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5 Truths and 5 Myths about the Common Cold

Ready or not, cold and flu season is on its way!

Take this quiz with Blum Center for Health’s resident Integrative ENT, Dr Sezelle Gereau, and test your knowledge about the health of your nose and sinuses.

True or False:

  1. Allergies, colds and sinusitis are all manifestations of immune dysfunction.
  2. If you have a cold for more than 7 days, it’s a sinus infection.
  3. 3 sinus infections in a year, which last 1 month each, means you have chronic sinusitis.
  4. Green or brown nasal secretions means it’s time for antibiotics.
  5. True immune deficiencies are rare.
  6. Saline spray in a can or squeeze bottle is inferior to a neti pot.
  7. Food allergies can give you nasal symptoms.
  8. Taking Vitamin D on a regular basis can help prevent recurrent colds.
  9. Viruses cause most recurrent colds or sinus infections.
  10. Your gut is responsible for recurrent colds.

By the way, if you are constantly dealing with colds, flu, sinus infections or allergies, you’ll want to check out Dr. Blum’s new LIVE course, The Immune Recovery Challenge! It’s a group program specifically designed to help you heal your immune system. Check it out

Answers:

  1. Allergies, colds and sinusitis are all manifestations of immune dysfunction.

TRUE

Upper respiratory infections and sinusitis are not the only ways the body demonstrates that the immune system is not working well.  Allergies are in and of themselves a way that your body is telling you that something is awry with the immune system. One way to think about this is that instead of being “weak”, and not mounting enough of a response to pathogens, your immune system is “too strong” and fires to all the wrong triggers.  Techniques for getting the immune system in better balance work for all 3 issues.

  1. If you have a cold for more than 7 days, it’s a sinus infection.

FALSE

Colds usually resolve in seven to 10 days, but some can last for up to three weeks. The average duration of cough is 18 days¹, and in some cases, people develop a post-viral cough which can linger after the infection is gone.

  1. Three sinus infections in a year, which last 1 month each means you have chronic sinusitis.

FALSE

Chronic sinusitis is defined as chronic sinus infections that last 8 weeks or longer, and/or occur 4 or more times a year.² The Center for Disease Control actually advises patients to see their practitioner for symptoms that continue to worsen or do not improve within 10 days.

  1. Green or brown nasal secretions means it’s time for antibiotics.

FALSE

Hmmmmm….not necessarily!  But the following signs are common with sinusitis vs the common cold:

  • Headache
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Loss of the sense of smell
  • Facial pain or pressure, especially only on one side
  • Postnasal drip (mucus drips down the throat from the nose)
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue (being tired)
  • Bad breath

Remember, even if it is sinusitis, you might not require antibiotics.  In my office I often perform a nasal endoscopy and a nasal culture to help differentiate a simple cold from allergies or a sinus infection.  

  1.  True immune deficiencies are rare.

FALSE

Immune deficiencies are more common than previously thought – almost 1% of people have them.  If you are suspected of having an immune deficiency, and referred to a specialist for a work up, your chances of having one are more than 64%. ³ But for many doctors, it’s much easier to give you yet another prescription for antibiotics for your sinus infection than to take a hard, long look at what might be causing the issue in the first place.

  1. Saline spray in a can or squeeze bottle is inferior to a Neti pot

FALSE

Patients should use whichever method of delivery they prefer.  There’s lots of data to show that nasal washing is important to shorten the course of a cold or sinus infection.

  1. Food allergies can give you nasal symptoms.

TRUE

Food allergies and sensitivities can sometimes cause nasal congestion and post nasal drip. But more commonly those symptoms come from environmental allergies.  Furthermore, less than 10% of the general population have food allergies, but up to 40% of the general population have environmental allergies – dust being the most common.  So, start first with allergy testing for things in the environment – then discuss with your doctor if foods might be causing the issue.

  1. Taking Vitamin D on a regular basis can help prevent recurrent colds.

TRUE

Even if your Vitamin D levels are in the low normal range, they might not be high enough to help ward off infections.  For anyone who is experiencing recurrent infections, I recommend supplementation with Vitamin D in the winter months. Taking Vitamin K2 along with this can help with the absorption of the Vitamin D.

