Like all of you; I hate the flu – I’ve had it (more than once) and I never want to get it again. Nobody wants to get sick and no one wants to take off work because of it. As a result I searched the medical research to find some answers and I made a surprising discovery (more on that in a bit).
- Most of hear the following tips for the flu season:
- Make sure you get enough sleep
- Avoiding touching your eyes and mouth and wash your hands
- Get the flu shot
- Engage in regular exercise
- Air out your house on a regular basis
The good new is that recent research has found a possible answer for why we get the flu and colds in winter. The bad news is that many of our common beliefs for what causes us to get sick have been disproved.
Most of us were brought up with the belief that going out in cold or wet weather caused us to get a cold or flu – recent and past studies have consistently disproved that belief. My daughter is 5 years old and I have to fight this old belief as weather gets colder – I want her to be warm outside and want to say “you’ll get sick if you don’t put a sweater on” but now I hold my tongue because I know better now – its not cold or wet weather that cause’s you to get sick.
If its not cold weather you might think it’s being around people more due to it being cold outside? Again the answer is no, we now work indoors close to people year round and still more people get sick in the winter than the summer when we are huddled together inside in the air conditioning.
So what is it that leads us to get sick more in winter months? Recently a doctor made a surprising discovery:
In 2005 in a hospital over run with the flu Dr John Cannel, a psychiatrist, noticed that none of the patients on his ward caught it. What was different about them? Well, the only thing he could find was that his patients were all on high doses of vitamin D. Think about it, vitamin D is known as the “Sunshine” vitamin since our bodies need sunlight to make it. In winter months the days are shorter and the time we do spend outside we are covered up. In addition vitamin D has been the subject of a considerable amount of research with the immune system, it helps in lowering the risk and severity of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, just to name a few. So how does it work on the flu? The current theory involves a chemical called cathelicidin which is produced by our bodies to fight infection. Cathelicidin needs vitamin D to be active in fighting viruses and microbes.
The USDA, the agency that sets the bar for what we should be getting in our diets, has raised the recommended level of vitamin D from 200 to 400 units a day due our need for it and our reduced exposure to the sun year round but many doctors and researchers put it at 1000 – 2000 units a day, especially in the winter.
You may think you’re getting enough vitamin D since you drink milk, a glass of milk provides just 100 units of vitamin D while 15 minutes in the sun give you up to 20,000 units.
Even if you go outside in the winter you have to cover up to stay warm which limits your exposure to the sun. So supplementation makes sense.
Thankfully, vitamin D supplements are very inexpensive. My current recommendation is to take 1000 to 2000 units of vitamin D a day from November to March – the peak flu season. Investment is minimal – under $10 for a month, less than most people spend on lunch for one day, – is that worth the possible lost work or even your job?
Personally I supplement with 2000 units of vitamin D a day from November to March. I did this last year and even though I didn’t get vaccinated I avoided getting the flu.
Follow the usual recommendations:
- Get Enough Rest
- Clean Hands
- Flu Shot
- Regular Exercise
- Airing out the house
- Vitamin D 1000-2000 units a day
While Vitamin D supplements are safe for most there are some of us who shouldn’t take them: If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood calcium levels, kidney disease or are taking digoxin or other cardiac glycosides, consult your medical doctor or chiropractor before taking vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D toxicity can occur, usually when the dose taken exceeds 10,000 units a day
Yours in health,
Dr. Tom Meehan
If you’re skeptical, please check out the experts below:
Articles and interviews with Dr Cannel -
Baltimore Sun article http://www.healthy.net/scr/news.asp?Id=8826
Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D, Cannel’s original article
Vitamin D in Clinical Practice (vitamin D supplementation reduces deaths from numerous diseases) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18377099?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
On the epidemiology of influenza (Cannel’s most recent article, full text, on vitamin D and influenza)
Related articles on vitamin D -
Kids should get more vitamin D: http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/diet.fitness/10/13/vitamin.d.kids.ap/index.html
Life Extension Foundation article http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2007/feb2007_report_vitamind_02.htm
Another plug for vitamin D from Opra’s friends (second question on the page)