By Katie Henshaw, BA (Hons) Social Science
26th February 2015
We’re all familiar with the prevalence of the “dreaded lurgy” during the winter months and, for many of us, during the rest of the year too.
What’s the matter with you? Colds Vs. Flu
The common cold is unsurprisingly the most common illness in the entire world affecting adults on average 2-4 times a year and children 6-10 times a year. Its symptoms include often painful sinus congestion and discharge, sneezing, coughing, sore throat and fever. While the common cold is generally benign it certainly doesn’t feel benign and as a result 27.5 million school and work days are lost annually.
The more debilitating influenza (flu) virus infection is one of the world’s most common contagious diseases affecting millions every year. Flu viruses cause 5% to 15% of all acute respiratory infections and their main symptoms include fever, headache, muscle weakness and pain, and total fatigue or exhaustion. The flu virus can be dangerous as it can lead to secondary complications which can be serious, particularly among “at risk” groups such as the under 5s and over 65s, pregnant women and those with diabetes. It can also exacerbate preexisting health conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
While people among these and other “at risk” groups are statistically more likely to develop secondary complications from the flu virus infection, they are also more likely to be susceptible to cold and flu viruses in the first place. This is often due to a weakened immune system which is overstressed, overstretched and struggling to cope under the pressure of cold and flu season.
Therefore, one of the best methods of
preventing yourself falling victim to cold and flu viruses (and thus preventing the possible serious secondary complications of the flu virus) is to provide your immune system with all the nutritional support it needs to function at its best. These viruses are far less able to take root when your natural defenses are high. This applies to everyone, as anyone can catch a cold, but it is particularly crucial for anyone among those “at risk” groups. It is also particularly helpful for anyone who, like myself, comes into contact with these viruses frequently, such as school or hospital staff.
Holistic support for natural resistance
One of the most effective ways of ensuring that your natural defenses are at their best when you need them most is to take a high quality daily multivitamin and mineral supplement all year round. Here at Nature’s Remedies we love Source of Life GOLD by Nature’s Plus which is packed with absolutely everything you could possibly need, including prebiotic fibres, probiotic cultures, and 120 wholefood concentrates. We’re also big fans of Viridian’s High Five multi, a vegan product of exceptional purity made in the UK by a fabulous homegrown company. These are both symbiotic multivitamin and mineral formulas, which means that not only do they have good levels of a broad range of nutrients, but these nutrients are in the right forms and ratios to optimise our ability to absorb and convert them. This is the best you can ask for in a multivitamin and mineral formula.
While many people believe that their nutritional requirements are sufficiently met through their diet this is often not the case. Let’s face it, most of us do not consume seven portions of organic fruit or veg a day. Why is organic so important? Because most of our non-organic produce is cultivated intensively by agro-industry in chemical-soaked, nutrient-deficient soil. Therefore, modern non-organic fruits and veggies lack much of their nutrient content compared to the levels found in their counterparts prior to the wake of the second world war and the development of agro-industry, back when organic food was simply called “food”.
Not only this, but our culture has a distinct lack of seasons and variety when it comes to our supermarket shopping habits. This means that many of us do not consume a diverse range of fruits and veggies on a regular basis including a wide variety of wholefoods such as greens (and yellows, reds and blues!), superfruits, mushrooms, seaweeds, nuts, seeds, pulses and legumes. Therefore, many of us do not benefit from the broad spectrum of highly bio-available plant-based nutrients that consuming a diverse range of these foodstuffs provides. Therefore, many of us could stand to benefit from a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.
While the addition of a year-round, daily multi will significantly improve your natural defenses over time acting as a comprehensive dietary insurance policy, there are also several supplements which can be taken now to bolster immune function and help you fight off the final throes of this year’s cold season.
Vitamin D is vital for maintaining immune function. Research suggests that it is a key factor linking our two natural defense systems – innate immunity and adaptive immunity (more info about these here) – and that taking at least 2000iu of Vitamin D per day markedly reduces the risk of infection. One of the possible explanations for this is that it stimulates the body’s production of anti-viral and anti-microbial proteins.
Our bodies are able to convert Vitamin D from the sun’s rays and we obtain small amounts of it from food-sources such as tofu, mushrooms, oily fish and eggs. However many of us do not either spend enough time in the sun, or absorb enough through our food to create sufficient levels of this vital vitamin by ourselves and so could benefit from taking a Vitamin D supplement. This is particularly important in the winter season given that there is so little sunlight. However, for many of us this is the case regardless of the season, as our lifestyles mean that we get little time to enjoy the sun’s rays without a pane of glass in the way.
