With shorter days and colder weather, many people have trouble finding the motivation to stay healthy during the winter. But letting healthy habits slip erodes the foundations of health and weakens the immune system.
Add to that an overexposure to toxins, a deficit of essential nutrients, and increased emotional stress, and you’re greatly raising susceptibility to disease.
Let’s face it: in most people, the immune system really takes a beating during the winter. Pathogens, old and new, can both trigger and expose the body’s imbalances. And here in the trenches of medicine, we mistakenly fight with the consequence rather than remediate the causes.
It is no wonder that almost 20% of the US population gets the flu or cold each year. In general, the wintertime is when risk is highest.
But this does not have to be the case. Wintertime illnesses should not be a foregone conclusion.
The following tips can prepare people for what winter has in store for us, and more. Here are my six top winter immune health essentials:
Vitamin C / Ascorbate: Buffered ascorbate is a vital nutrient with many virtues, supporting the immune system being a major one. As an antioxidant, it supports repair by decreasing oxidative stress – one of the main drivers of inflammation and immune system overload.
Vitamin C supplementation decreases cold severity and duration while improving physical activity levels and decreasing fatigue. That’s not all; vitamin C also detoxifies the body of toxic minerals and is also a crucial nutrient for healthy bones.
Every person is different, so it is important to help each patient figure out how much ascorbate he or she needs.
To do this, I recommend a process I call the "C Cleanse Protocol." It involves having the patient take repeating doses of buffered, l-ascorbate powder dissolved in water, in increments of 15 minutes, until there is a complete evacuation of the digestive tract (very watery stools).
The amount of ascorbate needed to induce this “flush” will tell you a lot about someone's overall ascorbate status.
Begin with half a teaspoon of ascorbate per glass of water if someone is generally healthy; 1 teaspoon if someone is slightly unwell, and 2 teaspoons if someone is ill.
The total amount required to induce the flush can be used to calculate how much supplemental ascorbate someone should take. I generally recommend 75% of the flush-inducing amount as a good daily dosing guideline, although it is fine to start anywhere between 5-50% of the dose level that triggers the GI flush.
Polyphenols: Polyphenols are the flavonoids and flavanols found in colorful fruits and vegetables. These compounds are strong antioxidants.
Quercetin can work in tight synergy with ascorbate, making both nutrients that much more effective when combined together. Anywhere from 0.5-20 grams of quercetin dihydrate coupled with soluble oligomeric proanthocyanadins (OPC) can reduce oxidative stress and activate tissue repair.
Fully buffered ascorbate and flavonoid / flavonol complexes work synergistically, are anti-histaminic and hormone-sparing as well. Adequate ascorbate intake is essential for optimum quercetin efficacy.
Quercetin dihydrate and reduced glutathione both enhance the reduction of dehydroascorbic acid (oxidized ascorbate) back to its ascorbate form.
During the process of free radical scavenging, if there is not enough ascorbate and glutathione, then undesired metabolites tend to accumulate. By optimizing intake of ascorbate as guided by the aforementioned C Cleanse approach, patients can ensure optimum polyphenol utilization.
As a general rule of thumb, for every 5g ascorbate, one should supplement with 1g of polyphenols.
Vitamin D3: Among its many important physiological functions, vitamin D plays an essential role in immune health. It supports respiratory tract health effectively and reduces the incidence of common seasonal infections by stimulating naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides.
These peptides are found in immune cells throughout the body, including cells lining the upper and lower respiratory tract; they fight off viruses and bacteria that cause common respiratory infections.
Ironically, it is in the wintertime—when many people are already vulnerable to infection—that vitamin D deficiency peaks; people in Northern latitudes tend to stay indoors during the winter, and seldom get enough sun exposure to synthesize the vitamin D they need.
For many, vitamin D3 supplementation is wise all year long, but the need really surges during the colder months.
I recommend taking enough to support serum 25-OHD levels of 50-80ng/ml.
Zinc: This mineral has a pivotal role in controlling infections and boosting the immune system by working with the “first-responder” cells to create the appropriate balanced immune response.
Zinc can prevent rhinovirus from multiplying and lodging in the mucous membranes of the throat and nose. While it has many other benefits such as promoting wound healing, mitigating acne, and regulating appetite, it is an immune system must-have during winter.
Best taken as a lozenge, I usually recommend 15-75 mg of zinc in the citrate, glycinate, and aspartate forms for suitable absorption.
Probiotics: More than 70% of the immune system is in the digestive organs. Probiotics improve the health of the digestive tract and support healthy immune function.
It naturally makes sense to see that the gut is provided with the beneficial bacteria it needs. I recommend doing this via fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. But for many patients, supplementation makes total sense. Live, active, hardy Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains are especially helpful in reducing the impact of respiratory infections.
A daily intake of 5-25 billion organisms (CFUs) is ideal for keeping the gut prepared for healthy digestion and immune support during the winter months.
Alkaline lifestyle: What we eat, drink, think, and do makes us who and what we are. The right food and supplement choices nourish not only our bodies, but our minds and spirits as well.
It’s all a matter of balance. The cells of our body are always seeking to keep the balance tilted towards the alkaline state. The foods we choose to eat greatly impact this delicate balance.
To keep the immune system healthy and strong, choose a diet rich in greens, nuts & seeds, fruits and vegetables with high antioxidant and mineral content. These all help support the alkaline state. A diet high in processed foods, sugar, excessive protein and fat on the other hand acidifies the body and slows down the cellular machinery, making one less resilient.