  1.  Viruses cause most recurrent colds or sinus infections.

TRUE

Nine out of 10 cases of sinusitis and upper respiratory infection in adults and 5/7 cases in children are caused by viruses.² So antibiotics won’t work.  What does work are techniques such as good hand washing, staying home when sick and keeping your immune system at its best with proper diet and supplements.

      10.Your gut is responsible for recurrent colds.  

TRUE

The vast majority of the immune system lies in the gut. So, directly or  indirectly it plays a key role in all immune issues. Nearly everyone who struggles with recurrent colds has a gut microbiome that is out of balance. A leaky gut, also called increased intestinal permeability, is associated with chronic illness,, and research has made it clear that to repair the immune system and reduce inflammation, you must heal the leaky gut. We repair the gut through food, proven, scientifically-supported antimicrobial supplements and building resilience to life’s stressors.

How We Can Help You Improve Your Immune System

“Do It With Us” with Dr. Blum! Yes, that’s right! Dr. Blum’s new LIVE course, The Immune Recovery Challenge is open! The Immune Recovery Challenge is the step-by-step companion to Dr. Blum’s bestselling book, The Immune System Recovery Plan. During the course, you will follow the 4-Step Immune System Recovery Plan together with Dr. Blum, using video and live coaching. It’s devoted to your HEALTH TRANSFORMATION! Get the Info

If you want personal one-to-one treatment, come to Blum Center for Health. People travel from around the world to meet with our practitioners. You’ll meet with your practitioner for an hour and a half, meet with our Functional Medicine Nutritionist, and receive your first treatment plan. Get More Info

 

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 allergies, chronic sinusitis, sleep apnea and headaches. She is one of the few physicians in the New York City metro area certified to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy drops (SLIT) instead of allergy shots.

 

Resources:
  1. Ebell, M. H.; Lundgren, J.; Youngpairoj, S. (Jan–Feb 2013). “How long does a cough last? Comparing patients’ expectations with data from a systematic review of the literature”. Annals of Family Medicine. 11 (1): 5–13.
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/for-patients/common-illnesses/sinus-infection.html
  3. https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(12)00274-4/pdf

 

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What You Need to Know if You’re Diagnosed with an Autoimmune Disease

Donna is a 35-year old woman who had her second child a year ago, but she just hasn’t been able to recover her energy. She kept chalking it up to having a toddler and a newborn. But, when the baby turned one-year old and she was still exhausted, she decided to get a thorough check-up.

Her lab work showed she had the most common of autoimmune diseases: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.  

On the one hand she was relieved to have an answer, but on the other she was saying a big, “Now What!?”

Autoimmune diseases are on the rise, and many people are asking the same question as Donna, “Now What?”

The approach to repairing the immune system involves a few essential lifestyle changes and evaluation of some basic body functions to begin the road to healing.  

Here are the 4 Pillars of a Healthy Immune System

  • Having healthy digestion with balanced gut microbiome
  • Practicing ways to prevent stress from entering the body and changing your body chemistry
  • Cleaning up and avoiding environmental toxicants in your home and workplace, and improving the body’s ability to detoxify
  • Enjoying an anti-inflammatory diet that is high in whole foods, vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, fruits, nuts and seeds and low in processed foods, sugar and alcohol

By the way, these four pillars are the basis of Dr. Blum’s book, the The Immune System Recovery Plan. And right now she is diving deep to create a new LIVE course: The Immune Recovery Challenge, a group program specifically designed to help relieve the suffering of people with autoimmune diseases!  

Healing Your Gut

Everything begins with healing the gut. Nearly everyone who has an autoimmune disease has a gut microbiome that is out of balance. A leaky gut, also called increased intestinal permeability, is associated with autoimmunity, and research has made it clear that to repair the immune system and reduce inflammation, you must heal the leaky gut. We repair the gut through food, proven, scientifically-supported antimicrobial supplements and building resilience to life’s stressors.

Understanding Digestive Symptoms

If you have digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn or reflux, it’s important to get to the bottom of why you are having these, and not just cover them over with a medication, such as an antacid or laxative. You can try food-based approaches first, such as eliminating dairy and alcohol triggers if you have heartburn or reflux, increasing vegetable intake for more fiber if you have constipation, and adding a probiotic to balance gut bacteria if you have diarrhea. If these steps don’t work, then consider getting a functional stool test to look more closely at gut imbalances that can then be specifically addressed.

