Preventing Winter Sickness

With cold and flu season rapidly approaching, it’s a good time of year to think about what you can do to prevent colds and flus in your whole family.

If you have gotten the flu in the past, have a new baby at home or older kids who tend to pass colds to each other, or if you have gotten a complication of a cold or flu like pneumonia, sinusitis or an ear infection, then it’s a good idea to take a few extra steps this year to stay healthy.

The basics count:

How many times have you gotten sick after staying up late and not sleeping enough, rushing from event to event, in the midst of work stress and deadlines? When you are run down, you are more likely to get sick.

Germs, the good and the bad:

Our hands connect us to everyone around us and to their colds and flus.

The good bacteria in your intestines serve an important function in regulating your immune system.

Vitamins for prevention:

Vitamin C: The studies on treatment of colds and flus are mixed. However, Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration of cold symptoms when taken before the onset of a common cold. Although generally safe, vitamin C in high doses (3 to 6 g daily) may cause upset stomach and diarrhea. 500 mg of vitamin C twice a day makes sense for prevention, especially for children who are at high risk of colds, such as those who attend child care centers.

Vitamin D3: Several studies have shown that people who supplemented with adequate levels of Vitamin D3 during the cold and flu season had significantly lower rates of infection. One study from 2010 looked at Japanese school aged children and found that children who received 1200 IU for vitamin D3/ day had a 42% decrease in influenza A. For children, 600 IU is considered an adequate intake, but it may not be sufficient. For children over 1 year old, you can safely give 1000-2000 IU/day. For adults, 1000-2000 IU/day also maintains current vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and the dosage needed to get back to adequate levels may be higher for people who are deficient. Your vitamin D level can be measured with an easy blood test through our office. This is a good time of year to check your level so that if it’s low we can boost it for the winter to protect you again colds and flus.

Elderberry: This berry makes a delicious immune boosting syrup that can be taken daily for cold and flu prevention or multiple times a day at the first sign of illness. Generally considered safe to be given over 2 years old. Over 1 is probably ok. This study showed a shortening of cold and flu symptoms with the use of Sambucol. You can also make your own elderberry syrup using raw honey instead of other sweeteners — just make sure you add the honey after the liquid has cooled in order to maintain its antimicrobial properties. (No raw honey for infants less than 1 year old!)

Jump start your immune system:

This next thing may sound strange. It did to me too, at first. The warming sock treatment is a traditional hydrotherapy treatment from the 1800‘s and it is actually my favorite low tech-high yield way to beat a cold or flu at the first sign of getting sick, because it works so often!

What to do?

  1. If your feet are cool or cold it is important to warm them first. Either soak in warm water for 5-10 minutes, or get in bed and get warmed up.
  2. Next, take a pair of thin cotton socks and thoroughly wet the foot part of the sock up to the ankle with cold water. Squeeze out the excess water.
  3. Place the cold wet socks on your feet. Cover with thick wool socks. Go to bed with plenty of blankets to avoid getting chilled.

With this technique, I find that I sleep really deeply and nine times out of ten I don’t have a sore throat in the morning and I don’t end up getting sick. I think it works by increasing your circulation and in turn stimulating your immune function. Also, getting a good night’s sleep helps your body fight viruses and bacteria.

For small children or those with weaker vitality, wet only the toes of the socks. If you don’t have wool socks for kids, use larger ones folded down. If necessary the Warming Sock Treatment can be repeated for several nights. It should not be done with those who are very weak, those who are averse to wool on their skin, or for those who have a fungal infection on their feet.

If you’d like to further discuss your health concerns, come on in for an appointment at my new Mill Valley location

Be Well!

Alex Zaphiris, MD MS

Dr. Alex Zaphiris

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