Maintaining wellness all winter long is more important now than ever. Most of us face at least two major health challenges this time of year...but we're throwing in a suggestion for a third just in case!
First we think about our immune systems. Flu and cold season is always a challenge - this year that challenge is compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the incredible importance of staying well so our health care system can manage the influx of patients combating that disease.
In addition to maintaining robust immunity, our digestive tracts also tend to take a hit this time of year. The holiday feasts often introduce new foods to our meal plans and encourage overindulgence of both food and drink. Bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation are common companions from Thanksgiving through Valentine's Day. Since our digestive tract and immune systems work together so closely, we can't address one without considering the other.
Getting a personalized health prevention and maintenance plan is always the gold standard, but here are a number of nutrients and supplements we often recommend to patients this time of year.
IMMUNE SUPPORTIVE NUTRIENTS AND BOTANICALS:
Vitamin D is always on the top of our list for immune-related health goals. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of infection(1). Because we live so far north of the equator, Minnesotans are especially at risk of vitamin D deficiency. The UV-B rays we need to make vitamin D in our skin does not penetrate our atmosphere from approximately Labor Day to Memorial Day. This makes supplementing with vitamin D an imperative act of self-care through cold and flu season.
Vitamin C is probably the nutrient most well-known for it's role in the immune system. This nutrient is a power antioxidant, helping to stabilize cells in our body that will attack and destroy viruses (2). Vitamin C is easy to get enough of in a plant-focused diet, but also a worthy contribution to the medicine cabinet.
A word of caution regarding supplementing with vitamin C: high doses of ascorbic acid (the most common and least expensive form of the nutrient) will cause loose stool. Look for a product that contains bioflavonoids to reduce the risk of this side effect while still optimizing your antioxidant protection.
Zinc lozenges are another worthy investment. Probably the second-most well-known immune system warrior, zinc actually kills viruses in the mouth and throat. Lozenges containing 3-5mg of zinc are great to have for when you feel that scratchiness in your throat at the onset of illness or as a preventative measure to suck on after forays out into public spaces.
Elderberry syrup is a traditional herbal remedy often used during flu season. Elderberries contain vitamins A and C as well as the flavonoids quercetin and rutin which may improve immune function. Elderberry is anti-viral particularly against the influenza (flu) virus and may even reduce the duration of the flu (3). Traditionally elderberry syrup is used daily throughout flu season. For more information about elderberry syrup check out this blog post authored by Jesse.
Supplementing with Digestive Enzymes help break down foods that we don't usually eat and foods that would otherwise trigger digestive upset. A good digestive enzyme supplement contains several forms of amylases, proteases and lipases to help break down the carbohydrates, proteins and fats in foods. These supplements may also contain hydrochloric acid (HCl) to further support digestion by optimizing stomach acid production.
Probiotics are helpful for both digestion and immunity. Probiotic supplements contain live bacteria (and sometimes beneficial yeasts) that contribute to the microbiome in your gut. This colony of microorganisms stimulates digestive processes to keep things moving smoothly and effectively through your large intestine. They also stimulate and support proper immune function, helping to regulate cells that combat viruses and other foreign "invaders" while keeping healthy tissues protected.
A good probiotic contains multiple strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, and contains billions of CFUs (colony forming units).
Fish oil contains essential fatty acids that your brain needs to function at its best. It's common for our mood to dip in the winter months and an omega-3 supplement along with vitamin D and light therapy can be helpful. The essential fatty acid EPA in particular has been show to improve mood(4). When looking for an omega supplement aim for a supplement that contains more EPA than DHA in doses of at least 2 grams total per day.
As mentioned above: a personalized wellness plan is always the gold standard. If you have questions about how these general recommendations fit into your overall health narrative, get in touch with one of our providers for an informed and objective perspective.
- Aranow, C. (2011) Vitamin D and the Immune System.
- Carr, A., Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and the Immune System
- Zakay-Rones, et al (2004) Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections
- Sublette, et al (2011) Meta-analysis of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in clinical trials in depression
Dr. Sara Jean Barrett and Jesse Haas are founders of Wellness Minneapolis. They both share their passion for holistic, sustainable lifestyles through their one-on-one services and group wellness programs. Follow @wellnessmpls on Instagram for tips on making wellness a daily, doable action in your life.