If you’re older than 65 or have a chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease, you’re considered at high-risk of developing life-threatening complications from the flu. You may have more control than you realize over whether this happens to you this winter.
Our general public health approach to cold and flu prevention is “attack or be attacked”. Regular use of antibacterial soaps, antibiotics, and flu vaccines that target the “bad guys” are common. However, our lives actually depend on trillions of good bacteria that live inside us and teach our immune system to kill harmful microbes. War strategies that simply target the “bad guy” not only initiate collateral damage against our “good guys”, but may also harm us by neglecting to directly support our immune function.
A healthy digestive tract is critical for immune health. It not only houses most of our good immune-balancing bacteria, but also contains approximately 60% of our immune cells, and is the gateway for absorbing immune stimulating nutrients like zinc and vitamin D. Your absorption of these nutrients may be compromised if you regularly consume stomach acid blocking medication such as Zantac and Losec, have had gallstones, or have a digestive illness such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Disease, or Crohn’s.
Multiple studies link vitamin D deficiency with increased cold and flu susceptibility. In fact,one study found adequate vitamin D levels to be more protective against the flu than the flu shot. Given that only 35% of Canadians may have adequate vitamin D levels, supplementation is an important part of illness prevention. How much vitamin D to take depends on your vitamin D blood levels, which can be measured by your Medical or Naturopathic Doctor. (This test is no longer covered by OHIP.)
A cold and flu prevention plan can significantly reduce your chances of becoming ill and allow you to enjoy time with friends and family this winter season. Engage a health practitioner skilled in medically assessing your nutrient status and digestive health, and who can recommend effective complementary strategies that support rather than harm your body’s optimal immune function.