Can you Afford the Flu? Improve Your Immune System & Avoid the Feeling Blue this Year

Winter is coming and that means flu’s and colds will be on the rise. Did you know that each year in Australia, the cold, and flu result in over 80,000 visits to the GP?[1] And, on average an adult is likely to catch two to three colds per year?[1]

The cold and flu is nothing to be sniffed at! Even if you’re in good health symptoms can last up to a week or even two —if you’re in at risk groups the symptoms can last even longer or, develop into potentially life threatening complications like pneumonia. Additionally, researchers are now discovering that your body’s reaction to the flu virus may be one of the triggering factors for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis[2] and diabetes[3] that may only manifest years later.

Your immune system is the only defense that stands between your body and the flu.

The flu vaccination is often promoted as the silver bullet in flu defense. The reality is that effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies depending on how accurate the World Health Organisation and the Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee (a part of the TGA) are in predicting the major flu outbreaks for the year. The real silver bullet for protecting yourself from the flu is a vital, healthy, functioning immune system. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come in injectable form. Improving your immune system in preparation for winter starts now —these are three methods we use in our home.

Increase Humidity with a Humidifier or Diffuser

Have you ever noticed how hot and stuffy your home get’s during winter? We go from the nice warm summers with doors, and windows open to closed doors, closed windows, and when it starts to get really cold, heaters!

The drop in moisture and humidity in the air increases the ability for viruses to survive and be transmitted from person to person[4]. While you might feel nice and cosy by the fireplace, you’re creating an environment that is more likely to see viruses transmit between family members. You can offset this by using a humidifier or diffuser to increase the relative humidity in the air, while still letting you keep the fireplace.

I use ultra sonic, essential oil diffusers around the house and clinic. These can easily by found in most department stores, or health food shops. This will help increase the humidity in the air and let you diffuse essential oils like clove, cinnamon, thyme, tea tree, and eucalyptus. These oils, not only smell pleasant but are also highly anti microbial to help kill bacteria and viruses.

Don’t Build Up A Sleep Debt

Now, I think, there’s nothing better in winter than curling up in bed under the covers. Did you know that not only is this enjoyable but you’re also doing your immune system a favour? Now, you have an excuse.

A study of 153 healthy volunteers found that sleeping less than 7 hours a night makes you almost 3 times as likely to get a cold than if you sleep 8 hours or more.[5]. I know which group I would have liked to be in as part of that trial! Oh, and sleep efficiency is also important! Sleep efficiency measures the amount of time a person actually sleeps in bed! A sleep efficiency of less than 80% reduced the health benefits, well some of them, of being in bed.

I’ve written about nutritional strategies for sleeping problems previously. If you have problems sleeping contact me for natural solutions. Sleeping tablets may be effective in the short-term but can very easily lead to longer term dependency problems.

Nutrition for a Healthy Immune System

The final important method for improving your immune health is your diet. The right foods and nutrients before and during winter, while avoiding immune suppressing foods can make the difference getting through winter flu free.

With 80% of your immune system living in your gut, it’s not surprising that one of the best things you can do to support your immune system is to take a daily probiotic. Regular probiotic use helps to reduce both the incidence and the severity of colds and flues as well as establishing a better gut microbiota[6]. It really is a win, win!

I take some form of probiotic year around. There are so many things that can deplete our good bacteria levels that probiotic supplementation is one of the supplements I recommend people take all the time. For immune health, I use a probiotic that contains the lactobacillus acidophilus and lactobacillus rhamnosus. If you’re having problems finding a good probiotic come and see us in the clinic.

My second favourite nutrient for good immune health is zinc. Nearly everyone I see in the clinic with constant immune problems and colds or flues are zinc deficient and respond really well to a short course of supplementation with zinc.

Last but not least, Vitamin D! Have you had your level checked lately? We recommend for good immune health a level of at least 120.


  1. BUPA. Colds and Flu Symptoms and Treatment – Bupa. Last Accessed: Thursday, 27 March 2014
  2. Silva Markovic-Plese, Bernhard Hemmer, Yingdong Zhao, Richard Simon, Clemencia Pinilla, and Roland Martin. High level of cross-reactivity in influenza virus hemagglutinin-specific cd4+ t-cell response: implications for the initiation of autoimmune response in multiple sclerosis. Journal of Neuroimmunology, 169(1–2):31 – 38, 2005.
  3. Laura M. Roman, Linda F. Simons, Robert E. Hammer, Joseph F. Sambrook, and Mary-Jane H. Gething. The expression of influenza virus hemagglutinin in the pancreatic β cells of transgenic mice results in autoimmune diabetes. Cell, 61(3):383 – 396, 1990.
  4. Jeffrey Shaman and Melvin Kohn. Absolute humidity modulates influenza survival, transmission, and seasonality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(9):3243–3248, 2009.
  5. Sheldon Cohen, William J Doyle, Cuneyt M Alper, Denise Janicki-Deverts, and Ronald B Turner. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold.. Arch Intern Med, 169(1):62–67, Jan 2009.
  6. Leyer, G. J., et al. Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children. Pediatrics. 124(2):e172-e179, 2009