THERE’S NO QUESTION that the incidence of colds increases in the fall and winter. Some researchers believe this is related to the decreasing amounts of health-giving light and vitamin D from sunlight.1 I’m certain that this plays a role. It’s also true that the body undergoes a shift in the fall—with energy going inward.
But you don’t need to sit around and wait for cold viruses to find you, regardless of what the sun or your body’s energy is doing. Instead, now is the time to consciously shore up your immunity, so that you’re better able to ward off any germs and viruses that might be floating around.
Keep Vitamin D levels in optimal range. Every cell in your immune system has a receptor on it for vitamin D. (Vitamin D is both a hormone and a vitamin). Those with the highest vitamin D levels appear to have lower risks for cancer and colds.2 Get your vitamin D level tested. And don’t settle for “normal,” which was recently raised to 32 ng/ml. You want your level to be optimal—and that’s somewhere between 52–80 ng/ml. You can safely go a little higher, but no higher than 100 ng/ml. This applies to children and teens as well as adults.
If your level is below 32 ng/ml, you’ll want to supplement with 3,000– 5,000 IU of vitamin D-3 per day for several months. Then, have your vitamin D level retested. Though vitamin D toxicity is rare, it does happen. So it’s best to work with a healthcare provider who knows how to monitor your levels. Many people maintain optimal levels by supplementing with 1,000–2,000 IU per day. (Clearly this is far higher than the RDA of 400 IU, which is woefully inadequate.)
Note: 3.5 oz. of red sockeye salmon contains 600 IU of vitamin D. So, you can also get your vitamin D from high quality fish sources! Although milk is fortified with Vitamin D, it contains only 100 IU per 8 oz. of milk, so even if you drink a few glasses of milk a day, it doesn’t provide enough.
Keep plenty of vitamin C on hand. The best form of vitamin C is ascorbic acid, which has a long and illustrious history as a powerful agent for quelling cellular inflammation. Start taking about 1,000–2,000 mg per day in the fall. I keep 1,000 mg capsules in my kitchen all the time. And at the earliest sign of a sore throat or sniffle, I start taking handfuls of the stuff. I have a cast iron stomach and can take 10,000 mg at a time. Most people can’t do that. The key is to get your vitamin C level up to “tissue saturation.” You’ll know you have reached this when you develop loose stools. Given this indicator, you don’t have to worry about overdosing on vitamin C.
Get enough sleep. Sleep is, hands down, about the best medicine I know. When I start to feel something coming on, I get into bed as soon as I can and sleep for as long as I can. Very often, when I wake up, whatever was lurking around in my system has left. Almost all people stay at their healthiest with 8–10 hours of sleep per night.
Decrease stress hormones. Remember that sleep is the body’s most efficient way to digest excess stress hormones such as cortisol. And high cortisol, which is the result of stress of all kinds, wreaks havoc with the immune system. Meditation and exercise also helps the body get rid of excess stress hormones.
Take a good pharmaceutical grade supplement with a good antioxidant formula. This step alone will help with your immunity because antioxidants help the body deal with the adverse effects of free radical damage from infectious agents, environmental toxins, and stress. Look for products that have “GMP” (good manufacturing practices) and “pharmaceutical grade” on the label. That guarantees the potency and quality of what’s in the bottle. Note: When it comes to vitamin/mineral supplements, you get what you pay for! Inferior products cost less, but don’t get the job done.
Eat garlic and onions. Garlic and onions have well-researched anti-inflammatory properties and can often ward off a cold. Note that you can take deodorized garlic in capsule form in order to avoid bad breath. Perhaps the key to the beneficial effect of chicken soup is actually the garlic and onions. The warming broth helps, too!
Take probiotics. Everyone knows what an antibiotic is. But most are just beginning to realize the value of taking probiotics. Probiotics are sources of helpful friendly bacteria that keep the gut and the openings of the body far more balanced and disease-resistant. Fermented foods contain naturally occurring probiotics—examples include sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt. But most foods don’t contain enough to truly make a difference if your bowel flora needs replenishing.
Be media savvy. Our immune system is very sensitive to the thoughts we think. The brain creates chemicals—either “feel good” or “feel bad”—that are transmitted to the receptor sites on our immune system cells. So pay attention to what you’re thinking and watching. It’s well documented, for example, that watching violence on television or in the movies can depress immunity. So be very mindful about the media you watch and listen to. Remember, network news is designed to bring you the bad news of the entire planet—and it’s set to evocative music designed for the biggest and scariest impact. This often results in feeling discouraged and powerless. And that, in and of itself, depresses immunity.
Keep upbeat company. Do you have friends or family members who enjoy discussing their health problems, latest natural disaster, or are always complaining about work? Do these individuals drag you down with their pessimism? Research shows that optimism enhances the immune system. So keep good and upbeat company. Distance yourself from naysayers.
One final thought. I’ve always believed that community equals immunity. Many studies have shown that support from social and spiritual connections boosts immunity (and also provides protection against heart disease, mental illness, and many other health conditions). This makes sense, since the immune system is connected to the health of the first chakra. The first chakra is shored up by how safe, supported, and connected we feel. Everyone is bound to get a cold or the flu from time to time. But if you’re sick a lot, take a look at your life, see how strong your life’s foundation is, and make some changes if necessary. You’ll be glad you did.
This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.
Cannell, J.J., et al. 2008. On the epidemiology of influenza, Virol J, Feb 25;5:29.
Staud, R., 2005. Vitamin D: more than just affecting calcium and bone. Curr Rheumatol Rep, Oct;7(5):356-64.
Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and the world’s leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and at her Website.