Vitamin D: Are You Taking Advantage of This Flu-Fighting Nutrient?
A universal vaccine being developed by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi is based on the finding that people who have more virus-killing immune cells, known as CD8 T cells, either don’t get sick or experience only mild flu symptoms.3 The idea behind this vaccine is that by stimulating your body to produce more CD8 T cells, it may protect you from getting the flu, or at least from having severe symptoms.
However, while the drug company researchers brag that they know how to use a vaccine to stimulate the immune system to produce more CD8 T cells, they fail to mention that vitamin D is also known to have a direct immune-modulating effect on CD8 T cells. This was revealed in a study published in 2010.4 Other research has proposed that deprivation of sunlight and vitamin D at higher latitudes worsens CD8 T-cell deficiency.5 So, it may be, then, that a “universal flu vaccine” doesn’t need to be created at all because it essentially already exists in the form of vitamin D!
Vitamin D is an important player in overall healthy immune function, but it’s also an effective antimicrobial agent in its own right, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Another 2010 study6 that didn’t get any widespread attention also demonstrated the effectiveness of vitamin D as a preventive strategy against influenza. In fact, children taking just 1,200 IUs of vitamin D3 per day, which is considered a low dose, were shown to be 42 percent less likely to come down with the flu. I firmly believe that optimizing your vitamin D levels is the single most important and least expensive action you can take to help strengthen immune function and protect against getting sick during the flu season, and would STRONGLY urge you to have your vitamin D level monitored to confirm your levels are therapeutic at 50-70 ng/ml year-round.
Have You Thought About What You’re Eating?
If your diet contains a lot of refined sugars, grains and processed foods, you’re not doing your body any favors this flu season. Instead of giving your body the fuel it needs to function optimally, which means being healthy enough to fight off infectious viruses, you’re giving it more toxic elements that it must overcome.
For instance, too many carbohydrates in the form of sugar and grains is very unbalancing for your gut flora. Sugar is “fertilizer” for pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungi that can set your immune system up for an easy assault by a respiratory virus. Most people don’t realize that 80 percent of your immune system actually lies in your gastrointestinal tract. That’s why controlling your sugar intake is crucial for optimizing your immune system.
Additionally, making sure you’re ingesting plenty of beneficial bacteria in the foods you eat (specifically fermented foods) is also crucial. In one study, 3- to 5-year-old children who received either a single strain or combination of beneficial bacteria called probiotics twice a day for six months had:7
- Reduced fever by 53 percent and 73 percent respectively
- Decreased coughing by 41 percent and 62 percent
- Reduced runny noses by 28 percent and 59 percent
- Reduced antibiotic use by 68 percent and 84 percent (which is a major gain in and of itself because antibiotics are vastly overused in children and also devastate your gut flora)
It’s worth noting that each mouthful of fermented food can provide trillions of beneficial bacteria—far more than you can get from a probiotics supplement, which will typically provide you with colony-forming units in the billions. I thought this would be a good analysis, so I tested fermented vegetables produced with our probiotic starter culture to determine their probiotic potency and was astounded to discover they had 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. Literally, one serving of vegetables was equal to an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic! Fermented foods also give you a wider variety of beneficial bacteria, so all in all, it’s a more cost effective alternative. Fermenting your own foods can provide even greater savings, and is actually easier than you might think.
How’s Your Sleep Schedule and Your Stress Level?
These are important questions that your physician should be asking around flu season, and really all year long, as they also play a key role in helping you stay well. Just like it becomes harder for you to get your daily tasks done if you’re tired and stressed, if your body is overly fatigued or burned out it will be harder for it to fight the flu. Be sure to check out my article “Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep” for some great tips to help you get quality rest, and be sure you’re thinking about your stress levels, too.
When researchers from Carnegie Mellon University infected study participants with a common cold virus, those who had reported being under stress were twice as likely to get sick.8
Chronic stress also exerts a powerful negative influence on your epigenetic health, turning on and off the expression of genes that directly influence your likelihood of getting sick. Using techniques like energy psychology, you can correct the emotional short-circuiting that contributes to your chronic stress, which helps to optimize your genetic expression. My favorite technique for this is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), but there are many others, such as yoga, journaling and prayer.