Five steps to preventing cancer, depression, allergies, and anxiety.

My ‘Health’ elevator sales pitch when asked ‘what is the one thing a person can do to feel better’ is to focus on the gut.

The community of bacteria and other microbes living in your intestinal tract, collectively known as the gut microbiome, are the best long-term investment in your health.

Trillions of microbial cells inhabit the human body, outnumbering human cells by 10 to one according to some estimates, and growing evidence suggests that the rich array of intestinal microbiota helps us process nutrients in the foods we eat, bolsters the immune system and does all sorts of odd jobs that promote sound health. A diminished microbial ecosystem, on the other hand, is believed to have consequences that extend far beyond the intestinal tract, affecting everything from allergies and inflammation, metabolic diseases like diabetes and obesity, even mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.


1. HAVE A VAGINAL BIRTH  The bacteria that live in the vagina are the same ones that live in our gut. If you don’t get this initial inoculation at birth then other bacteria can take up residence, such as skin bacteria, bad bacteria from the hospital or yeast. But if that horse has already left the barn then make sure you take good probiotics daily. Some resourceful pregnant moms are swabbing their c-section babies’ mouths with a clean and previously inserted tampon to recreate the birth canal bacteria experience. Research shows this is working.

2. AVOID ANTIBIOTICS AND STEROIDS  if possible. These kill the good bacteria or suppress the immune system so bad bacteria and yeast can set up residence in the gut. Use natural alternatives that are often as effective for everyday illnesses. You may need to find a holistic practitioner for guidance.

3. AVOID PESTICIDES AND CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS  These wreak havoc on our intestinal friends by either killing off the good bacteria or literally punching small holes in the lining of the gut. Imagine living in a castle for safety yet purposely invite outsiders over on a daily basis and watch them repeatedly punch holes in the castle wall. This is what happens every time you eat RoundUp ready food such as GMO, non-organic wheat products. This is also known as Leaky Gut Syndrome. Make sure you select non-GMO, organic foods to minimize this highly inflammatory condition.

4. EAT HEALTHY  The bacteria in the gut love greens and dietary fiber. They convert the food products into energy and healing nutrients. The brain loves one of the by-products called Butyrate. Butyrate is the preferred fuel source of the brain and GI tract and is much better for these organs than sugar. Imagine making a fire in your backyard. Do you want a nice long burning log with a soothing crackle, pleasant smell and minimal debris or the bright burst of dried leaves with all the ash and embers flying everywhere potentially starting a fire somewhere else? Butyrate is the log and sugar is the leaves. Butyrate calms and heals. Sugar gives a burst of energy then send toxins throughout the body.

5. TAKE REPLENISHING SUPPLEMENTS  I already mentioned probiotics. My other mandatories are vitamin D3, fish oil and a good multivitamin. I personalize other supplements as needed on a case by case basis.

So you have the power to control how your genes are expressed by how you eat. This is called epigenetics. Take the new year and give yourself the gift of a healthy long life.

To Supplement or Not To Supplement – what does the research show

SSA_Logo_FinalThe Media’s Profound Ignorance About Nutrition Misses the Mark Yet Again

By Dr. Mercola

According to researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research,1 vitamin supplements are probably useless when it comes to preventing heart disease and/or cancer.

Their analysis is being used by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) to update its recommendations on supplement use, and the findings were recently reported by NBC News2 under the headline: “Vitamins don’t prevent heart disease or cancer, experts find.”

But is this really an accurate evaluation of the available evidence? A strong rebuttal3 to NBC’s reporting was immediately issued by Dr. Andrew Saul,4 editor of the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service.

Dr. Saul has over 35 years of experience in natural health education; Psychology Today named him as one of the seven natural health pioneers in 2006.

“I would like to apologize for NBC News. It seems that the organization that brought us Lowell Thomas, John Cameron Swayze, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley has lowered its standard of reporting,” he writes.

“NBC’s supplement-bashing headline article… displays an ignorance of clinical nutrition that is difficult to ignore, and, thanks to its media prominence, can’t be.

