The cold and flu season has arrived and that means many will suffer the notorious  symptoms of sneezing, coughing, congestion and runny nose. Cold and flu are actually the most common infections that affect Canadians. Children typically get 9 to 12 infections per year and adults have about seven per year. Aside from making you feel miserable, these infections are the leading cause of lost work and school days.

Staying healthy this fall and winter means being prepared. Now is the perfect time to adopt some strategies to cut your risk of getting sick this season. Washing your hands frequently, getting adequate sleep and regular exercise, and eating a healthful diet are important lifestyle measures to follow. There are also certain supplements to consider taking this time of year to support your immune system and overall health.

Here is my list of top three supplements for fall and winter:

Vitamin D

This nutrient has many important functions in the body: it regulates calcium and phosphorus levels and promotes the absorption of these minerals for healthy bones and teeth; it plays a role in cancer prevention; it regulates blood pressure; and it modulates immune function. Research has found that a deficiency of vitamin D can compromise immune function and increase the risk of viral infections. Our skin produces vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight and we get a small amount through foods such as fortified milk. However, numerous reports suggest that the majority of Canadians are deficient during the darker fall and winter months. Given the vital role that vitamin D plays in immune and overall health, taking a supplement is critical this time of year.


Probiotics are beneficial bacteria, often referred to as microflora, that are important for intestinal and immune health. They aid digestion, improve nutrient absorption from the intestine and play a role in preventing infections. Probiotics are normally present in our gastrointestinal system but levels of these vital organisms can be depleted by stress, travel to foreign countries and use of antibiotics. A good probiotic supplement can help to keep your system on track and in a good position to fight off germs.


This herbal remedy has been used for centuries for supporting immune health. Recent research has found that echinacea can help to prevent cold and flu and reduce symptom severity and duration if you do get sick. Echinacea can be taken by those aged two and above for prevention during the cold/flu season. It can also be taken at the first sign of illness. However, it works best when taken preventatively. What to do if you do get sick? Here are a few natural remedies that can help manage cold symptoms:

For a sore throat

• Gargle with warm salt water.
• Suck on zinc lozenges. Zinc has antiviral properties and research suggests it can help lessen cold symptoms and speed healing.

To clear sinus congestion

• Try a neti pot or nasal wash. For young children, look for nasal sprays or drops with saline (salt water).
• Run a vaporizer in your bedroom at night to keep the air moist.

To calm a cough

• Try a teaspoon of dark amber honey. Honey contains various nutrients with antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. It is soothing and can help coat the throat and calm a cough. Don’t give it to children less than one year of age due to risk of botulism. Keep in mind that a cough is the body’s way of clearing mucus from your airway and while it is annoying, it is part of the healing process.
Sherry Torkos is a holistic pharmacist and author of The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural

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