During fall and winter, our immune systems are often more vulnerable to viruses and microbial opportunists. Keeping infections at bay during the winter months can become a challenge. Common sense prevention helps to maintain immune system competency. An optimal diet, refraining from consumption of excessive refined sugar, regular exercise, stress reduction, meditation, laughter, smiling, and regular sleep support an enhanced immune system. From a nutritional perspective, I would like to outline some of the more successful, therapies I have found most helpful over the years.
- Vitamin D. It is imperative that we maintain optimum vitamin D levels, especially throughout the fall and winter months. Those living in the northern latitudes will often experience a significant decline in optimal vitamin D3 levels during the winter. That is because less sunlight suppresses vitamin D activation. (required for converting vitamin D2 to vitamin D3). The range on a blood test for vitamin D, depending on the lab, is approximately 30 to 120. Many experts feel that a range of 60-70 to be optimal. I am often surprised at the number of people who, even in the middle of summer after substantial time outside, have low, deficient, or suboptimal Vitamin D levels. I am also surprised of the variability in supplemental dosing that is often required to maintain optimum vitamin D levels. Very frequently, intramuscular injections of vitamin D3, ranging in dose from 400,000 to 800,000 units per injection, are required to bring levels of vitamin D3 to normal. As a matter of fact, in my clinical experience, I have found that providing a vitamin D3 intramuscular injection to patients in the fall can avert the risks of a significant cold or flu syndrome during the winter. It is important to follow up with routine blood tests to determine adequate serum levels, and surprisingly, even with a high level dose, some people will still be deficient. In addition, oral vitamin D3, or even transdermal vitamin D3, as a cream, can be very effective. Again, the dose can very person to person, and what I have found is that for many patients, the predictability of vitamin D3 decline can be ascertained by their clinical status changes following injection. For example, we often refer to the vitamin D3 injections in the office as “liquid sunshine.” For many individuals, they notice that following a vitamin D3 injection, their mood perks up, they feel happier, their memory and focus improve, inflammation patterns go down, and overall subjective well being improves rather dramatically. In those individuals as well, sometimes they will notice over the course of time of about 1-2 months, some of those effects will begin to dissipate, especially during the winter. In that case, those individuals might need booster dose at some point during the winter. Measuring levels is obviously important, but I do find that the anticipated low levels on a blood test often can be predicted ahead of time by watching the trend and clinical benefit from those having received the injection after they have noted feeling substantially better.
- Transfer Factor. This has been my most favorite immune-enhancing supplement. Transfer Factor is a peptide isolated from milk that operates as an educational protein to enhance immune system function. Generally through the winter, I find it helpful to take 1-2 a day. However, the real magic with Transfer Factor is at the first sign of cold and flu systems. Taking an increased dose can make a big difference. Very often during the winter, if an individual feels these general symptoms occurring, if they took four capsules at night before bed, the cold or flu symptoms would be gone by the next morning. In more severe situations, I usually would recommend that patients take 4 capsules 3 times a day until the symptoms resolve.(which would usually be 1-3 days). I have seen many times over the years that if an individual would start that dose at the same time when all their family members are ill, then their symptoms would abate in 2-3 days. For others it would last 1-2 weeks. Transfer Factor is also helpful for immune system enhancement in ongoing treatment of immune dyscrasias, such as chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome(CFIDS).
- Immune-Max. This is a liquid herbal preparation that has been used for a number of years as a generalized immune enhancer, but I find it particularly helpful for what I generically call “sick kid syndrome.” These are young individuals that seem somehow to succumb to every noxious virus or bacteria that inhabits the typical school system. They often miss a lot of school and seem to be frequently sick and are often slow to recover. In clinical studies, the composition of Immune-Max have shown to diminish frequent occurrences of infections, especially during the vulnerable season.
- Homeopathics. I have two favorite homeopathics I have found very helpful at the onset of cold or symptoms. I will often use these in conjunction with vitamin D3 and often in children with the Immune-Max. They are Oscillococcinum. They are available at most retail outlets, including pharmacies, and at our office. These are homeopathic nutritional supplements and often can be used at the initial signs of cold or fluid symptoms. Starting that supplementation immediately tends to help abate and diminish the overall expansion of the symptoms.
- Special consideration to sinus inflammation and infections. For many people who are vulnerable to cold and flu symptoms, it can rapidly progress and involve the sinuses and sometimes start in that area. The two best adjuncts for immediate relief that I have seen are using a xylitol nasal spray (X-Clear) and our compounded sinus RX cream, which is a cream using topical antibiotics and antifungals as well as natural antihistamines. The X-Clear (xylitol) can be very helpful at reducing the bacterial load in the sinus cavity when used as a nasal spray. The sinus RX cream is very helpful when applied directly into the nasal area by Q-tip, just by squirting some of the cream on a Q-tip. That allows the delivery of the active ingredients directly to the sinus cavity, thereby bypassing the digestive tract, and sparing the probiotic bacteria.