Of vitamin supplementation, NBC specifically said that a ‘very extensive look at the studies that have been done show it may be a waste of time when it comes to preventing the diseases most likely to kill you.’ The ‘very extensive look’ encompassed 24 preselected studies. It looks like they just possibly may have missed a few…”

Dr. Saul ‘Apologizes’ for NBC ‘Hatchet Job’ Reporting on Vitamins

Dr. Saul then goes on to list 19 studies5 showing strong correlations between vitamin use and reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. If you’re in doubt, I suggest you to take a look at some of those studies before you swallow NBC’s “hatchet job on vitamins,” as Dr. Saul puts it. Below is a handful. For the full list, please see Dr. Saul’s article.

JAMA 2012:7 Multivitamin supplements were found to reduce cancer risk by eight percent.

International Journal of Cancer 2011:8 A mere 10 ng/ml increase in serum vitamin D levels was associated with a 15 percent reduction in colorectal cancer incidence and 11 percent reduction in breast cancer incidence.

American Heart Journal 2011:9 Each 20 micromole/liter (μmol/L) increase in plasma vitamin C was associated with a nine percent reduction in heart failure mortality. According to Dr. Saul, if everyone were to take 500 mg of vitamin C per day—the dose required to reach a healthy level of 80 μmol/L—an estimated 216,000 lives could be spared each year.

International Journal of Cancer 2011:10 While the NBC declared that “Vitamin E does no good at all in preventing cancer or heart disease,” this study found that gamma-tocotrienol, a cofactor found in natural vitamin E preparations, decreases prostate tumor formation by a respectable 75 percent.

International Journal of Cancer 2008: Here, 300 IUs of vitamin E per day reduced lung cancer risk by 61 percent.

Were Those Really the Best Studies They Could Find?

It’s worth noting that study selection for the featured review was done by two investigators who “independently selected and reviewed fair- and good-quality trials for benefit and fair- and good-quality trials and observational studies for harms.”

What this means is that they didn’t assess the consensus found in available research, but rather “independently” picked and chose which ones they wanted to include in the analysis.

Out of the more than 12,760 study abstracts screened, a total of 26 studies were selected for inclusion in their analysis. Selected for inclusion were studies looking at the following supplements’ effects on heart disease or cancer:

Multivitamins Beta-carotene Vitamin E Selenium Vitamin A
Vitamin C Folic acid Vitamin D Vitamin D with calcium Calcium

Also notable is the fact that for a study to be included in the review, it had to use supplement doses lower than the upper tolerable limit set by the US Food and Nutrition board.11, 12 For vitamin D, this means a dose limit of 100 IUs a day for adults! Research suggests most adults need about 35 IUs per pound of body weight in order to obtain therapeutically relevant serum levels. This dose of vitamin D is worthless as most adults require doses 50 times greater. So it is no surprise they found no effect as they were not testing for clinical significant levels. Remember, the devil is in the details.

Vitamin D May Be Critical for Cancer Prevention

Their conclusion on vitamin D is in stark contrast to an ever growing number of studies showing that vitamin D (with or without calcium) has tremendous protective effect against cancer. For example, a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine13 concluded that a serum 25(OH)D level of more than 33 ng/mL was associated with a 50 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer.

Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition14 that same year found that after four years of follow up, cancer-free survival was 77 percent higher in women who received 1,100 IU vitamin D and 1,450 mg calcium per day, compared to those who received either a placebo or calcium by itself. Theories linking vitamin D deficiency to cancer have been tested and confirmed in more than 200 epidemiological studies, and understanding of its physiological basis stems from more than 2,500 laboratory studies.

According to Carole Baggerly, founder of GrassrootsHealth, 90 percent of ordinary breast cancer may be related to vitamin D deficiency. In fact, breast cancer has been described as a “vitamin D deficiency syndrome.” The way vitamin D interferes with breast cancer’s ability to spread is by affecting the structure of those cells—without adequate vitamin D, they fall apart and are forced to “overmultiply” in order to survive. Previous research has shown that optimizing your vitamin D levels can reduce your risk for as many as 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, breast, prostate, and skin cancers.

