How To Survive Cold and Flu Season

It’s happening RIGHT NOW.  Cold and flu season. That time of year when co-worker’s come to work in full-phlegm, snoggy booger-blowing mode. You may offer an understanding nod as they go on (and on) about how sick their kids, spouse, pet dragon are at home. But you’re also doing an internal scan. Looking for any signs that germs that may have leapt across the room and landed on your face.  You hit the road and realize that the plague has magnified out in the world. Besides keeping a thumb’s distance from the infected and squirting sanitizer over exposed body parts, there is a better way.

To keep the geek-out level low, I added “takeaways” for you to skim.

Vitamin C*

FUN FACTS: Most mammals can make Vitamin C, expect for humans, guinea pigs, monkeys and an Indian fruit eating bat. We have to get it from our diet.  Hundreds of years ago Sailors would die on voyages, not just from pirates, but from Scurvy caused a Vitamin C deficiency. Once the connection between Scurvy and Vitamin C was made, lime juice became a critical part of their cargo. Which is how they got the nickname  “limeys”.  Although we know it for it’s antioxidant capabilities, it has many biological functions.

HOW MUCH: Vitamin C is water soluble and destroyed by heat.  And if you take an excess amount, you pee out what your body doesn’t use. The RDA is for most adults is 90 mg/day.  A 1/2 C of raw red bell pepper has around 95 mg. A medium orange has 75 mg. And a packet of EmergenC* is commonly around 1000 mg (1 gram).

MEGA DOSE: Do you take mega-doses when you’re just beginning to feel sick?  It may not do much. In a review paper that looked 30 trials involving 11,350 study participants they concluded that mega-dosing (usually 1-2 grams) doesn’t do much in normal populations to shorten a cold: Adults – a 8% reduction in cold duration, children – a 14% reduction in cold duration. And if you start taking it after you have cold symptoms there is no significant effect at all.

WHY CARE?: Interestingly the paper notes that people who encounter brief, severe physical exercise or cold environments, Vitamin C supplementation halved the duration of a cold. This is where First Responders may see more benefit than most citizens by taking 1g/day during cold and flu season.

Key Takeaways:

  • The RDA is for most adults is 90 mg/day
  • Vitamin C supplementation may be a smart move if you do it regularly, not just when you feel yourself getting sick.
  • When you take more you will absorb less. Vitamin C concentration is tightly controlled in your body. 200 mg seems to be the sweet spot for maximum absorption when no extra demand is needed.

Vitamin A*

WHAT IT DOES: Originally called the “anti-infective vitamin” in a 1928 Medical Journal, it’s needed for your epithelial tissue (cell lining/integrity), bone health, vision, gene expression and sperm production. It has anti-tumor properties and it’s a immune-building must have. Vitamin A helps your immune system by reinforcing skin and mucosal cells (like body armor – your body’s first line of defense against infection), destroying free radicals and supporting lymphocytes (white blood cells including the all-mighty Natural Killer Cells).

TWO FORMS: We get our Vitamin A from two food sources: Retinol (animal sources) and carotenoids like β-carotene (fruit and veggie sources). Both sources have a special gift to help keep your immune system strong. And since it’s a fat soluble vitamin, make sure to add some fat to those green smoothies for maximum absorption.

WHY CARE?: Because First Responders get exposed to some nasty sh*t during their shift. They may make great stories but if your immune system is down, you’ll become the walking dead yourself. And between working never-ending shifts on 4 hours of sleep, your immune systems is probably maxed out making you more vulnerable to infectious disease.

To compound this, if you’re fighting an infection your Vitamin A levels typically plummet because infection pushes Vitamin A out of your body. So it’s good practice to eat foods naturally high in Vitamin A like orange-colored fruits/veggies, liver, cod-liver oil, eggs and dark greens. *A tsp of cod liver oil is not only high in Vitamin A, but fatty acids EPA/DHA that helps reduce inflammation.

Key Takeaways:

  • RDA for Vit. A is 700-900 mcg/day for most adults.
  • Easy to meet through real food: 1 egg – 80 mcg, tsp cod liver oil -1350 mcg, I cup sweet potato – 1403 mcg
  • WARNING: Taking high amounts of the active form of vitamin A (not carotenoids) may lead to “hypervitaminosis A”. (High being around 10x the RDA so 8,000-10,000 mcg/day is dangerous)
  • Boost your immune system by eating food sources of Vitamin A like orange-colored fruits/veggies, liver, cod-liver oil, eggs and dark greens

Black Elderberry

WHAT IT IS: This natural remedy goes way back to Egyptian times and is known as one of the top anti-viral herbs on the planet. It’s been used for the common cold, influenza (“the flu”) and H1N1 “swine” flu.  Elderberry has shown antiviral activity so it may be useful for to fight a common cold.  One 2016 study showed it decreased the number of days with cold symptoms by 52% and decreased average symptom severity by 58% for people traveling on an intercontinental flight (that air is rich with nasty stuff – just like some houses you go into on duty).

HOW IT WORKS: The power is in the berries’ pigment called “flavonoids” (antioxidants) which are higher in total content than blueberries, cranberries, goji berries and blackberries. These flavonoids are thought to bind to the H1N1 virions and prevent the virus from entering host cells. The extract has both antiviral and immune supporting properties.

FUN FACT: As a side note, raw berries contain a chemical similar to cyanide.

BONE BROTH* (aka Chicken Noodle Soup)

WHAT IS HAS: There’s a reason this cold remedy has been around forever. It has a 1-2-3 punch: gut healing, immune building and improving joint health. Homemade bone broth is rich in easily absorbable minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, and trace minerals difficult to obtain elsewhere.  And it tastes so damn good.

HOW IT WORKS: It also has collagen which not only helps your gut lining but those aging joints as well.  And it’s a good source of glutamine which helps seal openings in the gut lining (leaky gut) by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.

And no, salty broth cubes are NOT the same thing.

FUN FACT: 95% of your serotonin is in your gut, not your brain. So take care of your gut.

HOW TO MAKE IT: Make your own powerful bone broth with grass-fed bones (grass-fed is shown to be much superior in taste and nutrient content).  Need a recipe? Here’s an article with multiple ways to easily cook bone broth.

Don’t have time to make your own? Thrive Market has quality, grass-fed options to chose from.

*Disclaimer: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

*The medical and/or nutritional information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site.

 *Heads Up! Some of my posts contain affiliate links. All that means is you don’t pay a penny more but I get a small commission to keep writing articles for you.


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  21. (summary of many studies on grass-fed vs grain-fed)
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