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Flu Season Isn’t Over Yet: Keep Your Immune System Strong Through the Spring!

At this time of the year many patients ask me how can they enhance their immune system.  The truth is that our immune systems are designed to work just fine if we eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get enough rest.  However, if you find yourself getting sick with an upper respiratory infection (URI) there are some herbs and supplements that can shorten the duration of symptoms.  They work best if taken at the very first sign of a URI, and stopping them when those symptoms clear.

7 Supplements for Immune Health

Elderberry : Elderberry has both antiviral and antibacterial effects. Research suggests its efficacy — even against the H1N1 virus. Four tablespoons of the elderberry fruit syrup Sambucol daily for three days, has been shown to reduce symptoms of fever and muscle ache by about 50 percent. For kids, reduce the dosage to one tablespoon twice a day.

Medicinal Mushrooms: Mushrooms have been shown to work against bacteria, viruses and some forms of detrimental mold. They contain polysaccharides, a component of cells that can prevent bacterial growth in the laboratory setting. I have my patients keep on hand a product known as Mycommunity, which is a blend of 17 fungi types.

Zinc: You want to make sure you’re taking a good multivitamin with zinc – 15 milligrams is generally thought to be a good amount for maintenance, but you can go up to 30 daily.  Zinc glycinate and zinc gluconate are usually well tolerated, and start with 10 milligrams as these are least likely to give you stomach upset. Otherwise, take as directed on the package.

Andrographis:  Andrographis — sold under the name Kold Kare — is an herb widely used in Ayurveda, the traditional form of medicine in India. When started within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms, it can improve symptoms of the common cold.

American Ginseng: There are various forms of ginseng and some may be beneficial if used early in the onset of cold symptoms. Some evidence suggests that taking 200 milligrams twice daily of the American ginseng extract CVT-E002 (brand Cold-fX) during influenza season may decrease the risk of developing URIs, and seems to reduce both the severity and the duration of symptoms. Another combination ginseng product called Kan Jang, which contains Siberian ginseng and Andrographis, may also prove effective.

South African Geranium: A number of studies have shown that extracts of the South African geranium can be helpful in reducing symptoms of bronchitis, sore throat, sinusitis and the common cold. Both children and adults tolerate it well. These products are usually readily available in your local health food store, marketed under the brand name Umcka.

N-Acetylcysteine (NAC): One of my favorites for preventing cold and flu.  NAC is widely used in the medical community for a number of conditions, and has terrific clinical data that shows it to be helpful for patients with chronic respiratory illnesses.  It also helps to keep the immune system in its best condition for warding off illness. It can be helpful with coughs, cold, runny noses – it also converts to Glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant.  I usually recommend 900 milligram tablets – start with one twice daily and increase to two twice daily as needed. Pharmanac, a Canadian brand that comes in an effervescent form is easy to take as a fizzy drink – even for children!

My thoughts on immune enhancement:

If you wanted to take something throughout season that will help to keep you healthy, I’d recommend Vitamin D.  It is essential for immune health, and our levels often drop during the winter months because we get less sun exposure. A large study performed in elderly adults at Yale University suggests that even patients with low-normal levels of Vitamin D are more prone to URI’s than patients with higher levels. Many of us are deficient in Vitamin D, so try at least 2000 iu of vitamin D3 – and include a good quality fish oil, as it will give you an additional D boost but will also serve as  a great antioxidant. One that has at least 1,400mg EFA/925 DHA is a good dose to be used twice daily in patients with underlying asthma and allergies as well.

As in with any supplement, be cautious in taking with medicines, or other herbs or supplements.  Ginseng can interact with medicines for diabetes. Fish oils can cause blood thinning. And if you have allergies or are on medications, please check with your doctor first before adding any new her or supplement.  All of these products must be avoided if you are on medications or other herbal supplements that thin the blood.

I’m here on Thursdays if you need more advice or have chronic sinus or ENT issues – happy to see you for a consultation!

Live in our neighborhood and need help with chronic sinus or ENT issues?  Make an appointment with Dr. Gereau. She will address your concerns and develop an integrative plan that focuses on holistic, high-impact treatments. To make an appointment, call 914-652-7800.

Meet Dr. Gereau: Sezelle Gereau, MD, is an integrative ENT/Allergist with more than 20 years of experience. She uses an integrative and functional medicine approach to conditions such as sleep apnea, headaches, allergies and chronic sinusitis.  

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Turn Off the Effects of Stress on Your Immune System

Stress is really about the degree of change you experience and how much it throws you out of balance.  Studies show that when stress pulls you too far off center, it affects your immune system in a negative way.  The body has a built in stress response for emergencies, which is often called “fight-or-flight.” In general, this is a good thing because it supports you when you need an adrenaline rush and cortisol boost from your adrenal glands to help you run, fight, or face an intense stressor, be it emotional or physical.

But when you think too much, you can get stuck in your thoughts, worrying about the future and replaying the past. At the same time, your adrenal stress hormones get stuck in the “on” position, producing those stress chemicals that have a negative impact on your immune system. It is this chronic stress that is the problem and the type of stress that makes you sick.

When you practice mind-body skills such as meditation, walking in nature, turning off the nightly news, knitting, or singing, to name just a few, you will learn to “turn the switch off” and your system will find balance again. Then you can easily move in and out of stress mode, benefiting from the adrenal boost when you need it and letting your system relax when you don’t.  But remember, learning to relax takes practice!

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Summer Sun and Vitamin D

Everyday, I am asked by someone, whether or not they need to take Vitamin D in the summer. Now that we are in the midst of lots of sunshine and summer is here, I thought this would be a good topic for our August newsletter. Vitamin D is much more than a vitamin. In fact, every cell in your body has a receptor on it for D, which makes it more like a hormone, than a vitamin. It supports your immune health, and is critical for people with autoimmune diseases. It is also necessary for your body to absorb calcium, and women with low vitamin D levels are at a higher risk of osteoporosis. And let’s not forget about mood … many of you might notice you feel bluer in the winter when there is less sunshine.

Yes, Vitamin D is made by sunshine. However, in the northern latitudes where we live (New York), the sun is only strong enough to stimulate Vitamin D production in your skin 3-4 months/year, May-August. During these months, your skin will make enough Vitamin D to support good blood levels, IF you are outside for at least 20 minutes/day, without sunscreen, between 10am – 2pm, in shorts and a tank top. Meaning your arms and legs need to be fully exposed without sunscreen during peak hours of maximum sun. Do most people get this? No. So if you walk or exercise outside, spend time in the garden or other outdoor activities regularly, and don’t use sunscreen every minute, you are probably okay taking the summer months off. But honestly, most of the people I see in my medical practice don’t have an appreciable bump in their Vitamin D levels in the summer. They simply don’t get as much exposure as they think so they need to stay on their normal regimen. And that could be you.

While I am certainly not advocating NO sunscreen, I do think it would be okay, to spend 20 minutes a day without it, if you are trying to get your D. But then be sure to slather up with a broad spectrum SPF!

Here are my suggestions:

  1. If your Vitamin D levels were in a good range before the summer (above 40) and you are outside most days during peak hours, you can probably take the summer off.
  2. If your Vitamin D levels were low before the summer, or if you aren’t outside much without sunscreen during the middle of the day, you should continue your supplement.
  3. In my experience, 2000 iu/day of Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the minimum amount to maintain your levels. If you are trying to raise them, double the dose to 4000 for 3 months or until you are tested again.
  4. Always adjust your dose by following blood levels. Your primary care doctor can do this for you.