The cold and flu season is almost upon us and what better time to talk about it
than weeks before it hits? We have time to prepare! There are several nutrients
and supplements that can really help stave off colds and flu in kids (and adults).
As I always say, it’s important that you consult with a physician before starting
any treatment regimen. Most of these supplements may be available over the
counter or at your Naturopathic physician’s / Natural health practitioner’s office…
Selenium: This mineral can improve immune function by increasing production
of interferon, a messenger that tells the immune system to pay attention and fight
some bugs! Doses around 100 micrograms per day should be safe for children
older than 1 year. Taken throughout the flu season can help prevent infections.
Zinc: This mineral has been shown to keep infections at bay in the form of
lozenges, but taking a daily dose in a liquid form should work as well. 10-30mg
per day is a reasonable dose for children. Always take zinc with food, as it can
cause stomach upset when taken on an empty stomach.
Vitamin C: This vitamin seems to be the number one therapy referred to when
discussing natural treatments or preventative measures regarding colds and
flu. Some research shows it can decrease susceptibility to the flu, and some
research shows that it doesn’t. I am in favor of suggesting vitamin C for my
patients for this purpose. Doses in the range of 500mg-3,000mg per day is
reasonable for a daily dose.
Vitamin D: This vitamin (it’s really more of a hormone, but who cares?) is crucial
for the function of “T cells”, the cells that help fight bacteria and viruses! There
is even some evidence in the scientific literature showing that flu outbreaks are
due to the seasonal drop in vitamin D levels. (Cannell, Epidemiol Infect 2006)
This makes sense, since we get less sun exposure in the Fall and Winter months
because we are covered up, therefore, making less of our own vitamin D. You
and your child can be tested at your physician’s office, and in most cases it will
be covered under insurance. Make sure to ask for the “25-hydroxy-vitamin D
[25(OH)D]” blood test. There has been lots of arguing over what is the optimal
level of vitamin D. One of the most knowledgeable groups of physicians and
researchers in the area of vitamin D, known as the vitamin D council, says that
levels of “60-90 ng/ml” are optimal. Make sure your child is at this level going
into the cold and flu season. If they are low, they can be dosed with vitamin
D3 until desired levels are reached. Other evidence refers to a dosage of
2,000 IU of vitamin D per day drastically decreasing occurrence of colds and flu
(Aloia, Epidemiol Infect 2007). Note that certain medications like Prednisone, a
corticosteroid used to treat inflammation, will interfere with vitamin D production
and therefore its levels. This may be the reason that children who are on chronic
dosing of steroids for asthma or other conditions seems to get sicker than other
children! Anticonvulsants can have the same effect.
Elderberry/ Sambucus Niger/ European elder: A tasty herbal remedy,
Elderberry decreases the ability of some viruses to enter cells and replicate,
therefore decreasing the chances for an infection. Elderberry also increases the
production of messengers (called “cytokines”) that activate the immune system
and tell it to go to areas of inflammation in the body. This helps improve our
ability to fight infection. Research shows that Elderberry can cut flu duration by
almost half (Zakay-Rones, J Altern Complement Med 1995, and J Int Med Res
2004). Typical doses are 500mg 2-3 times per day or 1 Tablespoon 3 times per
day. There are no known side effects associated with Elderberry, but those who
are pregnant or lactating should consult with their physician and use caution,
since there is little research on those patients taking Elderberry. Elderberry can
be used throughout the flu season as a preventative measure or as a treatment
for the flu once infected.
Larch: This sugar derived from the larch tree is an exceptionally safe and
effective treatment that has a beneficial effect on the immune system and helps
fight infections. Larch can increase something known as phagocytosis, which is
the process of an immune system cell “eating” other things like infection-causing
bacteria and destroying them. Combining larch with Echinacea can have an
additive effect, so I suggest taking those together, especially when the flu is
going around, and you are trying to avoid it. Typical doses are 1-3 teaspoons
per day, and Larch can also be used throughout the flu season as a preventative
measure or as a treatment. The only side effects you might notice is a little
gas and bloating while your body adjusts to this new medicine. This happens
because larch also serves as a nice fiber source that good bacteria can feed
on, and this can produce some gas as a byproduct. Which brings us to our next
Probiotics: A study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2003 showed how
giving a probiotic, which would be delivered directly to the gut from the mouth,
had a resounding effect on the immune system of the upper respiratory
passages. In fact, those who took the probiotics had less infectious organisms
in their nose than those who only consumed yogurt. This speaks to the age-old
question: “Is yogurt is a good enough source of probiotics?” This study shows
that it’s not. Probiotics can shape how our immune system behaves, and the
majority of our immune system is located in our gut! And…It’s all connected:
from our mouth and nose to our colon, this is one long, communicating system.
When we consume probiotics, we affect the immune system of this entire “tube”.
So, staying on a good probiotic through the cold and flu season can protect
from getting infected. A typical dose to take daily would be 5-10 billion CFU’s/
Units per day. There are several companies that have effective products in most
health food stores or pharmacies. Culturelle, Jarrow, and Nature’s Way are just a few.
What about the Flu shot?
Many parents are concerned with the ingredients of the flu shot like Mercury
(Thimerosal) and Aluminum, both of which are toxic to the neurological system.
The vaccines that are from “multi-dose” vials are the ones that still use mercury
as a preservative. There is no aluminum in the flu vaccines.
Flushots with Mercury:
Afluria multi-dose, Flulaval, Fluvirin multi-dose, and Fluzone multi-dose
Nasal or Injectable?
Some physicians prefer the intranasal vaccine (Flumist) because it is delivered
in the same way the immune system was meant to interact with the flu virus:
through the mucus membrane. Therefore, some say it may be more effective
than the injectable flu vaccine. However, it’s only given to children 2 years and
older, and it’s not recommended for those with asthma. Some physicians are
concerned with the fact that the nasal vaccine is a live vaccine, and that some
children react poorly to the live vaccines such as those for the flu, chicken
pox, and measles/mumps/rubella. As for the injectable flu vaccines, always
choose the SINGLE DOSE vials. The injectable and intranasal vaccines are
contraindicated in those who have past history of Guillan-barre syndrome, a
neurological condition, or egg allergy, and recommended for children 6 months
It should be noted that it is possible to have serious side effects from getting
the flu, including death. However, the majority of those who die from the flu
are greater than 65 years of age. I’m partial to giving children fewer vaccines.
If you do choose to do the flu shot, at least don’t give it to them if they are not
Ensuring that your child’s vitamin D levels are up to par and that they are taking
these other supplements should give them a fighting chance this upcoming flu
season. Of course, washing your hands regularly will cut your risk of catching
something, so don’t ignore this simple step!