Vitamin D has had a firm presence in the news lately with research suggesting that in addition its immune-boosting effects, it may have a long-term beneficial role to play in many areas of our health including the reduction of the risk of type 2 diabetes, and the promotion of bone health and heart health. This suggests that while Vitamin D can give your immune system the short-term boost it needs to get you through cold and flu season, ensuring sufficient levels of it on a continuous long-term basis may also reduce the risk of dangerous complications arising from the flu virus in certain “at risk” groups, such as those with type 2 diabetes and with cardiovascular conditions.
When it comes to vitamin D supplements, we have two particular favourites. Pharma Nord’s Bio-Vitamin D3 5000IU is the most popular among our customers. It comes in tiny easy-to-swallow gelatine pearls and contains a form of Vitamin D extracted from lanolin (a compound found it wool) dissolved in cold-pressed olive oil. While it is the most popular it unfortunately isn’t vegetarian- or vegan-friendly. We do however have a fantastic alternative, Garden Vitamin D by Nature’s Plus provides completely vegetable-based Vitamin D from organic mushrooms along with an organic blend of wholefoods for good measure. One capsule provides 2500iu of Vitamin D (but you can take 2 a day to match the Pharma Nord dose) as well as providing a range of trace minerals and other nutrients.
There is also an interesting phytonutrient called 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan, noted for its immune-boosting and infection-fighting qualities, which may help keep you from succumbing to the cold clutches of “the dreaded lurgy”. There have been some remarkable studies done into 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan which have shown that it strengthen the immune system, improving the ability of white blood cells to fight either bacterial or viral infection on contact. Clinical studies have consistently shown that taking at least 250mg daily significantly reduces infections, especially in people under stress. Although there are many types of Beta Glucans which occur naturally in a variety of foodstuffs, such as oats, it is the very specific 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan occurring naturally in bakers yeast and particular species of mushrooms which has proven benefits for immune health.
Natural relief from colds, infections & congestion
If you do get sick there’s not much you can do naturally other than rest, right? Actually, a number of natural remedies have been shown to speed up recovery and ease the unpleasant symptoms. Interestingly, horseradish and garlic have been used traditionally to treat infections for centuries and it is now understood that they are rich in compounds with immune-boosting anti-viral and anti-microbial activity. Historically, horseradish was used during medieval times for coughs and colds. As for garlic, during the 19th century the famous microbiologist Louis Pasteur recognized its antibiotic properties and used it to treat infections.
A number of studies have found that natural products containing horseradish and garlic can help with infections like the common cold by relieving the symptoms and reducing the time you are sick. Horseradish may also have a decongestant effect, making it extremely useful for the painful sinus congestion which many of us are suffering with at the moment as well as for the nasal discharge, sneezing, coughing and sore throat which often accompany a cold. Whilst you can obtain the benefits of these botanical compounds by eating quantities of raw horseradish and garlic at regular intervals this is not the most convenient, nor the most appetizing of approaches and so we offer it in a capsule form by Viridian, available here.
Several of the nutrients which are useful as preventative measures, including Vitamin D and 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan with their anti-viral and anti-microbial properties can also be used to tackle infections which have taken root. Nutrients such as these, along with Vitamin C and Zinc, are vital to immune health and are particularly useful for fighting infection when taken in conjunction with something to provide symptomatic relief such as horseradish and garlic. Several studies have shown that Vitamin C at daily doses of 1000-2000mg can help to both prevent infection and to shorten the recovery time of cold and flu symptoms. Additionally, in a review of fifteen clinical studies, Zinc was shown to significantly reduce both symptoms and severity of the common cold. We offer a great one-a-day product, Viridian’s Beta Glucan Complex which is a combination of 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan, Zinc, and vitamins C and D.
To conclude, there really are plenty of effective options within the realms of natural and holistic medicine when it comes to colds and flu. The right range of the correct nutrients can give your immune system the boost it needs to both help prevent colds and flu (when taken proactively) and to help provide symptomatic relief and speed up recovery time (when taken retroactively). Additionally, ensuring that your requirements for key nutrients such as vitamins C & D and Zinc are sufficiently provided for on a long-term, continuous basis may help to reduce the risk of dangerous secondary complications arising from the flu virus as well increasing resilience to cold and flu viruses themselves.
If you have any queries about this article or immune health feel free to contact us, or visit us in-store for a friendly chat.
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