Editor’s Note: The “most wonderful time of the year” is less wonderful when half of it is spent sick in bed.
Between October and November of this year, up to 2.5 million Americans have already battled the flu – and that number is expected only to rise in the coming months.
And adults aged 65 and older are especially vulnerable to the colds, flu and viruses that always strike at this time of year. During the 2017 to 2018 flu season, the CDC reports, adults 65 and older accounted for 70% of flu-related hospitalizations.
In your golden years, these viruses are nothing to mess with.
To help you get the upper hand over these threats to your immune system this holiday season, we’ve called in leading functional medicine doc Phil Roberts.
Dr. Roberts is an expert in anti-aging and regenerative medicine. He actively fights against what he calls the “Band-Aid approach” – treating symptoms without addressing the root cause of an illness.
To hear more from Dr. Roberts and to get the best tips and tricks to stay healthy and strong all year long, you can subscribe the free daily email newsletter Practical Health Today by clicking here.
Read on below to discover the crucial nutrient that can help protect you this winter.
– Mable Buchanan, Assistant Managing Editor
’Tis the season for sickness.
This can be an extremely dangerous time of the year… especially for those over 65.
Pneumonia kills some 50,000 Americans every year, with babies and seniors facing the highest risk.
And colds and influenza are the most common viral causes of it.
In severe cases, when a patient is admitted to intensive care, pneumonia is deadly 30% of the time.
Those hospitalized with pneumonia actually have a higher risk of dying than those who suffered a heart attack or stroke.
That’s what makes what I’m about to share with you so important.
We’re approaching the peak time of the year for illnesses like the common cold and the flu.
When the temperatures drop, so does our immune system’s ability to fight off invaders.
Breathing in cold, dry air prevents white blood cells from reaching the mucous membrane. That makes it harder for the body to fight off viruses.
And when the days are short, people spend more time indoors away from the sun, which can lead to a vitamin D deficiency. That’s also bad news for your immune system. A healthy immune system usually requires at least 3,000 to 5,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 on a daily basis.
To make matters worse, spending time indoors with others is ideal for viruses. Close quarters make it that much easier for viruses to jump from host to host.
I don’t have to tell you that it’s not the cold temperatures that make us sick… It’s just that many viruses thrive in cold conditions.
For instance, the influenza virus operates at peak efficiency at 41 degrees. When the air is cold and dry, like it has been across much of the country, the flu is best at surviving and spreading.
All of this means we’ve really got to ramp up our game if we want to enjoy a happy and healthy holiday season.
But here’s the problem…
When viruses are floating around the home or office, we usually know it. We can see the symptoms clear as day.
And what do most people do? They reach for a tall glass of orange juice… or vitamin C supplements.
While that’s not necessarily a bad thing (no need to remind you of the benefits of eating raw fruit versus drinking juice here), we can and need to do better than that.
There’s an often overlooked essential mineral that is far more important. Your immune system feeds off it, and it’s critical in helping you stay healthy… especially as we get older.
What I’m referring to is zinc.
Older adults are the fastest-growing population in the U.S… and a staggering amount are vulnerable to zinc deficiency.
We don’t consume enough of it. And to make matters worse, many don’t absorb it very well.
Lots of prescription and over-the-counter medications can limit the body’s ability to absorb zinc.
For example, heart medications like ACE inhibitors actually attach to zinc… and zinc in this bound-up form is unable to replace the body’s zinc needs.
This can lead to a whole host of issues.
For men, low levels of zinc lead to a faster breakdown of testosterone into estrogen…
Zinc deficiency also damages your DNA, which can lead to increased cancer risks…
Hair loss… diarrhea… appetite loss… impotence… loss of taste… memory loss… and, of course, a weakened immune system unable to ward off viruses.
The best way to get any essential vitamins and minerals you need is by eating them.
Oysters, shellfish, seeds, legumes, lamb and cashews are all good candidates to help keep your zinc levels up.
But even the healthiest of diets may not be enough.
For example, phytates, which are in whole-grain breads and legumes, can bind and inhibit the absorption of zinc.
And as I’ve mentioned before, our food supply doesn’t provide the same level of nutrients it did just 20 or 30 years ago. Fertilizers and poor crop rotation practices have depleted a lot of the nutrients we once got from the soil.
Most multivitamins have at least some level of zinc in them… but it’s usually not enough. And it’s not always the right kind of zinc.
The Right Stuff
What you want to look for is zinc acetate. It’s the most effective and useful form of zinc.
This form is best at activating the T lymphocytes that control and regulate immune response and attack infections. It’s also the form of zinc that’s best at reducing the length of time you’ll deal with the flu if it’s already settled in.
Now, before you head out to pick up a supplement and a basket of oysters, you should know that a Goldilocks approach is necessary.
The current recommended daily allowance of zinc is 11 milligrams (mg) per day. But to keep the immune system working at its highest level and stave off viruses, 25 to 50 mg makes sense.
Especially if you’re working from a deficiency.
But too much zinc can have the exact opposite results that you’re looking for.
Zinc toxicity can lead to flu-like symptoms… stomach pain… loss of taste… nausea and vomiting.
So it’s important to not overdo it as well.
By keeping your intake to 25 to 50 mg per day, you won’t have to worry about zinc toxicity.
And, best of all, your immune system will be strong enough to help keep you healthy all season long.