We’re heading into the Christmas holidays, where parties, friends, and family abound, and gifts and hugs are shared. Unfortunately, these close quarters are also prime opportunities for the flu and other viruses to be shared among us. If our immune systems are compromised with our lack of sunlight at this time of the year (and therefore low Vitamin D), and further taxed by lack of sleep, stress, alcohol, sweets, dry heated environments, and lack of exercise, we can be more susceptible to coming down with the flu.
So what’s the scoop on Vitamin D, and can it help you prevent and/or treat the flu?
Low Vitamin D levels are associated with higher flu rates.
There are many studies showing that deficient levels of Vitamin D are associated with higher rates of flus and respiratory tract infections. Now, keep in mind that just because there is a correlation, it doesn’t mean that the lack of Vitamin D is actually causing the increase in flus, and it’s definitely not the only factor. But clinically, we do see that optimizing Vitamin D levels and correcting deficiencies generally decreases patients’ frequency of getting sick with the flu.
Vitamin D supplementation has been studied in the context of preventing one kind of influenza, influenza A. It was found that supplementing with Vitamin D decreased influenza A flus in schoolchildren, with the added bonus of decreasing asthma rates in those susceptible (Urashima et al., 2010).
Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels
I frequently test my patients for their Vitamin D levels in the blood (25-0H Vitamin D), and very rarely are they adequate, even in those that are taking 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D on a daily basis! So often, if your levels were very deficient to start with, blindly taking the recommended intake won’t help very much. You also don't want to take too much and overdose!
The average blood level of Vitamin D in Canadians is below 75 nmol/L (the lower end of the “normal” range), and 1/3 of those people are likely quite deficient, with levels below 50 nmol/L. Levels in the winter are even lower than that! I aim not only for normal ranges, but optimal ranges for my patients. This usually requires prescription level doses of Vitamin D (>1000 IU a day), which I can prescribe. Getting your levels checked can allow me to dose your Vitamin D appropriately and safely, bringing your levels up quickly and efficiently. Vitamin D is also important for so many other things, including bone health, mood, and energy!
Treatment Of Flu With “The Vitamin D Hammer”
Most of us have come down with the flu at some point or another, and we know it can make us feel quite miserable. What if you could cut that misery short? Can Vitamin D help once you already have the flu?
There isn’t much research in the area. However, there is some evidence clinically from doctors who use high doses of Vitamin D that it can be very helpful. We’re not talking about 800-1000 IU a day in these instances, as this likely would be too little, too late for most people. Dr. Gerry Schwalfenberg, MD, and his colleague use very high doses of Vitamin D (we’re talking high prescription doses) at the onset of the flu for 2-3 days. They call this “the Vitamin D hammer”, flooding the body with Vitamin D short-term! With this protocol, they find that patients’ symptoms resolve within 48-72 hours, which is amazing considering that the usual flu will often last a week or more, and can be followed by feeling weak and rundown for a while still afterwards.
Do you want to minimize your chances of getting the flu? Then among your arsenal, a good personalized dose of Vitamin D would probably be a good idea. We can get you tested to optimize your levels, and include other immune-boosting measures and supplements into your treatment plan so that you keep up your energy and smile all winter long!
Schwalfenberg G. (2015). Vitamin D for influenza. Can Fam Physician, 2015 Jun; 61(6):507. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4463890/
Urashima M., Segawa T., Okazaki M., Kurihara M., Wada Y., and Ida H. (2010). Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Am J Clin Nutr, 2010 May;91(5):1255-60. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.29094. Epub 2010 Mar 10.
Dealing with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation or both, a tender or painful abdomen, and a sensitive stomach) can be exhausting! If you are an IBS sufferer, you probably have tried several things in an attempt to manage your symptoms. The cause of IBS can be different for different people, so what may work for others may not work for you!
Here are 5 things you can begin doing now if you have IBS, which can start to get you on the right track to manage your symptoms.
