Staying healthy during flu season

Your guide to staying healthy this cold and flu season

Simple, practical and evidence-based tips to ramp up your immune system for the coming flu season. Take your health into your own hands and have a flu-free winter.

Supporting your immune system has never been more crucial. Another wave of COVID-19 is still a possibility and flu season is upon us. With so much information available on the Internet, let’s look at some simple, time-tested and proven approaches to staying healthy during flu season.

Stay hydrated! This sounds a little foreign in the context of flu season, but you’ll soon see why it makes sense. The most basic reason has to do with how our first line immune defenses operate. We come into contact with pathogens through our “mucous membranes” – the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. These body areas are moist in order to protect us from potential pathogens (everything from dust and mold to bacteria and viruses). A portion of our immune system lives in our secretions – tears, saliva, nasal mucus, etc. – and it requires a moist environment to function optimally. When we are well-hydrated, we are promoting the best possible environment for our first line immune system to defend us. Hydrating fluids include filtered water, herbal teas, coconut water or carbonated (sugar and sweetener-free) water like La Croix, Bubly, Polar and Spindrift. Aim to drink between 64 and 100 oz. of fluids daily, depending upon your size and activity level. Another way to check your hydration status is to see if your urine remains light yellow all day long.

Supporting your immune system has never been more crucial.

Also, check your vitamin D status. This generally requires a trip to your family physician, but more and more labs are offering direct-to-patient options. So, if you can’t get in to see your PCP right away, you may be able to order a Vitamin D test and get your blood drawn at a local lab to fulfill the request. Vitamin D is a crucial regulator of the immune system. It is a common deficiency, especially for anyone who lives in the northern half of the United States. Studies even suggest that a vitamin D deficiency predicts a worse outcome for COVID-19 patients. Getting at least 20 minutes of sunshine during the warmer months generally allows the body to make enough of its own vitamin D. Supplementing it with a high quality vitamin D3 can help maintain your levels through the winter, but you first need to know your status. I generally take 5000 IU of vitamin D3 daily from October-May and get plenty of sunshine the rest of the year.

It is wise to get more Vitamin C. I wish I could say just get it through your diet: citrus fruits, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, kale, and kiwi are all good sources. Unfortunately, the food we eat today is not nearly as nutritious as it once was. One study cited by Scientific American found that Vitamin C levels were 30% lower in 1997 than in 1975 because of soil depletion. So, whenever you have the option of produce grown in organic or composted soil, the food will likely be more nutritious. But even with good dietary choices, most of us would benefit from a high-quality Vitamin C supplement. Vitamin C has been shown to prevent as well as decrease the severity and duration of the common cold.

Vitamin D is a crucial regulator of the immune system.

I tend to recommend between 2 and 5 grams (that’s 2000-5000 mg) of Vitamin C spread throughout the day, especially if you are around anyone who has been sick or is feeling under the weather. Vitamin C has a myriad of other benefits, including being a potent antioxidant, protecting the cardiovascular system, and promoting collagen synthesis for wound healing and skin health. It is generally well-tolerated. If you take too much Vitamin C, the body will stop absorbing it, and you will get loose stools or diarrhea. That is one reason why it is good to spread out your intake during the day. Generally, the body is smart and will absorb as much vitamin C as it needs. If you do get GI symptoms, decrease your dosage. The very best Vitamin C is “buffered” or “liposomal.” If you have a natural practitioner, they will recommend a reputable brand.

Elderberry (sambucus nigra) is native to North America and is a gentle immune-boosting herb. It is safe to take every day as a preventive measure. Take 1 tsp of elderberry syrup daily (for adults) for prevention and 1 tsp every 4 hours if you feel sick. Elderberry syrup is easy to make at home if you buy dried elderberries.

Get lots of sleep. Sleep is when we heal and repair. The immune system is constantly in surveillance mode, fighting off potential invading pathogens. It needs plenty of time to reset. And your body is smart; it will allocate limited resources. If you are not getting enough sleep, your body will prioritize survival, and you will not feel your best.

Some final thoughts: other supplements that support immune function are Vitamin A, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E. There is a combo product called, “ACES + Zinc”, that combine all these nutrients (plus vitamin C). It’s a good idea to have this on hand if you start to feel a cold/flu coming on. Act quickly. If you feel a little “off”, immediately prioritize hydrating fluids (water, herbal tea) and avoid caffeine (coffee, black/green tea). Try to get extra sleep if you have the sensation of coming down with something. See your natural or holistic practitioner for tips to boost immune function even further. This might include Echinacea, which I only recommend if someone is sick. It is not a good idea to take certain herbs all the time. This is why starting care with a reliable holistic doctor is a smart, proactive step. Don’t try to diagnose and treat yourself with “Dr. Google.” Follow these steps to have your best winter ever.

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Dr. Jessica Keating
Owner & Physician , Willow Clinic of Natural Medicine
Jessica Lodal Keating graduated with her doctorate in chiropractic medicine from National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) in Lombard, IL in December of 2016. She graduated summa cum laude and salutatorian of her class. She completed a primary care internship at the in-house clinic in the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in downtown Chicago. There she was able to provide natural approaches to health and wellness to an under-served population. She also led efforts to solicit supplement donations from local doctors in order to provide these supplements to patients free of charge. During her time at NUHS, Dr. Keating also studied traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and became certified to perform acupuncture, moxabustion and fire cupping. She uses the wisdom of eastern medicine to complement her holistic approach to assessing each individual patient and treating the whole person. She participated in various other seminars and trainings over the course of her studies including MPI’s full-spine adjusting seminar and Apex’s Fundamentals of Functional Blood Chemistry. Dr. Keating also completed her Doctorate of Naturopathic medicine in 2018, graduating valedictorian and summa cum laude. Dr. Keating has worked in several natural primary care offices in the greater Chicagoland area. She is also a full-time naturopathic clinician at National University of Health Sciences. There she is able to help shape the next generation of naturopathic doctors. She has a home-call practice where she treats patients in the comfort of their own homes all around Chicagoland. Dr. Keating loves balancing private practice with teaching and clinical supervision. Dr. Jessica Keating received her bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon before deciding to attend NUHS. After her undergrad degree, she grew frustrated with the field of political science and sought a new career path. Her own health had been dramatically improved through diet, yoga and herbal medicine. Because of these experiences, she decided to deepen her understanding of natural medicine by pursuing a higher degree. Dr. Keating remains committed to her own health journey on a personal and professional level. She aims to help others thrive and maintain optimal health by guiding them down the same path and educating her patients by empowering them to take their health into their own hands. Dr. Keating practices holistic, natural primary care. She treats GI conditions, autoimmune disorders, women’s health, sleep issues, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, back pain as well as working with patients on weight loss and general wellness promotion. She treats pediatric, adult and geriatric patients using diet, lifestyle modification, herbal medicine, physical medicine and acupuncture. In her free time, Dr. Keating loves reading, biking, cooking and playing with her cats. Dr. Keating also enjoys yoga, tennis, rollerblading, going to the movies and travelling with her husband. She has been to 28 different countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
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