Most Important—Maintaining Optimal Vitamin D Serum Levels

Of utmost importance is the maintenance of a therapeutically beneficial serum level year-round. Here, studies indicate that the bare minimum for cancer prevention is around 40 ng/ml. Research suggests an ideal level might be around 60-80 ng/ml. A 2009 review article15 titled: “Vitamin D for Cancer Prevention: Global Perspective,” published in Annals of Epidemiologya states that:

“Higher serum levels of the main circulating form of vitamin D, 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), are associated with substantially lower incidence rates of colon, breast, ovarian, renal, pancreatic, aggressive prostate and other cancers.

Epidemiological findings combined with newly discovered mechanisms suggest a new model of cancer etiology that accounts for these actions of 25(OH)D and calcium. Its seven phases are disjunction, initiation, natural selection, overgrowth, metastasis, involution, and transition (abbreviated DINOMIT). Vitamin D metabolites prevent disjunction of cells and are beneficial in other phases.

It is projected that raising the minimum year-around serum 25(OH)D level to 40 to 60 ng/mL (100–150 nmol/L) would prevent approximately 58,000 new cases of breast cancer and 49,000 new cases of colorectal cancer each year, and three fourths of deaths from these diseases in the United States and Canada, based on observational studies combined with a randomized trial. Such intakes also are expected to reduce case-fatality rates of patients who have breast, colorectal, or prostate cancer by half… The time has arrived for nationally coordinated action to substantially increase intake of vitamin D and calcium.

Smart Supplementation Could Save Healthcare System BILLIONS Each Year

Although Dr. Saul doesn’t mention it, the NBC also failed to mention the recent report on vitamins produced by the Council for Responsible Nutrition Foundation, titled: “Smart Prevention—Health Care Cost Savings Resulting from the Targeted Use of Dietary Supplements.”16 This report concluded that—based on the scientific evidence of benefit— supplementation at preventive intake levels could save the American healthcare system more than $11 BILLION each year. Steve Mister, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition Foundation17 told Drugstore News:18

“Chronic disease takes a huge toll on people’s quality of life, and the healthcare system spends a tremendous amount of money treating chronic disease, but has failed to focus on ways to reduce those costs through prevention. We already knew that the dietary supplements identified in the report can play a role in reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases; we felt compelled to find out if they could also contribute to healthcare cost savings by reducing the medical events associated with those conditions. This new report says emphatically that they do.”

How to Reduce Cost of Heart Disease by More Than $4 Billion Annually

The “Smart Prevention” report examined the effect of eight different dietary supplement regimens on four chronic diseases: heart disease, diabetes, age-related eye disease, and bone disease, and assessed the potential health care cost savings if American adults were to take these supplements at therapeutic dosages.

Unfortunately, this report also failed to review many of the benefits of vitamin D, which is one of the most widely beneficial and least expensive supplements on the market. Again, a growing number of vitamin D experts estimate it could cut the rate of cancer by half. If this were to be factored into the equation, the health care savings could likely go up by a factor of 1,000 or more, and there would be trillions of dollars of savings instead of billions.

Now, in the case of heart disease, use of omega-3 supplements among adults aged 55 and over diagnosed with coronary heart disease could reduce annual hospital costs by more than $2 billion on average, saving the health care system close to $16.5 billion between 2013 and 2020, according to the “Smart Prevention” report. Use of vitamins B6 and B12 among the target population could also reduce hospital costs by an average of more than $1.5 billion annually, saving the health care system more than $12.1 billion between 2013 and 2020. (Again, vitamin D would also radically lower the cost of heart disease as it has profound benefits in cardiac health, but unfortunately the authors didn’t factor vitamin D in into this equation.)

According to the authors: “An average of $4.23 billion per year and a cumulative savings of $34 billion from 2013 to 2020 in avoidable hospital utilization costs is potentially realizable if all US adults over the age of 55 diagnosed with CHD were to use phytosterol dietary supplements at protective levels.

Likewise, potential total cost savings among the same target population given the use of the psyllium dietary fiber at preventive daily intake levels would be an average hospital utilization cost avoidance of $4.38 billion per year and cumulative savings of $35.05 billion from 2013 to 2020.

The potential net health care cost savings of phytosterols and psyllium dietary fiber supplementation, after accounting for the cost of supplement utilization, would be an average annual savings of $3.32 billion per year and $2.48 billion per year, respectively, after accounting for the costs of supplementation utilization from 2013 to 2020.”

