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  • Writer's pictureDr. Cassandra Paiano, ND

Top Tips to Support Your Body This Cold & Flu Season

Fall is one of my favourite seasons - the colours, the crisp air, the warm and cozy sweaters, and all things pumpkin spice.

Along with the exciting change of season also comes the not-so-exciting, cold and flu season. There are many factors that contribute to cold and flu season. Certain viruses, like the influenza virus, tend to be more stable and transmissible in colder temperatures. In addition, cold air holds less moisture, and the air becomes more dry. Dry air can dry out mucous membranes in the respiratory tract, making it easier for viruses to enter the body and cause infection. Let's not forget about the reduced exposure to sunlight during the fall and winter months. Lower levels of sunlight exposure = lower levels of vitamin D, which plays an important role in immune function. What can you do to support your body this cold & flu season? Hydration: Adequate hydration status is a fundamental aspect of supporting the body's immune response. Hydration is crucial for the proper functioning of our detoxification organs (liver, kidney, skin) which process waste products and toxins. Viral infections often lead to increased mucus production in the respiratory tract. Adequate hydration can help keep the mucus thinner and more manageable, making it easier for the body to clear the airways and alleviate symptoms like coughing and congestion.

You should be increasing your water intake to at least 2L per day. This helps to support the body's natural defence mechanisms, and ensures the immune system is able to generate a robust response against viral infections. Sleep: Sleep is essential for maintaining a strong immune system. During sleep, the body releases cytokines, which are proteins that help regulate the immune response, and fight off infections. In addition, sleep helps regulate the inflammatory response, and helps contribute to the development of immunological memory. Ensuring 7-8 hours of restful, and restorative sleep each night is an important factor in supporting your body and your immune system this cold and flu season. Supplements: There are so many supplements and natural health products that are marketed towards cold and flu prevention, and treatment. It is important to keep in mind the evidence, and the mechanisms at play. Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions regarding the best supplements for cold and flu prevention.

Vitamin D: Research has suggested that vitamin D may have direct antiviral effects by interfering with the replication of certain viruses. It has also been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties, and stimulates the production of antimicrobial peptides that help protect against viral infections. Vitamin D receptors are found on specialized immune cells (T cells and macrophages) - thus when activated by vitamin D, these receptors help to strengthen the immune response. Echinacea: Research has suggested that echinacea exerts its effects on the immune system through various mechanisms. Echinacea contains compounds that stimulate specialized immune cells (macrophages, natural killer cells) to recognize and combat viruses. Echinacea also possess anti-inflammatory properties (similar to vitamin D), which can help reduce the inflammatory response that often accompanies viral infections. Lastly, some studies have suggested that Echinacea has direct antiviral effects by inhibiting the replication of certain viruses such as rhinoviruses (common cause of the common cold). Zinc: Similar to vitamin D and echinacea, there are several different proposed mechanisms by which zinc supports the immune system. Zinc is directly involved in the development of white blood cells (our immune cells) - thus playing an important role in the development and activation of our immune system. Zinc also plays a role in maintaining the integrity of the mucous membranes. This helps to prevent viruses from entering the body by supporting the respiratory system. Zinc also possess anti-inflammatory effects, and can interfere with viral replication. However, the research suggests that zinc supplementation can lead to a significant reduction in the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms if taken within the first 24 hours of symptom onset. Gut Health Gut health, specifically the gut microbiome plays a crucial role in overall immune function. There is emerging evidence suggesting that a healthy gut microbiome may have a positive influence on the body's ability to fight off infections. There are several different mechanisms at play. A healthy gut microbiome is associated with an increased population of immune-supportive cells, and reduced systemic inflammation. In addition, healthy gut bacteria can stimulate the production of antimicrobial peptides in the gut that help to defend against pathogens. Probiotics, prebiotics and a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and fermented foods helps to promote a healthy, diverse and balanced gut microbiome.

Always talk to your doctor before making any changes to your routine. If you feel like your immune system needs some support, talk to your doctor about lab testing in order to determine which supplements are best for you.

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