cold-and-flu-seasonLate-breaking science… Learn how to boost your immune system!

When we get an infection, there are two basic classes of infection: bacterial (from unfriendly bacteria) and viral (from viruses). With a few rarely-divulged facts, you can learn how to help prevent getting sick this season from these infections, as well as a few options to mitigate the effects from them and shorten their duration if you do get sick. Let’s talk about bacteria and you….Did you know that 90% of the cells in our bodies are not human? Along those lines, did you know that therefore the DNA contained in our bodies is only 1% human and, you guessed it, almost 99% bacterial?

The digestive tract constitutes 80% of the immune system and billions of those bacteria live there: 15% of them potentially harmful, but 85% of them are beneficial to us. Keeping the good bacteria alive and active is key to not only preventing respiratory infections but lessening their severity and duration. Therefore, when you feel that your immune system is under attack from a bacterial infection, consider loading your system with probiotics (the beneficial bacteria for your body which fight and keep things in balance against infectious bacteria).

There are over four hundred strains of bacteria in the human gut and each of us have a mix of strains that is unique to us. The balance of good and bad bacteria in your body can be imbalanced not only by the use of antibiotics but also by stress, excessive alcohol use, diseases, smoking, and toxins in the body which allow harmful bacteria to thrive. To bring your body’s bacteria back into balance, good bacteria are needed to repopulate the gut.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, children aged three to five years were treated with two types of probiotics. Their results: a 44% reduction in runny nose, a 54% reduction in cough and a 63% lower incidence of fever. Importantly, children on the probiotics experienced an 80% reduction in antibiotic use and suffered symptoms for an average of only 3.4 days compared to a placebo group who experienced symptoms for an average of 6.5 days. The results led the authors to conclude that daily consumption of probiotics significantly reduced the incidence and duration of respiratory tract infection symptoms in children.

In addition to promoting a strong immune system, probiotics are known to promote healthy digestion, improve the amount of nutrients absorbed from food, help with the synthesis of certain vitamins, help prevent tooth decay, help to lower serum cholesterol, treat eczema in children, help prevent diarrhea, and reduce the risk of colon and bladder cancers.

If you must take antibiotics, know that these kill off your beneficial bacteria as well as the harmful ones. Probiotics have been clinically proven to have the ability to specifically boost the immune system while under attack. Therefore, ensure that you take probiotics when you have completed taking your prescription regimen in order to “re-load” your system with much-needed beneficial bacteria to help you in your recovery and keep you immune system stronger. And note that probiotics are not something to take only when you feel sick, but something to take on a regular basis to help maintain good health. Additionally, research demonstrates that natural plant extracts (phytonutrients) called polyphenols from plants such as pomegranate, grape seed, persimmon, green tea and red grapes possess potent antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity (e.g. S. aureus, E.coli, S. mutans, L.monocytogenes, C.albicans, Influenza virus) and have been shown to modulate complex cellular pathways to support the immune system to fight the invasion of pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses.

Now, about viral infections….

Viruses are not bacteria, but entities which are very distinct and operate very differently in our bodies to cause illness.   Until recently, it was not known exactly how viruses were operating to invade and re-invade the body and have their way with us. Scientists at MIT have now discovered how the flu virus is able to quickly infect its host by first targeting and then killing off special cells of the immune system that are actually best equipped to neutralize the virus. Importantly, a viral infection cannot be fought with an antibiotic – these can only potentially help in the case of bacterial infections. While no medication is on the market which is deemed truly effective in protecting against a viral attack, and even vaccines are being questioned as to their true efficacy and safety, some phytonutrients are coming to the forefront to defend our bodies against viral invasions. Research is demonstrating these compounds to have the ability to prevent the viruses from attaching to our cells, invading our cells and causing the viral proteins to form aggregates and thus inhibit virus replication. They are also demonstrated to significantly suppress the increased free radical production (ROS) level in cells following influenza infection. With each mechanism of action by the polyphenol, the virus can therefore not successfully invade its host or successfully multiply, and thus is unable to continue causing illness.

 

Just so you know, a “Cold” is an infection of the upper respiratory tract that may be caused by a number of viruses, while “Flu or Influenza” is a more severe viral infection with symptoms that tend to last longer and cause significant debility. To treat these “viral infections” nearly $3 billion of over the counter (OTC) medicines are purchased each year in USA, but randomized trial evidence suggests minimal effectiveness. In fact, to put things into perspective, the pharmaceutical drug for influenza Tamiflu has been shown to be no more effective than placebo in a recent study by the Cochrane team for Evidence Based Medicine at Bond University, Australia.

So, what can you do?…

Consider the following:

  1. Adopt the WHACK principle: Wash your hands…Stay at Home …Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth….Cover your coughs and sneezes …Keep your distance from sick people.
  2. Keep out of the hospital
  3. Mild exercise (but not if fluish)
  4. Adequate sleep
  5. And particularly adopt the following seven recommendations:
  • Take a mixed-polyphenol supplement. Initiate treatment as soon as symptoms manifest and take sufficient doses, with a need for need early and aggressive treatment. This class of supplement is a great part of a daily preventative regimen for general regenerative health.
  • Keep adequate blood levels of vitamin D (from sunshine or supplementation with vitamin D capsules along with vitamin K2. Remember vitamin D is fat soluble, therefore take with the main meal)
  • Zinc supplementation (Zinc lozenges preferably. In adults: 75-100 mg of Zinc in the first 24 hour period for 1 day only).
  • Consume adequate vitamin C intake in the form of berries and supplemental vitamin C.
  • Take Curcumin extract early in the illness.
  • Consume small amounts (i.e., 1 tsp. twice a day while you are unwell) of natural, unprocessed honey, Manuka honey is preferable (note: No honey to be used in babies under the age of 1-year of age).
  • Take adequate probiotics.

 

Many other herbs such as allicin/garlic extract, Echinacea, olive leaf extract, astragalus and andrographis may be beneficial. However, the seven recommendations outlined above, when taken early, i.e., at the first sign of cold or flu symptoms, may help to reduce the symptoms and duration of illness. Of great importance is preventative action, along with improving and maintaining proper nutritional status, plus daily polyphenol and probiotic supplementation, be it dietary, supplemental or a combination thereof. This can help to improve the immune response to any infection, be it viral or bacterial. Be well!