Nutritional and Lifestyle

Nutritional and Lifestyle

General Immune Support During the Cold, Flu, and Viral Illness Season

This has been an unusual season for colds, flu, and viral infections. We have had a number of requests for suggestions on practices that might provide general immune support with the goal of meeting this season with optimized defenses. While there are no explicit methods that can guarantee that one will not become ill, there are general practices that are known to be supportive of immune vigilance, barrier defenses, and recovery.

Preventive measures that can favorably impact the spread of illness include, but are not limited to:

Standard Preventive Measures:

a. Frequent handwashing with soap and water

b. Limit touching of the face with unwashed hands

c. Avoid crowded venues, if the frequent illness is reported d. Minimize use of public transportation, if frequent illness is reported

e. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing and sneezing

f. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze

g. Do not reuse tissue after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

h. Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched

i. Have a plan in case you need to miss work or other responsibilities due to personal illness or to care for a sick family member.

j.If you develop respiratory symptoms, stay home from work. If symptoms worsen, see your doctor

k. If you have recently traveled in Asia, Italy, or areas known to have recent outbreaks of illness and you develop symptoms, see your doctor

l. If outbreaks of illness are reported in your area, have sufficient food for the last one to three weeks, so you may shelter at home Several general lifestyle steps have been identified through scientific study to have supportive effects on immune function.

Some of these are briefly outlined below (citations are available elsewhere):

Diet and Nutrition Consider:

• Reducing your intake of simple sugars through candies, beverages, and other sources. Excess sugar can make the immune system sluggish. For instance, elevated blood sugar (as in diabetes) has been linked with poor white blood cell function.

• Ensuring adequate amounts of dietary protein. The protein content of muscle may be one important determinant of the strength of the immune response during infection. • Including fiber in your diet in the form of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. These foods are also high in vitamins and minerals. • Reducing your intake of pastries, doughnuts, French fries, chicken nuggets, candies, and other foods containing trans fatty acids.

• Restricting coffee intake to early in the day. Coffee consumption too late in the day (after lunchtime) may interfere with sleep, which can alter immunity. • Reducing your intake of soft drinks.

Lifestyle Consider:

• Getting regular exercise, even if it’s only walking for thirty minutes each day. Those who exercise moderately are more resistant to infection. Make sure the exercise is fun. Do it with a friend if at all possible. Heavy exercisers can be more susceptible to infection. If you are a heavy exerciser who gets ill frequently, modify your workouts. Exercise may be one of the most important of all influences on immune function.

• Building muscle mass by using resistance exercises. Muscle is increasingly being viewed as an important component of the immune response. Greater muscle mass may aid in defense against microbes, and in recovery from infection, trauma, or surgery.

• Getting adequate sunlight, especially if you live in a northern climate, during winter, or if you work indoors under artificial lights. Get outside on sunny winter days. Sun exposure on your hands and face is often enough, but a full body is better. Avoid excessive sun exposure during summertime.

• Giving up smoking, if you smoke. If there is a smoker in your home, encourage them to quit. Smokers and those who live with smokers get more respiratory infections.

• Finding daily time for meditation, prayer, reflection, or whatever quietude meets your personal needs.

• Drinking alcohol in moderation.

• Avoiding overuse of prescription drugs.

• Avoiding the use of illicit drugs.

• Getting deep, sound, and abundant sleep. It cannot be stressed enough. Sleep may be one of the most important of all influences on immune function. A short nap in the afternoon is often helpful, provided it does not disrupt your evening sleep.

• Evening sleep that begins by 9 or 10 p.m. is considered by many to be most productive in supporting immune defense and repair.

Mood, Mind, and Emotions Consider:

• Seeking empathy. Express your feelings and emotions with someone you trust. Suppressed anger, sadness, grief, or other emotions can lead to suppressed immunity. • Keeping a daily journal of your feelings, especially during important (or difficult) life events. It gives the immune system a boost that can be verified as long as six weeks after the journal-keeping has been discontinued. • Asking for and accepting support from friends and loved ones.

• Seeking a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in your relationships, work, and daily activities.

• Learning to say “no” (when you need to) when others ask for your help or services. While service and giving are important parts of a healthy life, being unable to assert yourself and claim your needs can compromise your well-being.

• If you are depressed, seek help from a professional. Seek out people you trust. Get moderate exercise. People suffering from depression have weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to infection.

• If you are a caregiver for a chronically ill spouse, child, or friend, seek other means of support. Take breaks. Find other outlets. Caregiving can be immensely draining and can take a toll on immune function.

• Laugh as much as you can.


• Finding a community with whom you share interests. Close social ties are important to our resistance to disease. Loneliness has been linked to declining immunity and changes in genes associated with immunity. • Cultivating interpersonal relationships. Those with more numerous close personal ties have healthier immune systems. Those who isolate themselves are more susceptible to illness that is more severe and long-lasting.

Natural Substances that Support Healthy Immunity Below is a list of natural substances for consideration that fit the category of general immune support.

* In all cases, there is a body of scientific literature (in vitro and in vivo) that has supported the role of these substances in the human immune response. These should be seen as considerations that apply to adults.  

We also recommend

  • Zinc (as Zn gluconate, Zn picolinate, or Zn bis-glycinate) 30 mg/day
  • Garlic Extract (Kyolic) 2 caps 2x/day Elderberry Extract (Sambucus; standardized) 1 capful 3x/day (increase frequency if symptoms present)
  • Selenium (as L-selenomethionine)*** 200 mcg/day (do not increase dosage)
  • Ginger: shaved ginger root into hot water, as tea; pickled ginger – Use throughout the day, as desired
*For products such as these, the FDA has permitted claims such as “supports healthy immune response” **Consult a physician if pregnant or lactating; or for children ***Check other supplements for selenium content. Reduce recommended dosage above, if ingesting other products that contain selenium