D Natural Flu Buster

Yesterday I was sitting in a group along with a little five year old boy who looked miserable..red rimmed eyes and a persistent cough.  I encouraged him to drink lots of water because at the moment that was all I could do. I found myself later that night with a group of college aged kids and one of the boys and a very similar, miserable sounding cough that just wouldn’t quit.  This time I was in my own house so I made him a hot cup of camomile tea sweetened with a big spoon of unpasteurized honey.  While so many signs of the season are beautiful, like rainbow colored trees and decorated stores, this winter change of headaches, runny noses and painful coughing is much less welcome.  There are as many home and professional remedies for colds and flu as the day is long, but what is the most natural way to fight the common cold or flu?

With the exception of small children like the little girl in front of me at a Pop Warner football game wearing a sleeveless cotton dress, most of us are covering up more now…like her parents and me who were wearing ski parkas and still shivering whenever the sun went behind the clouds. Most of us know that modern day dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, but “the body also manufactures vitamin D from cholesterol, through a process triggered by the action of sunlight on skin, hence its nickname, “the sunshine vitamin.” ” (1)  Colder weather means more clothes, which means less sun on the skin and less protective vitamin D being manufactured within.  Is there is a connection then between less vitamin D and more cold and flu?

Research has shown that vitamin D “increases the body’s production of a remarkable class of proteins, called antimicrobial peptides. The 200 known antimicrobial peptides directly and rapidly destroy the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including the influenza virus, and play a key role in keeping the lungs free of infection.” (3) The Harvard School of Public Health examined an interesting trial study which tested vitamin D’s affect on cold and flu viruses.  For a period of four months, 340 children were given either a placebo or 1,200 IU of vitamin D each day.  In the end, the children given Vitamin D were 40% more likely NOT to become infected with the flu virus type A (more severe like H1N1). (2)

Viruses do not have their own DNA so they must invade a healthy cell in order to multiply. (You simply must take a few minutes to watch this animation of a virus invading a cell and multiplying. I was mesmerized!)  In this graphic reproduction you can see for yourself how those vitamin D generated antimicrobial peptides wage their warfare within against viruses like the ones that cause cold and flu.

Vitamin D has been getting a lot of press time these day for many things being discovered about it’s power to fight infection and disease, but today I just wanted to focus on its role in helping us to fight the winter flu.  A completely naked body under the summer sun generates 20,000 IUs of vitamin D in 48 hours. The National Institute of Health recommends anywhere from 660-4,000 IUs of vitamin D for adults per day, and if gotten from the the sun only that would mean “5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 AM and 3 PM at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen…” (4) 

The flesh of fatty fish and fortified food items like orange juice and milk provide the most vitamin D from the diet:

cod liver oil (1 Tbsp.)    1,360 IU
salmon (3 oz.)            447 IU
tuna   (3 oz.)              154 IU
fortified orange juice-1 c.  137 IU
egg- 1                     88 IU

So after you come in out of the winter sun, use salmon for the Fish and Green entree instead of the usual white fish for extra vitamin D.

I won’t personally be wearing any sleeveless cotton dresses to sports events for awhile, but I will be looking for those moments during the day when the sun is generating the most heat and make a point to show more skin while I eat more vitamin D rich fatty fish like salmon and tuna. I can’t think of a more natural way to fight infection than to pause a little longer in the sun…can you?  Care to join me outside for a tuna fish sandwich?

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(1) & (2) http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vitamin-d/index.html
(3) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/51913.php
(4) http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind

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