In winter, the days are dark and people tend to spend a lot more time inside. Even those Central Oregonians who extol the virtues of the outdoors for everything from spiritual to physical health tend to spend more time indoors than they do in the summertime. I mean, most people aren't eating a lot of leisurely breakfasts on their patios in January.
In winter, a combination of factors—including those named above—can result in more colds, more flu, and generally, a less-efficient immune system. When attempting to discern why flu season happens in winter, researchers a century ago discovered the flu likes cold, dry weather.
When it comes to combating illness and keeping the immune system in prime condition, however, it's easy to turn in the wrong direction. One potential culprit: the sugar hiding in that immune booster people turn to at the first sign of sickness.
Since naturopathic physicians—classed as primary care practitioners in the state of Oregon—tend to ascribe to the "food as medicine" philosophy, I asked some local ones to weigh in on healing foods and supplements for the winter and beyond.
Watching sugar intakeEmergenC is one of those immune-boosting products with too much sugar to support immune health, said Michelle Jackson, a naturopathic physician at East West Naturopathic Clinic in Bend. "I recommend good old Vitamin C without sweeteners, preferably in a liposomal form so it becomes fat soluble and you don't immediately urinate out high dosages."
“Whether you’re trying to prevent getting sick or you’re already sick and you want to get better, avoiding sugar is super important.”—Joshua Phillipstweet this
Joshua Phillips, a naturopathic physician at Hawthorn Healing Arts Center in Bend, agrees, and says he routinely advises patients to watch their overall sugar intakes.
"I really do tell people to be careful about the amounts of sugar they're consuming—the immune system can be impacted by it," Phillips told the Source. "Whether you're trying to prevent getting sick or you're already sick and you want to get better, avoiding sugar is super important. There's studies that say it will have zero effect, but if you take a look at research versus people's experience, sugar does wipe out white blood cells in general."
On its website, the National Cancer Institute describes white blood cells as, "Made in the bone marrow and found in the blood and lymph tissue. White blood cells are part of the body's immune system."
Sunny skies, but you still need Vitamin D
Perhaps another misconception people ascribe to in Central Oregon: We live in a sunny place—so we must get enough Vitamin D, right? Probably not.
"Living where we live, near the 45th parallel, we don't get great Vitamin D conversion," Phillips said, adding that many Central Oregonians he treats are deficient in this vitamin, which, in addition to fostering strong bones, acts like a hormone in the body and can contribute to a strong immune system. Phillips said locals should be taking Vitamin D supplements roughly six to nine months of the year—and that most Vitamin D supplements commercially available will work just fine.
The benefits of probiotics
While Phillips said people can get benefits from nearly any Vitamin D supplement, the same doesn't hold for other immune boosters he recommends—namely, probiotics. Getting probiotics from fermented foods is good, Phillips said, but when it comes to probiotic supplements, he says people should be very discerning about what they buy.
And while yogurt might be some people's go-to for getting probiotic benefits, both Phillips and Jackson recommend watching dairy intake when someone's getting sick. Dairy products can create excess phlegm, Phillips advised—not ideal when someone's already making a lot of the stuff while under the weather.
"If people are getting sick, try to rest, drink water, avoid sugar and dairy and try to get into an infrared sauna if possible," said Jackson.
Bubbie's remedy still works great
So what about the good old-fashioned chicken soup? Bubbie's classic remedy still has merit, these naturopaths say.
"It can be great, but make with bone broth and lots of garlic. Another great 'soup' is organic tomato soup, lemon juice, ginger, horseradish and garlic," Jackson said.
And while food and supplements can be part of someone's arsenal when they're getting sick, in Phillips' book, the simplest diet is the best diet.
As he said, "I tend to be a little old-fashioned when it comes to food; the freshest, most alive food that people can get their hands on, the better."