Cold and Flu

Building your immune system is important for all ages

by Dr. Bryn Hyndman, MD

mom give child warm soup for cold and flu

One cold and wet day, I was at an integrative medical clinic and a large, brightly-coloured chalk board in the waiting room read: “Winter is not cold and flu season. It is a deficiency of sunlight, fresh air, and Vitamin D season.” 

This got me thinking: Why do we get more colds and flus in the winter? Can we change destiny? What can we do to minimize the intensity and frequency of colds and flus? 

Something about Vitamin D 

 A perfect storm starts brewing in September: we spend more time indoors, with groups of people, and with less fresh air and daylight. Temperatures cool and the air becomes drier, allowing viruses to proliferate more readily. 

Then comes Halloween — rife with sugary treats before, during, and after — and a late cold fall evening for kids (and many accompanying adults). 

Before we know it, December arrives with people gathering indoors, more sugary treats, and less routine sleep schedules. By this point in the season, our blood levels of Vitamin D will have been depleted if we aren’t supplementing daily.

 It takes your body three months to replete vitamin D to healthy levels. So, if you are borderline low in September, there’s a good chance you’ll be deficient by winter. 

For many patients, I recommend having their Vitamin D level tested at the end of the summer. 

I also recommend that many adult and children  patients begin supplementing with Vitamin D promptly in September, to avoid a deficiency when it is needed most — during darker the winter months. 

It is not essential that you have your blood Vitamin D3 level tested before supplementing. 

I suggest you speak to your doctor for your recommended daily amount, and discuss taking Vitamin D3 combined with Vitamin K2. It is a fat soluble vitamin, so taking it with a small amount of fat containing food is ideal. 

Infections and recovery time 

Your  immune system requires regular exercise, much like your body does. It exercises by hosting new viruses, which stimulates it to create antibodies and chemicals that act as messengers to kill viral and bacterial cells and return you to good health. 

Ideally, when you get sick, your symptoms are bothersome but manageable, and you can clear them within 3 or 4 days. 

But if your body isn’t supported adequately, and you don’t rest and recuperate, these pesky infections can drag on, delaying your return to work or your kids’ return to school. 

5 things to know about respiratory tract infections 

The respiratory tract includes ear and throat infections, chest infections, coughs, sniffles, and eye infections (e.g. pink eye). 

Most of these infections are caused by viruses: It is estimated that nine of 10 respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses, not bacteria. And most of these viruses will simply pass through and leave you bothered but unharmed. 

This is when it pays to take care of your body and give your immune system the ammunition it requires to squelch an infection promptly and return you to good health. 

The outliers of viral infection concerns are Covid- 19 and the influenza viruses, as these can have devastating impacts. For the immunocompromised, and sometimes, for reasons we haven’t yet discovered, for some healthy people, these viruses can be life threatening. But for most of us, viral infections are more bothersome than worrisome. 

Antibiotics are not helpful for viral infections. In most cases, we can avoid them and spare our microbiome the extreme impact of wiping out billions of healthy gut cells while lessening the chances of anti-microbial drug resistance.  

Three to five days is the normal duration of a respiratory tract infection. If a fever persists or is increasing after three days — or if other symptoms are worsening — see a medical practitioner. This is when a super infection could take hold. 

A superinfection is a bacterial infection has developed in addition to your viral infection, or you may have had a bacterial infection all along. Aside from a swab for group A strep, (known as strep throat), it can be difficult to diagnose these rare bacterial infections. 

Be prepared! Educate yourself on how to minimize the frequency and intensity of your sick days this fall and winter: 

The value of rest and sleep 

As soon as you feel symptoms or notice symptoms in your child, act! Cancel your appointments and plans, work from home, and rest on demand. Stress is almost always a factor when my patients get sick. Become aware of how much you are doing, and why you are doing it. Taking on too much can raise your cortisol, which can impair your immune system. 

Your body requires internal energy to tackle all infections. Dialing back your schedule and doing less frees up valuable energy for your body to heal itself. 

I have seen that the more people rest and sleep, the sooner their bodies will clear the infection. Get as much as you can. 

Food focus 

If your appetite is gone, food is not essential, but being well hydrated is. Ensure you are drinking 1.5L to 2L of fluids per day, especially if you are not eating. 

Embrace hot drinks and any form of fresh ginger, lemon, honey, or garlic (if you can handle the latter). I use a blend of ginger root and lemon with water and drink a cup every morning and evening if I feel symptoms starting. 

Dairy and sugar can increase mucous, so I suggest you avoid these and see if symptoms improve. 

Sugar can suppress white blood formation. Avoid sugary snacks and foods and eat fruit instead. 

Embrace cooked vegetables, bone broth, stews, soups, and nourishing whole foods. 

Movement matters 

Refrain from vigorous physical activity until you are feeling 100%. 

A walk outdoors is healthy, so long as you are bundled up and keep warm. If you get cold, your body must use precious energy reserves to warm you, which diverts energy from your hard working immune system! 

Purpose party 

Your sole purpose is to support your body’s defences. So rest. It is hard to dial back your performance and work less. Do it. You are worth it! 

Immune system support 

Please make note that this is not is not medical advice. 

A health care professional experienced with herbal medicine and nutritional supplements can support you for immune system health. 

It’s also important to recognise how immunity supplements that work for you, may not work for someone else, and visa versa. There is no one formula. 

The following is simply what works for me, and what I have used successfully with many patients. 

Let’s take a look. High dose for three consecutive days to be prescribed by a health care professional: 

Vitamin A and Vitamin D3 with K2 

Andrographis: 2 tablets every 3-6 hours, maximum 8 tabs daily. 

Vitamin C with bioflavonoids: 2,000 mg every 3-6 hours, maximum amount to bowel tolerance (excess vitamin C causes loose bowels). 

Zinc picolinate: 15 mg daily with food until symptoms resolve. 

Nebulizer: liquid propolis and  saline are both helpful for coughs and nasal congestion. 

My family has started using a nebulizer, and as I am writing this my eleven-year-old son is nebulizing liquid propolis for his cough and congested nose. He loves it because he feels his nose clear immediately. He is also using a neti pot for his nasal congestion. 

I suggest watching videos of how these devices work. Then you (or your child) will know what to expect. Some clinics also offer nebulized glutathione as a treatment for respiratory tract infections and asthma. 

I also took my son for this treatment for his cough, and it did help. Nebulized glutathione must initially be tried under medical supervision, so do not try this at home for your first time.

3 things to take away from this article 

Sleep and rest (on your couch or bed) are the most powerful medicines. You will heal faster, the sooner you get to ‘rest.’ 

Drink plenty of fluids and keep hydrated. Warm fluids infused with fresh ginger, lemon juice, and honey have antibacterial properties. Garlic does too if you can handle it in your drinks. Eat lightly so your digestive system isn’t depleted of energy by heavy meals. 

Stock your immunity arsenal now! You will want to have quality supplements on hand as soon as you (or your child) feel symptoms beginning. This can shorten the duration of your illness.  

Dr. Bryn Hyndman, MD, is an Integrative Medical Doctor. Bryn is passionate about translating knowledge and sharing tools to empower others to design a lifestyle that serves their physical and mental health. She examines lifestyle with her clients through the lens of food, movement, sleep, purpose and connection.