Who Benefits by Scaring You Away from Dietary Supplements?

Earlier this summer, a flurry of media reports told readers to beware, if not outright be afraid, of taking supplements. Two of the primary figureheads in his summer drive of anti-alternative health PR were Dr. Paul Offit and Senator Dick Durbin. Offit, notorious for his claim that infants can tolerate 10,000 vaccines at once, penned a New York Times article with the unambiguous headline: “Don’t Take Your Vitamins.”19 The featured NBC article20 again brought Offit’s radical opinions to the fore:

“Dr. Paul Offit… says he is not surprised by the findings. But he doubts the millions of Americans who buy vitamins will stop because of this recommendation. ‘They are constantly hearing information from those who market these products that they are good for you, that they boost your immunity, that they reduce stress’… Offit said the review could have done more to highlight some of the dangers of overdosing on vitamins…. ‘I would like to see someone step forward and say there’s harm.’”

Of course he would. Take away nutrition, and the only thing you have left to battle disease with is drugs, surgery, and vaccines. While it’s important to remember that a) there is a major difference between natural whole-food supplements and pharmaceutical grade synthetic vitamins and minerals, and b) that supplements should only be taken in addition to, NOT in place of, a healthy diet, I believe Big Pharma mouthpieces are standing on quicksand when it comes their claim that supplements are harmful, or do more harm than good in the long term.

Data Shows the Safety of Supplements

The March 2013 GAO Dietary Supplements report,21 for example, showed how incredibly safe supplements are—particularly when compared to drugs and vaccines. Since 2008, the supplement industry has been required to report adverse events to the FDA’s adverse effects reporting (AER) system, pursuant to the 2006 Act. Consider the following statistics comparing dietary supplement AERs with drug AERs from the 2013 GAO report2 for the year 2008:

1,080 dietary supplement AERs were reported to FDA4 526,527 prescription drug AERs were reported4 26,517 vaccine AERs were reported4

When you do the math, there were 488 times as many adverse events reported from prescription drugs as from dietary supplements. In all, the number of AERs is miniscule compared to the hundreds of millions of supplement servings consumed each year.22 In fact, according to a 2007 National Health Interview Survey,23 more than half of American adults (157 million individuals) take nutritional supplements. Further compare that to the statistic that about the same number of people—just over half of all Americans—take two or more prescription drugs,24 and the difference in safety between supplements and drugs becomes even clearer. Other data further supports the remarkable safety record of dietary supplements. For example:

In 2002, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reversed its long-standing anti-vitamin stance with the publication of two scientific reviews (based on 30 years’ worth of scientific papers looking at vitamins in relation to chronic diseases), both of which recommended daily multivitamin supplementation for all adults.25

Data from the US National Poison Data System’s annual report, which tracked data from 57 U.S. poison centers, showed vitamin and mineral supplements caused zero deaths in 2010. For comparison, pharmaceuticals caused more than 1,100 of the total 1,366 reported fatalities.

FDA-approved drugs cause 80 percent of poison control fatalities each year.26 Poison control centers report 100,000 calls, 56,000 emergency room visits, 2,600 hospitalizations and nearly 500 deaths each year from acetaminophen (Tylenol) alone.

Data from the European Union indicate that pharmaceutical drugs are 62,000 times as likely to kill you as dietary supplements. You’re actually more likely to be struck dead by lightning or drown in your bathtub than have a lethal reaction to a dietary supplement.

Take Control of Your Health with Proper Nutrition and Lifestyle

Granted, there are poor-quality supplements out there—many of which, by the way, are produced by large pharmaceutical companies—that are made with synthetic ingredients that could potentially do more harm than good, especially in mega doses, which I don’t recommend. Yet the overall safety record of supplements, despite some inferior products being used, really speaks volumes. The same cannot be said for drugs, where even drugs perceived as more or less harmless, such as acetaminophen, actually cause more adverse event reports than supplements.

About 90 percent of each dollar Americans spend on food is spent on government-subsidized, disease-inducing denatured processed foods that tend to leave you vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies. Drugs clearly cannotfix this problem, although conventional medicine surely tries by throwing prescriptions at each and every symptom that is, ultimately, rooted in poor nutrition. In this respect, there’s clearly a place for properly selected, high-quality whole food dietary supplements, taken at therapeutic dosages.

