decreased incidence of staphylococcus aureus pneumonia, streptococcus pneumonia tonsillitis, and E. coli urinary tract infections. Our recent studies have shown that zinc supplementation to elderly subjects results in a significant decrease in the incidence of infections.” (11)
Some foods high in zinc are animal products like beef, pork, and chicken, seafood such as lobster and crab, as well as baked beans, nuts and seeds. (12)
If you are looking for a calming drink to fight the cold and flu symptoms and carries most of these nutrients and more, then brew up a quick and easy cup with my Honey, Lemon, and Ginger Tea recipe. It’s less than 5 ingredients and I promise it will calm most sickly feelings almost immediately.
Maximize these four nutrients throughout the cold and flu season and you will be much less likely to succumb to the symptoms you see and hear so many people fall into.
Blessings to you and your health,