1. Don't forget your supplements this holiday season

    My "prescription" for a Merry Christmas

    With just five days until Christmas...and the shopping season in full swing...I think it's high time I offer up a bit of my best holiday advice. But don't worry, my "prescription" is a simple one: slow down, take a deep breath, and for goodness sake lighten up!

    Yup, that's it.

    It's so easy to get caught up in the chaos that sometimes we need to be reminded to just relax and enjoy this wonderful time of year. And let's face it, running at full steam for weeks on end, worrying about finding "the perfect gift," and stressing about family and work obligations can set you up for a crash right in the middle of cold and flu season.

    So take some time out to enjoy the lights. Watch a sappy Christmas movie. Or just take a nap. And if anyone questions you just say, "Hey, it's doctor's orders!"

    And while you're at it don't forget to take your vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and garlic to help shore up your immune system before you go visiting family and friends. (You'll find lot's more immune-building advice in the Guide to Good Health archives here.)
    Oh, and one last thing. Don't fret about having that Christmas cookie or an extra glass of holiday cheer. It's Christmas after all, and an occasional holiday indulgence never hurt anyone.

    I wish you a happy, healthy, and very merry Christmas!

  2. Surviving cold and flu season 101

    This week I've got some more advice about arming yourself against winter's worst viruses and bacteria. In addition to vitamin D and probiotics, there are quite a few things you can do to protect yourself winter during cold and flu season.

    First off, make vitamin C part of your daily regimen. It's a powerful detoxifier that also stimulates our immune system. But here's what most people don‘t realize about vitamin C: It doesn't work a lick once you've got a cold. So taking a few extra tabs once you‘ve got the sniffles isn't going to help you much. On the other hand, it works magnificently for the prevention of colds. So take it daily while you‘re healthy and you'll stay that way during this cold and flu season.

    Also, it's important to remember that vitamin C only stays in your body for a few hours at a time. So you've got to take it a few times throughout the day during cold and flu season. For basic cold prevention, take 1,000 mg two to three times a day. If you're under any type of stress -- physical or emotional -- you may want to go for more.

    Secondly, like vitamin C -- take the herb Echinacea daily to prevent catching a cold in the first place. It doesn't work well once you've caught a cold. In fact, a few years back, scientists found that taking Echinacea and vitamin C together can reduce your risk of catching a cold by a whopping 86 percent!

    Thirdly, at the height of cold and flu season, for some extra immune system support add some EpiCor, Beta 1,3 Glucan, and Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) to the mix. EpiCor is 100 percent natural and helps to balance your immune system. Beta 1,3 Glucan is a natural polysaccharide that activates your white blood cells. And last but not least, ALA is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body to absorb nutrients from the food you eat.

    Home remedies that work

    I‘m also a big believer in saltwater gargles. Most folks know that it can help relieve a sore throat. But did you know that rinsing with saltwater could even block you from catching a cold in the first place? A few years back, that‘s exactly what scientists discovered!

    They recruited 400 healthy volunteers to see if saltwater rinses could actually prevent colds. Half of the volunteers rinsed with salt water every day for 60 days during cold and flu season. The other half did nothing.

    Scientists found that the volunteers who gargled regularly caught 40 percent fewer upper respiratory tract infections compared to the non-garglers. Plus, when they did get sick, they got over it faster.

    Saltwater is effective against the common cold because it kills the bacteria in your throat, tonsils, and adenoids. I usually recommend dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in a glass full of warm water. Gargle for a minute or so before spitting it out. This will also help kill off bacteria that cause bad breath, so I gargle in the morning, after brushing and flossing my teeth.

    What should you take once you get a cold?

    Should you catch a bug this cold and flu season, there are a few things to do to get over it quicker. First off, here‘s the obvious: Lots of fluids and rest. Secondly, take a 13 mg zinc lozenge five or six times a day during your cold.

    Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a role in your immune health. And while most research is mixed as to whether or not it can prevent a cold, one fact about zinc is quite clear. It can help you get over your cold faster!

    In 2008 scientists found that men and women who took a zinc lozenge every few hours within the first 24 hours of developing a cold got over the bug faster. In fact, their colds only last half as long as the control group who took a placebo. Plus, their coughs lasted for two days instead of five. And their noses only ran for three days, instead of four and a half.

    This cold and flu season just be careful about which kind of lozenge you buy. Find one that contains zinc acetate. Your body will absorb this kind the best. Also, avoid lozenges that contain citric acid or other flavorings. These added flavors block zinc‘s natural ability to boost your immune system and may actually make things worse.