Furthermore, certain nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin D for example, are rampant now that everyone has been scared away from sun exposure. This is tragic, since the evidence is quite clear that optimizing your vitamin D levels can have a highly protective effect against a wide variety of chronic disease, including but not limited to heart disease and cancer. The featured review in NO WAY disputes such evidence, considering the studies they chose to include.

Ideally, you’d get most or all necessary nutrients from whole food—or in the case of vitamin D, from appropriate sun exposure—but there are cases in which a supplement can be helpful to counteract a deficiency. If you’re eating a wholesome diet you’re FAR less likely to end up with nutritional deficiencies, however. Last but not least, you may sign up for the peer- reviewed Orthomolecular Medicine News Service free of charge at You can also freely access the entire OMNS archive at that link.

Holistic Medicine & Supplements Are Magic

Alter of medicineDr. Paul Offit, an outspoken vaccine advocate, developer of the rotavirus vaccine & chairman of the infectious disease department at CHoPs, just published a book that holistic medicine and the use of supplements are magic and therefore nonsense. Dr. Topol, the physician-editor of Medscape, interviewed him and posted the discussion online. Physician comments were both for and against the book with most being against the premise of the book. Here is my comment:

I love the reference to the National Academy of Science’s finding that FDA-approved drugs cause well over a 100,000 deaths a year, the fact that medicine is only supported by science 15% of the time, the failure of Offit to acknowledge the proven benefits of fish oil, vitamin E and acupuncture, the fact that the US medical system spends more per capita on healthcare but ranks 34th in the world and fails to address health and nutrition, as well as the reference to the strawman argument proposed by Offit.

It is good to see that physicians can still think for themselves and understand allopathic medicine only addresses disease and fails miserably when it comes to health and wellness.

Healing is the result of an alignment with nature or God – depending on your value set. I recall a poem I learned at my white coat ceremony, “A surgeon must be careful, when he takes his knife, for underneath his fine incision, stirs the culprit, LIFE.”

Topol (the editor of Medscape) provided the Wizard of Oz backdrop for Offit’s politically-biased ramblings that are truly no better or worse than listening to the CAM proponents who state that allopathic medicine is evil. A wise man once said, “Follow those who seek truth and run from those who know the truth.”

Offit’s next book will likely tell us how his religion is the only true religion… wait a minute, science can’t prove religion so therefore religion is magic and nonsense.

Let’s look to a true thought-leader – C. Everett Koop, MD, the former US Surgeon General – he stated “During the 19th century, American medicine was an eclectic pursuit where a number of competing ideas and approaches thrived. Doctors were able to draw on elements from different traditions in attempting to make people well. Perhaps there is more to this older model of American medicine than we in the 20th century had been willing to examine.”

The human experience is a combination of mind-body-soul – to separate these into artificial silos of reality and preach from these false ivory towers reminds me of the story of the Tower of Babel. I will stay true to a functional medicine approach that understands the whole person. Those who are afraid to seek the truth will follow their false gods, ignore the science that illuminates other possibilities and always be amazed at the shadows on the cave wall. Sad – there is so much more to life.

Go with your gut. Stop problems before they start.

Gut healthBy Siri Carpenter

Once you’ve polished off a meal, you probably don’t give it much thought. But when you push away from the table, your gut’s work is only beginning — it will take between 9 hours and a day or two for the food you just ate to be fully digested. During that time, your stomach and small intestine break your food down into molecules that the small intestine’s thin lining can absorb, allowing essential nutrients — the energy stream that fuels every cell in your body — to enter your bloodstream. The lower part of your small intestine then wrings out the water remaining in your meal and ushers it into your colon, which funnels it into your bloodstream to help keep you hydrated.

As straightforward as this process sounds, the seemingly simple chore of digestion depends on a finely orchestrated series of muscular contractions, chemical secretions and electrical signals all along the 30-foot-long gastrointestinal tract. But there’s also plenty you can do to keep this operation running smoothly.

