How to Prevent Colds and Flus Naturally

by Dr. Laurie Terzo


It’s that time of year again. Cold and flu season is upon us. And with it, we are bombarded with reminders to go and get our flu shot.

Many of my clients ask if there is an alternative to the flu shot.

The answer is a big YES!

There are so many things you can do to boost your immune system this time of year. And, since the flu shot’s efficacy is usually around 40%, even if you do decide to get one it is still a good idea to boost your immune system with some natural alternatives.

Here are my top tips to naturally boost your immune system during cold and flu season:

  1. Supplement with extra vitamins like Vitamin D3 and Vitamin C, especially during the winter months.

    Vitamin D3 plays an essential part in regulating the immune system. It helps your body produce over 200 anti-microbial peptides. What are those, you ask? They are a part of our immune system which has been shown to fight off bacteria, viruses, fungi, and cancerous cells. And, it is safe for children, pregnant women, and elderly people.

    A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when kids were given 1200IUs daily of Vitamin D3, they were 58% less likely to catch the flu than their classmates. That is huge!

    I recommend testing your Vitamin D3 level, and then based on that a recommendation for what dosage you should take of Vitamin D3 can be given. For most people, the optimal level is between 50-75ng/mL. A safe minimal dose for most people is 2,000IUs daily. For Vitamin C, I recommend an extra 1-2 grams daily.

  2. Eat probiotic rich foods. Some examples include apple cider vinegar, miso, tempeh, brine-cured olives, kombucha, sauerkraut, and coconut kefir. If you are unable to eat probiotic rich foods, consider taking a supplement. Probiotics are no longer thought of as only a helpful supplement for digestive complaints; it is that and so much more.

    A whopping 60-70% of our immune system is found in our gut!

    Studies have shown that probiotics, or the 'good' bacteria in our digestive track, can help communicate with the portion of our immune system located in our gut and strengthen the response of our immune system. It's also been shown that probiotics increase certain types of T cells, which are our body's immune system soldiers. Probiotics are safe for babies, children, and pregnant women.

  3. Wash your hands with soap and water regularly. Our hands are the way most germs get distributed - doorknobs, tabletops, pens, etc. Frequent hand washing is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from viruses and bacteria.

    A 2014 review of hundreds previously published studies published by CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) reported hand washing as one of the top things to do for preventing and treating colds.

    The best way to wash your hands is to soap them up and then rub them vigorously for 20 seconds, making sure to wash all parts of your hand and fingernails.

  4. Lifestyle modifications are important this time of year. In Chinese medicine thought, it is important to live in harmony with the cycles of our environment. The Winter time is considered more Yin; it is a time to be slow down, be quiet, restful, introspective, and a time to conserve our Qi (our base energy).

    It is a time to get extra sleep, do restful activities, and eat warming and nourishing foods. This way, we have renewed strength for the power of Spring time when it comes around again.

  5. Boost your immune system with some herbal help. There are many herbs which can help us strengthen our immune system during this time of year, making it much more difficult for our bodies to succumb to the various bacteria and viruses we are exposed to.

    One of my favorite herbs for this time of year is elderberry. It has potent anti-viral properties and is an herb I give my son daily this time of year for cold/flu prevention. Since it has been shown to reduce the duration of flu symptoms by four days, I use this herb for myself at the first signs I feel a cold or flu coming on.

    Another very widely used Chinese herbal formula I like to use for prevention is called Jade Windscreen formula (or Yu Ping Feng San). The herbs in this formula have anti-viral and anti-microbial properties and can enhance the immune system.

Whether or not to get the flu shot is a personal choice and I believe this decision should be left up to each individual and their circumstances. However, to make an informed choice, it’s important to have information in front of you from both sides.

If you are interested in learning more about the research to date on the flu vaccine, I would recommend listening to this Revolution Health Radio podcast episode here. I think Chris Kresser does an amazing job of presenting an unbiased overview of the research that’s been published on the flu shot to date.

Whatever you decide, I wish you a happy and healthy fall and winter season!

Laurie Terzo