The First Thing to Do When a Cold or Flu Strikes

January 8, 2015 Updated: January 8, 2015
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During every cold and flu season we can expect lots of advertisements for flu vaccines.

I’ve written extensively on the dangers of flu vaccines before, and the fact that they simply do not work—according to the scientific evidence.

So here’s a timely review of what you can do to protect yourself and your family from colds and any type of flu this season, and in years to come.

What Causes Colds and Influenzas?

Both colds and various influenzas are caused by a wide variety of viruses (not bacteria).

While the two ailments typically affect your respiratory tract, there are some differences between them.

Common symptoms of a “regular cold” include runny nose, congestion, cough, and sore throat. The symptoms of the flu tend to be far more severe, as the influenza viruses are capable of causing severe lung infection, pneumonia, and even respiratory failure. They also tend to affect your joints—hence that allover achy feeling.

The most common way these viruses are spread is via hand-to-hand contact. For instance, someone with a cold blows their nose then shakes your hand or touches surfaces that you also touch.

However, the key to remember is that just being exposed to a cold virus does not mean that you’re destined to catch a cold.

If your immune system is operating at its peak, it should actually be quite easy for you to fend off the virus without ever getting sick. Ditto for flu viruses. If your immune system is impaired, on the other hand, they can easily take hold in your body. So, it’s important to understand that the reason you catch a cold or flu is that your immune system is impaired. It’s not an inevitable event based on exposure alone.

Lifestyle factors that can depress your immune system, alone or in combination, include:

  • Eating too much sugar, particularly fructose, and too many grains. The average person is consuming about 75 grams of fructose per day, and when fructose is consumed at that level it can devastate your immune system.

    One of the ways it does this is by unbalancing your gut flora. Sugar is “fertilizer” for pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungi that can set your immune system up for an 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.

    It would be wise to limit your total fructose consumption to below 25 grams a day if you’re in good health, or below 15 grams a day if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or are insulin resistant.

  • Vitamin D deficiency, as a result of insufficient sun exposure
  • Not getting enough rest
  • Insufficient exercise
  • Using ineffective strategies to address emotional stressors

Vitamin D Deficiency: An Underlying Cause of Both Colds and Influenzas

It’s estimated that the average U.S. adult typically has two to four colds each year, while children may have up to a dozen. Each year, between five and 20 percent of the US population also come down with flu-like illness, according to Medline.

One reason for the widespread prevalence of colds and the flu may be that vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common in the United States, especially during the winter months when cold and flu viruses are at their peak. Research has confirmed that “catching” colds and flu may actually be a symptom of an underlying vitamin D deficiency. Less than optimal vitamin D levels will significantly impair your immune response and make you far more susceptible to contracting colds, influenza, and other respiratory infections.

In the largest and most nationally representative study of its kind to date, involving about 19,000 Americans, people with the lowest vitamin D levels reported having significantly more recent colds or cases of the flu — and the risk was even greater for those with chronic respiratory disorders like asthma. At least five additional studies also show an inverse association between lower respiratory tract infections and vitamin D levels.

But the research is quite clear, the higher your vitamin D level, the lower your risk of contracting colds, flu, and other respiratory tract infections. I strongly believe you could avoid colds and influenza entirely by maintaining your vitamin D level in the optimal range.

(Shutterstock*)
(Shutterstock*)

IMPORTANT: Why Getting Your Vitamin D from Sun Exposure Is So Important

In a recent interview, Dr. Stephanie Seneff brought the importance of sun exposure to a whole new level. I’ve consistently recommended getting your vitamin D from regular sun exposure whenever possible, and Dr. Seneff’s review of how vitamin D—specifically from sun exposure—is intricately tied to healthy cholesterol and sulfur levels makes this recommendation all the more important. To review the details, please listen to the interview below.

Total Video Length: 1:29:55

However, as a quick summary, when you expose your skin to sunshine, your skin synthesizes vitamin D3 sulfate. This form of vitamin D is water soluble, unlike oral vitamin D3 supplements, which is unsulfated. The water soluble form can travel freely in your blood stream, whereas the unsulfated form needs LDL (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) as a vehicle of transport. Her suspicion is that the oral non-sulfated form of vitamin D likely will not provide the same benefits as the vitamin D created in your skin from sun exposure, because it cannot be converted to vitamin D sulfate.

I believe this is a very compelling reason to make a concerted effort to seek to get your vitamin D requirements from safe exposure to sunshine, or by using a safe tanning bed (one with electronic ballasts rather than magnetic ballasts, to avoid unnecessary exposure to EMF fields). I have maintained my level between 65 and 110 ng/ml with regular sun exposure.

I recognize that these options may not be feasible for most people, and certainly an oral vitamin D3 supplement will be much than nothing at all.

Vitamin D May Help You Recover Quicker… and Prevent a Cold or Flu in the First Place

Vitamin D is an amazingly effective antimicrobial agent, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi. So optimizing your levels will not only help send a cold or flu virus packing… it will prevent them from invading your body in the first place.

Contrary to flu vaccines (which I’ll discuss in a moment), this recommendation has been gaining scientific validation.