Follow its pace 
A rushed meal is out of sync with the creeping pace of the gut. Savor your meal. In a neat bit of mind/body magic, the thought, sight and aroma of good food jump-start the digestive process, signaling the stomach and salivary glands to secrete chemicals that will help break down food. Chew your food well so your gut doesn’t have to work as hard to break it down. Eat slowly to avoid gulping air, which will make you gassy, bloated and — thanks to the mind’s payback to the body — irritable.

Nurture its residents 
Gut-friendly bacteria use fiber, an indigestible carbohydrate, as their main food source, so eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, such as oats, barley, whole wheat and popcorn. Fiber also aids the passage of food and waste through the gut. Most adult women should aim for over 20 g of fiber a day; men should get at least 30 g. But again, go slowly: Increasing your fiber intake too quickly can cause gas and bloating.

Respect its opinions 
Even the most finely tuned machine has its quirks — if certain foods trigger GI problems for you, avoid them. Common heartburn culprits: acidic, spicy and fatty foods; caffeinated and carbonated drinks; chocolate; and onions.

Notorious gas producers include beans, onions and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage and radishes. (These veggies are loaded with vital nutrients, so don’t shun them altogether, but enjoy them in small doses.) The same goes for packaged low-carb treats and other foods containing artificial sweeteners — especially the sweetener sorbitol.

Lighten its load
People who are overweight are more likely to suffer from GI problems. Whatever your weight, though, regular exercise can help alleviate digestive distress. In a study involving 983 people participating in a weight loss program, the more physical activity people got each week, the fewer GI symptoms they had. Aim for at least 20 minutes of moderate activity each day.

It’s your second brain 
Your gut is also intimately involved in some intensely emotional business: We rely upon our gut instinct to tell us the right thing to do. We have a gut reaction to people who offend or delight us. We do a gut check when facing a challenge and congratulate ourselves when we display the intestinal fortitude, or guts, to take it on.

When you think about it, you won’t be surprised to learn that your gut, or “second brain,” is synced up with your real brain. Just think about how a bout of intense fear or panic can liquefy your innards — or, more commonly, when a cramp or brief wave of nausea alerts you to a nagging anxiety your mind had been working so hard to suppress. There’s a good reason your gut and your “first brain” communicate so seamlessly: Every class of neurochemical produced in the first brain is also produced in the second.

Another kind of chemical is the primary go-between for these two brains: stress hormones. When the brain detects any kind of threat — whether an impending layoff or a dustup with your spouse — it shoots stress hormones to your gut. Sensory nerves there respond by adjusting acid secretion and shutting down both appetite and digestion — a throwback to more dangerous times in our past, when we needed to summon all our resources to stand and fight, or flee. The result may be a nagging stomachache or a full-blown bout of GI distress.

Tummy trouble is the body’s way of saying, “Pay attention to what’s bugging you!” says clinical nutritionist Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN, author of Digestive Wellness and Digestive Wellness for Children. “If my gut doesn’t feel right, my job is to figure out what’s out of balance.” Although resolving work or personal problems requires long-term strategizing, you can tamp down the symptoms of a troubled gut with these tried-and-true anxiety-reducing techniques:

Breathe into your belly 
Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other practices that encourage mindful relaxation make the body less sensitive to stress, research suggests. Deep breathing, using the muscles of your diaphragm (you should feel your belly expand and deflate with each inhale and exhale), can also help calm your mind and release tension in your abdominal muscles, easing indigestion. Another way to calm the body’s autonomic nervous system — which regulates digestion, among other things—is through progressive muscle relaxation, tightening and then relaxing small groups of muscles beginning in your toes and working your way up to your face.

Go for easy workouts 
Moderate exercise is a known enemy of stress. (Whenever you can, exercise outdoors — natural settings help calm frayed nerves.) Start slowly and increase activity gradually — even a 20-minute stroll will help soothe nerves, improve digestion and reduce bloating, gas, and constipation by optimizing the passage of waste through your bowels.

Remember: Your ultimate goal in soothing a troubled tummy is to get clearer intuitive signals. When something really bugs you, your second brain will let you know loud and clear.