1) Start a diet diary
Being aware of what you put in your body and how you react to your food can be an important first step to help you identify if specific foods are a trigger for your symptoms. Most IBS patients have IgG food sensitivities, which can lead to symptoms anytime from eating the food, up to 72hrs after. Write down everything you eat every day for a week, along with the timing of any symptoms you may have. Then, go back and highlight when you ate foods that tend to be triggers: wheat and gluten, cow’s dairy, eggs, soy, corn, yeast, and high FODMAPs foods. Can you see a pattern between what you eat and your symptoms?
If things get confusing, bring in your diet diary to your appointment with me, and we can discuss the best avenue to proceed with. Food sensitivity testing may be a good option, or my 7-Day Detox Program.
2) Take a good quality probiotic
Did you know that about 3lbs of your weight is due to the crucial bacteria that you carry around in your gut? These bacteria need to be in a fine balance in order to play their role in decreasing your reactions to foods, maintaining a good intestinal barrier, keeping your immune system strong and balanced, and even improving your mood! Each strain of probiotic has its own effects on the immune system, so formulas can get pretty specific. Most of the time, I usually recommend a probiotic blend that includes Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longus, and Bifidobacterium lactis. If you feel worse on a probiotic, stop taking it and talk to a naturopathic doctor. It could be a sign of something that’s going on in your body, such as a dairy allergy, a FODMAPs sensitivity (depending on what is included in the probiotic), or an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine (SIBO).
3) Introduce a regular exercise routine
You may not feel like exercising if your IBS symptoms are severe, but if you can, start small but get moving! Exercise has been shown to significantly improve the quality of life of patients with IBS. Exercise helps keep your bowels regular, changes gas transit time in the intestines, improves mood, and overall makes people feel better! A regular exercise routine is good not only for IBS symptoms, but also for overall health. Why not give it a try?
4) Cut out lactose from your diet
Since lactose intolerance is common in people with IBS, and can be confused with IBS, try cutting out lactose in your diet for 1-2 weeks. That means trying lactose-free milk, yoghurt, cheese and other dairy products instead of the regular cow’s dairy products. If your symptoms resolve, then you’ve got your culprit, lactose! However, if your symptoms get better but aren’t completely gone, then you may be lactose intolerant but still have other things going on at the same time. Often times, patients with IBS cannot tolerate casein, a protein in milk products which is found in both regular and lactose-free dairy products.
5) Eat real food
Remove the processed and sugar-laden foods from your grocery cart, and instead shop mostly the perimeter of the grocery store, where the fresh produce is found (skip the bakery isle if it is found there too). That way, you will be eating nutritious food that is naturally high in fibre, and you’ll be avoiding the sugar which feeds unhealthy bacteria in the gut. If your digestive system is currently very sensitive, you may want to eat more liquid foods in the form of home-made soups, stews, or smoothies. Just keep in mind that you could react to some of the foods listed in Tip #1.
Starting to implement some of these tips should help you get some relief from your IBS symptoms. However, it’s always best to work with your naturopathic doctor if you want to feel better faster and avoid much of the guesswork. Some critical tests can really help pinpoint the treatment that you need, and specific naturopathic treatments and supplements can speed up your healing process.
Helping patients with IBS is a passion of mine. If you are ready to get lasting relief from your IBS symptoms, I’ll be delighted to help you!
Cuomo R., Andreozzi P., Zito F.P., Passananti V., De Carlo G., Sarnelli G. (2014). Irritable bowel syndrome and food interaction. World J Gastroenterol., 2014 Jul 21;20(27):8837-45. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v20.i27.8837.
Johannesson E., Simrén M., Strid H., Bajor A., and Sadik R. (2011). Physical activity improves symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Gastroenterol., 2011 May;106(5):915-22. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2010.480. Epub 2011 Jan 4.
Dr. Tamar Ferreira is a Naturopathic Doctor in Brampton, Ontario. Her areas of focus include digestive health, hormone balance, and skin conditions.