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Supporting Immune Health During Cold and Flu Season

Written By Katie Di Lauro • 6 min read

The excitement of the holiday season is among us, and unfortunately, so is the cold and flu season. If you’re like me, you want to do anything and everything to ward off holiday ‘bugs’ to prevent missed events and parties, avoid using days off for sickness instead of self-care or traveling. We want to be healthy and radiant for the holidays rather than masked up or in bed.

This time of year calls for doubling up support for your immune system. The immune system is the body’s primary defense mechanism against potentially harmful invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. Several factors are associated with a suboptimal immune system and increased susceptibility to illness, including:

  • Depression and anxiety 
  • Certain nutrient deficiencies (vitamins A, B, C, D, E, copper, iron, selenium, zinc)
  • High stress – specifically chronic stress
  • Excessive alcohol consumption 
  • Over-exercising
  • Sedentary life-style 
  • An imbalanced gut microbiota (the balance of the good and bad bacteria in your GI tract)
  • Sleep deprivation 
  • Tobacco use and/or exposure 
  • Overuse of antibiotics 

What Can We Do To Support Our Immune System:

Move your Body. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym 5 days a week, unless you want to of course. This means go for walks, go on a bike ride, play pickleball, anything to get your heart rate elevated for at least 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. Plan for it. If you plan to exercise in the afternoon but something always gets in the way, schedule your exercise first thing in the morning before you can come up with an excuse or distraction. 

Get adequate sleep. Set a bedtime to aim for 8 hours of sleep each night. If your bedtime routine takes 30 minutes, then set a wind-down time. Put a plan in place that eliminates screen time at least an hour before bedtime. Blue light from screens inhibits our natural production of melatonin which helps us fall asleep. If you have a TV in your bedroom – it might be time to move it. 

Manage stress. Some stress is inevitable, but the way we handle stress may change. Stress uses up a lot of energy and nutrients, it changes our hormone levels, disrupts our sleep, appetite and metabolism. Focus on stress management techniques that work for you – walking, listening to soft music, breathing exercises, delegating some tasks, setting expectations with yourself and others, and/ or talking to a therapist or coach are a few strategies. However you feel you can support stress management, embrace it and put it into action. 

Eat balanced and nutritious meals. Research continually suggests that poor nutrition and nutrient deficiencies impairs immune function and increases susceptibility to illness. Plan for meals and snacks that are balanced (include protein, healthy fats, high fiber carbs and vegetables), to support overall health and immune function. Avoid skipping meals and have healthy emergency snacks in your car, desk, purse, etc. Whole foods naturally contain nutrients that support our immune system in addition to supporting natural detoxification. Aim for carbs high in fiber, plant-based fats (avocado, olives, nuts, seeds), lean proteins and a variety of vegetables at each meal for optimal nutrition. 

Stay Hydrated.  Hydration supports energy levels, naturally detoxifies the body and helps support communication of and biochemical pathways which support all organs systems and our immune system. Being even slightly dehydrated may reduce energy levels, increase our appetite, and decrease the efficiency of our digestion and delivery of nutrients. When we are sick water helps absorb and transport nutrients into the bloodstream. Water also supports the health of the mucous membranes which are a line of defense to protect our bodies from invaders. Lastly, water is a key component of the lymphatic fluid which contains white blood cells that help fight infection. You don’t just have to drink water – you can have tea, broth, vegetables and fruits high in water (cucumber, berries, spinach, tomatoes, etc.). 

Give alcohol a break. Practice moderation or choose several days that you will not drink and the days you do have alcohol- set a limit. Alcohol decreases the quality of your sleep, depletes important nutrients, dehydrates your body, decreases gut help, increases stress hormones, and is a depressant – even depressing your immune function. Embrace ‘mocktails’ or healthier distractions or methods of stress management. 

Nutrition & Micronutrients

OK, so we control what we can. But you may be looking at this list and thinking about your kids coming home with germs from school, traveling and increased exposure, higher stress situations that can’t be controlled and you still may get sick. It may be beneficial to supplement with specific compounds that are known to have antimicrobial, antiviral, or anti-fungal properties. Below are the supplements I like to recommend to help support your immune system on a daily basis during the cold and flu season. 

Vitamin D processes strong immune-supportive properties. Among other health benefits, Vitamin D helps protect the body from respiratory infections. Studies show that a deficiency in vitamin D increases the risk of such infections, including colds and flu.5,6 Vitamin D is involved in modulating two important aspects of the immune response, which helps to better arm and activate the body’s immune system in order to destroy pathogenic bacteria and viruses and fight off infections. Dietary sources: salmon, fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese (if tolerable), mushrooms. 

Vitamin C helps reduce the risk, severity, and duration of respiratory infections such as colds and flu. Supplementing with vitamin C has been shown to improve antimicrobial and natural killer cell activities. Plant bioflavonoids support the immune system by protecting cell membranes against oxidative stress from things such as germs, toxins and environmental pollutants. Bioflavonoids, nature’s antioxidants, work with vitamin C, as they are found in citrus fruits. Dietary sources: oranges, papayas, strawberries, kiwi, organic leafy green vegetables (spinach, bok choy, kale), broccoli, bell peppers. We do not store vitamin C efficiently so it should be consumed on a daily basis.

Zinc is involved in virtually every aspect of immunity with antiviral properties and is even effective against several viruses that cause the common cold. Supplementing with zinc has been shown to stimulate the production of white blood cells, as well as support the actions of neutrophils, T-lymphocytes, and natural killer cells. Dietary sources: seafood, pumpkin seed, sea vegetables, beans, lentils, legumes.

Vitamin A stimulates the production and activity of white blood cells, maintains and strengthens epithelial tissues and mucous membranes — the body’s first line of defense against pathogens.

Elderberry & Echinacea are examples of herbs and botanicals that support immune cell activity and may lessen the severity and duration of bacterial and viral infections. 

Suggested Supplements

You can review and purchase this Fall Immune Support Protocol with the following link: https://us.fullscript.com/plans/pfc-fall-immune-support

  • Immunitone Plus
  • BioFizz or Stellar C
  • Probiotic 
  • Vitamin D
  • Immune-Zn Lozenge 

Or if you are looking for a heavy hitter when we feel symptoms coming on or when traveling and can’t avoid exposure to bacteria and/or infections, I recommend: 

Immune Support Packets.

The Bottom Line:

As we dive into the joyous holiday season, the specter of the cold and flu looms. To ensure uninterrupted celebrations, take proactive steps to fortify your immune system. Incorporate daily activities that elevate your heart rate, prioritize quality sleep, and adopt stress management techniques. Plan balanced, nutritious meals, stay hydrated with water-rich options, and consider moderating alcohol intake. Explore immune-boosting supplements such as Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, Elderberry, and Echinacea. Ready to bolster your immune defense? Check out our Fall Immune Support Protocol for suggested supplements. Here’s to a healthy and festive holiday season!

Katie Di Lauro, RDN, IFNCP
PFC Nutrition Director

In a successful health journey, the focus is not just on the final goal but on daily choices, especially regarding nutrition and gut health. Often underestimated, these aspects are crucial for sticking to a plan and achieving wellness. They form subtle yet powerful threads that weave small daily decisions into a triumphant journey. At Premier Fitness Camp’s luxury fitness retreat, we specialize in optimizing nutrition and gut health, breaking down significant dietary goals into manageable tasks for lasting change. If you’re ready to prioritize your well-being, schedule your nutrition-focused fitness retreat today!

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