    Also, long-term use of zinc is not safe. This can lead to a copper deficiency. So just make sure to stop the lozenges after you kick your cold.

  3. Sugar: The white villain in your diet

    Even if you avoid most sweets, the food industry sneaks sugar in to just about everything on the shelves these days. Just take a look at your favorite whole wheat bread. Chances are, it’s got high fructose corn syrup in it. (This stuff is still sugar. I think of it as sugar on steroids.) Sugar is bad news, no matter how you slice it. When it enters your blood stream, your body goes into overdrive trying to get rid of the stuff. Your pancreas releases insulin to help get rid of it. Eventually, it’s converted into glucose and used up by the body as energy (or stored as fat). But when you eat lots of refined sugar (or carbs)—such as a white bagel, a soda, or a bowl of cereal—your body goes into overdrive. It starts releasing lots and lots of insulin to deal with the sugar. As a result, your blood sugar drops way too fast and goes way too low. By this point, you may start to feel low after your sugar “high” (headaches, fatigue, etc). Plus, because your blood sugar dropped so low, so fast, you may feel cravings for more sugar. Over time, your body gets addicted. The ticking time bomb Say it’s your birthday and you treat yourself to a big slice of chocolate cake. But you’ve already spent years honing quite a sweet tooth. When your body receives the signal to respond to the chocolate cake, the party’s already over. Your pancreas has called it quits. It doesn’t produce the insulin (or can’t produce enough). So your blood sugar stays high…and voila…you have type II diabetes. But you’re not alone. Today, almost 24 million Americans have got it. Reversing the damage The good news is…you can prevent and even reverse type II diabetes. The key is to control your sugar and carb (which turns into sugar in the body) intake. In 2003, researchers at Duke University Medical Center examined the effects of a low-carb diet on blood sugar in diabetics. They found that 95 percent of patients who followed a low-carb diet either reduced their need for insulin or discontinued it all together after 24 weeks. I recently read another study about how you can help your body cope with type II diabetes. Researchers at Harvard studied the effects of taking the mineral zinc on women between the ages 33 and 60. A trace mineral found in the body, zinc helps maintain a healthy immune system. It keeps your skin and hair glowing. And it also influences your cognitive and muscle functioning. Researchers analyzed nutritional data documenting the women’s zinc intake over a 24-year period. They found that high amounts of zinc reduced a woman’s likelihood of developing diabetes by up to 28 percent. This is a pretty recent study, so I’m sure one with men is probably in the works. I would gamble that zinc performs equally well for men, if not better given the male metabolism. Unfortunately, the scientists could not zero in on the mechanism that caused this drop in diabetes risk. More research is needed here as well. But the data certainly makes the case for getting more zinc into your diet if you’re at risk for developing type II diabetes. (Interestingly, though not surprisingly, we know that sugar uses up all the zinc stored in our tissues. So if you’ve got a lot of sugar in your diet, it’s not surprising that you’d have low zinc stores as well. And since zinc is vital for healthy skin, it’s also not surprising that a sugar junkie probably doesn’t have a healthy glow.) Getting more zinc You’ve got to get rid of the straight sugar in your diet. That’s a no brainer. But whole grains may still work for anyone who’s yet to develop full-fledged diabetes. Here’s why… Whole grain foods contain lots of good nutrients, like zinc. And, whole grains get metabolized much slower than refined flour products. So you’re much less likely to incite an insulin invasion. My advice? Throw out all the refined flour products in your cabinet. (Refined flour products remove all the healthy nutrients, including zinc.) Keep only the real whole grain breads, crackers, pasta, and cereals. You’ll have to become a serious reader of the ingredients list. Look for whole grains such as “wheat” as the first ingredient. And make sure the products don’t contain “high-fructose corn syrup.” As a final note, you’ll find zinc in any good multivitamin. But I’d also recommend taking 50 to 100 additional mg of zinc per day, especially if you’re concerned about your blood sugar. Go for zinc in the chelated form or as zinc picolinate. Also, zinc can deplete your stores of copper. So you’ll also want to take roughly 1 milligram of copper for every 15 milligrams of zinc as a precaution. But don’t get carried away. Zinc by itself is nontoxic within these limits. But one study that I know of has linked high doses of zinc over 10 years to an increased risk of prostate cancer.

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