How Stress Fuels Autoimmunity

Stress is almost always about how we perceive our world—what is very stressful for one person can be completely neutral for someone else because of how each person views that same situation.  

The key is to figure out what your personal stress response is—for example, trouble sleeping, anxiety, slow digestion—and then finding and using tools to turn it around. A recorded guided relaxation at bedtime can help with sleep, learning a measured breathing technique can help with anxiety, and just chewing your food 15-20 times per bite can change your digestion for the better.  Having a daily practice such as meditation, prayer, or a walk in Nature without your phone, can begin to remind your body about how to relax and let go of stress. There are some great free meditation apps with Learn to Meditate courses and guided meditations, and I encourage you to try them out, too. My favorite is Insight Timer; it has lots of free guided options that are wonderful.

How Toxicants are Related to Autoimmunity

We are all exposed to multiple toxicants in our environment every day, some of which we can control through our buying and eating habits and some, like air pollution, we can’t.

Take control of the ones you can control—substitute glass food storage containers for plastic ones, use wax paper instead of plastic, use refillable stainless steel or glass water bottles instead of disposable single-use plastic ones. Visit the Environmental Working Group’s website, www.ewg.org, for more ways to reduce your exposures.

To support your liver’s ability to detoxify what’s coming into your body, eat lots of leafy greens, onions, garlic, leeks, and as many different colors of vegetables as you can every day. These have antioxidants which put out the fire of inflammatory free radicals and help stop the damage of toxins in the body. If you had significant workplace or home exposures to chemicals or molds, then you may need additional professional help to support healthy detoxification.

Food is Medicine … Especially When You Have an Autoimmune Condition

As we say everyday at Blum Center for Health, food is medicine. It’s not the only medicine, but it is an important part of anyone’s medicine who is trying to get healthy or healthier. Dietary regimens need to be tailored to each individual’s unique needs, traditions, and preferences. But some basic principles for choosing food that applies to almost everybody who isn’t vegetarian:

  •     the more vegetables, the better—a minimum of 5 half cup servings a day
  •     the more colorful vegetables, the better
  •     healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil
  •     whole grains
  •     small amounts of animal proteins without hormones, antibiotics
  •     fish that are low in mercury
  •     no ingredients that you can’t pronounce
  •     the fewer foods out of a box, carton or plastic container, the better
  •     fruit for dessert

These are the basics of what is known as the Mediterranean diet which has been shown in scientific studies to reduce heart disease and inflammation in the body.

The Importance of Discovering Your Trigger Foods

If you have an autoimmune disease it is important to identify foods that trigger your symptoms. We typically suggest starting with  a short-term elimination diet, where we take out the most inflammatory foods, and then add back each food in a methodical way, to identify exactly which foods cause problems.  In essence, you walk away with a personalized nutrition plan!

How We Can Help You Reverse Your Autoimmune Disease

If you want personal one-to-one treatment, come to Blum Center for Health. People travel from around the world to meet with our practitioners. You’ll meet with your practitioner for an hour and a half, meet with our Functional Medicine Nutritionist, and receive your first treatment plan. Get More Info

If you want a do-it-yourself approach, follow the 4-step plan outlined in Dr. Blum’s bestselling book, The Immune System Recovery Plan. Written specifically for people with autoimmune conditions, this book will put you on the road to recovery.

And if you want to do-it-with us, keep your eyes peeled for Dr. Blum’s new LIVE course: The Immune Recovery Challenge!  We begin in October (it will be here before you know it!) The Immune Recovery Challenge is the step-by-step companion to The Immune System Recovery Plan. During the course, you will follow the 4-Step Immune System Recovery Plan protocol together with Dr. Blum, using video and live coaching. It’s devoted to your HEALTH TRANSFORMATION! I hope you’ll join us!

Meet Elizabeth Greig, FNP:  In her dual role as our Functional Medicine Nurse Practitioner and a teacher in our Mind.Body.Spirit programs at Blum Center for Health, Elizabeth Greig, MSN, FNP, helps treat and heal patients with complex chronic health conditions. Whether she’s treating a medical condition or leading a class in meditation, Elizabeth helps people understand that when it comes to healing, it’s more about nourishing life, than it is about battling illness. Learn more about Elizabeth’s practice.

 

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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.