For example, in one study, published last year, researchers investigated the effect of vitamin D on the incidence of seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. For over a year, they conducted a study comparing the effects of vitamin D3 with placebos. They found that influenza A occurred in just 10.8 percent of the children in the vitamin D group, compared with 18.6 percent children in the placebo group.

According to the authors:

“This study suggests that vitamin D3 supplementation during the winter may reduce the incidence of influenza A, especially in specific subgroups of schoolchildren.”

Based on the latest investigations by Carole Baggerly, director of GrassrootsHealth, the average adult dose required to reach healthy vitamin D levels is 8,000 IU’s of vitamin D per day, if you’re taking an oral supplement. For children, many experts agree they need about 35 IU’s of vitamin D per pound of body weight. However, keep in mind that vitamin D requirements are highly individual, as your vitamin D status is dependent on numerous factors, so while these recommendations may put you closer to the ballpark of what most people likely need, it is impossible to make a blanket recommendation that will cover everyone’s needs.

The only way to determine your optimal dose is to get your blood tested. Ideally, you’ll want to maintain a vitamin D level of 50-70 ng/ml year-round.

Conventional Cold and Flu Strategies May Actually Slow Down Healing

Most uncomplicated colds last between eight and nine days, about 25 percent last two weeks, and 5-10 percent last three weeks. Even the most stubborn colds will typically resolve in a few weeks’ time.

Influenzas on the other hand, tend to be shorter in duration, with the typical flu case lasting four to seven days. How quickly you bounce back is often defined by your collective lifestyle habits — and this does not mean popping over-the-counter cold and flu remedies or fever reducers. In fact, as long as your temperature remains below 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius) there is no need to lower it.

Cold viruses do not reproduce at higher body temperatures, so a slight fever should actually help you get rid of the virus quicker.

Also avoid over-the-counter pain-relief medications, as research suggests that taking aspirin or Tylenol (acetaminophen) may actually suppress your body’s ability to produce antibodies to destroy the cold virus. Aspirin has also been linked to lung complications including pulmonary edema, an abnormal buildup of fluid in your lungs, when taken in excess. Only use these medications when absolutely necessary, such as if you have a temperature greater than 105 degrees F (40.5 degrees C), severe muscle aches, or weakness.

Most importantly, remember that antibiotics do NOT work against viruses, hence they are useless against colds and flu. Unfortunately, antibiotics are vastly over-prescribed for this purpose. So please, if you have a cold or flu, remember that unless you have a secondary bacterial pneumonia, an antibiotic will likely do far more harm than good, because whenever you use an antibiotic, you’re increasing your susceptibility to developing infections with resistance to that antibiotic — and you can become the carrier of this resistant bug and can spread it to others.

When Should You Call Your Physician?

Sinus, ear, and lung infections (bronchitis and pneumonia) are examples of bacterial infections that DO respond to antibiotics. If you develop any of the following symptoms, these are signs you may be suffering from a bacterial infection rather than a cold virus, and you should call your physician’s office:

  • Fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius)
  • Ear pain
  • Pain around your eyes, especially with a green nasal discharge
  • Shortness of breath or a persistent uncontrollable cough
  • Persistently coughing up green and yellow sputum

Shocking LACK of Evidence Supporting Flu Vaccines

While the flu vaccine is touted as the “best” way to avoid catching the seasonal flu, what many fail to realize is that the science available actually does NOT support this conclusion. In essence, it’s wishful thinking that is unsupported by scientific evidence.

Take the Cochrane Database Review for example—which is the gold standard for assessing the effectiveness of common medical interventions—as discussed here in a recent article on GreenMedInfo.com. Here are five Cochrane Database Reviews, published between 2006 and 2010, completely decimating the claim that flu vaccinations are the best course of action to prevent the flu.

  • A large-scale, systematic review of 51 studies, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2006, found no evidence that the flu vaccine is any more effective than a placebo in children under two. The studies involved 260,000 children, ages six to 23 months.
  • Two years, later, in 2008, another Cochrane review again concluded that “little evidence is available” that the flu vaccine is effective for children under the age of two.

    Even more disturbingly, the authors stated that: “It was surprising to find only one study of inactivated vaccine in children under two years, given current recommendations to vaccinate healthy children from six months old in the USA and Canada. If immunization in children is to be recommended as a public health policy, large-scale studies assessing important outcomes and directly comparing vaccine types are urgently required.”

  • Then, last year, Cochrane published the following bombshell conclusion:

“Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.

WARNING: This review includes 15 out of 36 trials funded by industry (four had no funding declaration). An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size. Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favorable to the vaccines.

The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in light of this finding.” [Emphasis mine.]

  • Last year, Cochrane also reviewed the available evidence with regards to protecting the elderly, and the results were equally abysmal. The authors concluded that: “The available evidence is of poor quality and provides no guidance regarding the safety, efficacy or effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older.”
  • They also reviewed whether or not vaccinating health care workers can help protect the elderly patients with whom they work. In conclusion, the authors state that: “[T]here is no evidence that vaccinating health care workers prevents influenza in elderly residents in long-term care facilities.