It’s your shield against germs 
If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you know your gut is an uncompromising vigilante. When a nasty microbe hitchhikes a ride into the body on the back of real food, the gut quickly recognizes the interloper and strong-arms it to the nearest exit. To make the ID in the first place, it calls upon a reliable army of sentries, millions of immune system cells residing in its walls.

If the fact that the gut plays a major role in immunity sounds surprising, consider that the whole purpose of the immune system is to differentiate what’s you from what’s not you. Then consider that every day, you introduce pounds of foreign material — your daily bread — into your gut. The immune system has to decide what’s okay to let through and what’s not, so it makes sense to headquarter that process right where the food comes in.

This powerful system gears up from day 1. A newborn’s gastrointestinal tract is entirely germ free, but immediately after birth, pioneering bacteria begin to colonize it. The first few years of life, everyone’s gut develops a unique extended family of bacterial species, determined in part by genetics and in part by diet, hygiene, medication use and the bacteria colonizing those around us. Perhaps bacteria’s most important job: stimulating and training the body’s immune system and, by its overwhelming presence, crowding out more harmful critters.

The specific microbial mix (your gut contains thousands of species of bacteria) you wind up with has a big impact on your health. Besides making you more resistant to disease, the balance (or lack thereof) of microbes in your gut may lower your risk of obesity or influence your risk of autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease. Clearly, this extended family deserves coddling. Just in time for cold and flu season, here are immune-boosting ways to protect it:

Steer clear of detoxes 
Colonic “cleansers” rid the colon of good bacteria and can cause overgrowth of bad bacteria.

Avoid overusing antibiotics 
They kill not only pathogens causing your ailment but also good bacteria.

Consume foods with probiotics
Look for yogurts and soy milks that contain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. In addition to protecting against colds and flu and promoting healthful bacteria, probiotics can help relieve diarrhea caused by infection or antibiotics, irritable bowel syndrome, or Crohn’s disease.

Vitamin D supplementation prevents seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren

Vitamin D and fluSeasonal oscillation of influenza is prominent, its epidemic is explosive, and it ends abruptly. To explain this peculiar pattern, Cannell et al (1) hypothesized that the seasonal oscillation of serum vitamin D concentrations, which was recently discovered to up-regulate innate immunity, may affect the epidemic pattern of influenza. Vitamin D is mostly obtained from sun exposure; thus, serum vitamin D concentrations can be affected by season. In fact, serum concentrations of vitamin D have been shown to decrease in winter, the season when influenza occurs, to concentrations half those during the summer (1). In a post hoc analysis of side effect questions asked during a randomized controlled trial performed to determine whether vitamin D could prevent osteoporosis (2), cold and flu symptoms were reported 3 times less often in the vitamin D group than in the placebo group (3). However, although the authors conducted an additional randomized trial in 162 healthy adults, they could not reconfirm the benefit of vitamin D supplementation for the prevention of symptomatic upper respiratory tract infections (4). On the other hand, a significant inverse association between serum vitamin D intake and recent upper respiratory tract infections was seen in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (5). However, no rigorously designed clinical trials have evaluated the relation between vitamin D and physician-diagnosed influenza or delineated the necessary changes to prepare for an influenza pandemic (6). We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial comparing vitamin D3 supplements with placebo in schoolchildren to elucidate whether preventive intake of vitamin D supplements during winter and early spring seasons can reduce the incidence of seasonal influenza A.

In this randomized clinical trial, daily supplementation with 1200 IU vitamin D3 in school children between December and March showed a significant preventive effect against influenza A, although no significant difference was observed for influenza B. A 10-d course of postexposure prophylaxis with zanamivir or oseltamivir resulted in only an 8% decrease in the incidence of symptomatic influenza in children (7). In contrast, daily dietary probiotic supplementation was a safe effective way to reduce fever and other symptoms in small children (8). Moreover, a significant preventive effect of a product containing echinacea, propolis, and vitamin C on the incidence of respiratory tract infections was observed in children (9).

In conclusion, our study suggests that vitamin D3 supplementation during the winter season may reduce the incidence of influenza A. This effect was prominent in specific subgroups of schoolchildren. Moreover, asthma attacks were also prevented by vitamin D3 supplementation.

© 2010 American Society for Nutrition

Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren1,2,3