Sometimes What’s Tried and True Is the Best

This year, there’s even more fretting than usual about how best to fight flu, thanks to the questions and concerns surrounding H1N1. But there’s one time-tested approach that seems to be overlooked… a sure-fire flu-fighting strategy that has long been embraced by both the natural and mainstream medical communities as an effective immune booster. It’s safe and inexpensive and even tastes good enough that children don’t object. What is it? Good old vitamin C. I asked Daily Health News contributing medical editor Andrew Rubman, ND, to tell us why this simple and classic strategy can be so effective at fighting off flu.

Strengthen Immunity the Natural Way

In understanding how flu spreads, it’s critical to remember that most people will be exposed to a flu virus this season, observes Dr. Rubman. Whether or not you succumb depends in large part on the integrity of your immune system. If you are in robust health — if you eat well, get a proper balance of rest and exercise, manage stress in a positive fashion and practice good hygiene — the odds are better that you will successfully stave off microbial invaders. Where does vitamin C fit in? It provides some extra-strength protection, particularly important this worrisome season. According to Dr. Rubman, this nutrient is one of the most important for human function, and it’s also one of the most thoroughly studied. He believes it protects the body from cold and flu viruses more effectively than other supplements and medications because of its ability to build immunity, attack disease-causing organisms, reduce congestion, and strengthen cells and tissue. It does all this by fortifying two particular functions…

  • Collagen construction and maintenance. Vitamin C supports collagen, a vital protein that strengthens the cell walls of the body’s circulatory system. Intact collagen protects the resiliency of tissue in the respiratory and digestive tract, repelling infiltration by dangerous germs. Healthier tissue is less likely to be vulnerable to infection.
  • Antioxidant protection. Vitamin C also is a powerful antioxidant that quenches reactive oxygen species and prevents cell damage from free radical molecules. Vitamin C renders mucous membranes and underlying tissue less vulnerable to penetration and replication of the virus. Some research suggests that it reduces the duration and severity of colds.

How Much to Take?

Generally speaking, the more debilitated you are, the more vitamin C you need, notes Dr. Rubman. Cautioning that this should never be done without a physician’s oversight, he told me that he sometimes prescribes 3,500 mg to 4,000 mg vitamin C daily to his patients for prevention. (Ask your health care provider about the most effective course for you.)

For those who already have chills, aches, fever or other telltale signs of the flu, a physician trained in the use of nutritional supplements may go even further, and prescribe doses as high as 7,000 mg to 8,000 mg a day until symptoms abate. Be aware though that doses over 2,000 mg/day can cause stomach upset, diarrhea or other acute symptoms. Dr. Rubman says this is one of the reasons it is so important to take this and other supplements under medical supervision. Also if you are taking large doses, ask your doctor whether it’s best to taper off gradually when you feel better, rather than stop all at once.

Make Your Own Vitamin Water

To make it easy to get your vitamin C, Dr. Rubman suggests that you make your own “vitamin water.” What you make at home is far superior to most products available commercially, which are often adulterated with sugar or other additives. Buy vitamin C as ascorbic acid (not mineral ascorbate or ester C) in bulk powder form, which is as effective as, but less expensive than, tablets. Depending on whether your objective is prevention or treatment, dissolve the appropriate amount of vitamin C in one quart of a 50/50 juice/water mix. This will retain its potency a week or more if refrigerated. Dr. Rubman told me that his favorite recipe is to use four teaspoons per quart of Eclectic Institute’s Nutrigenomic Berry Powder. That, he says, “sweetens and strengthens the value of the vitamin C.” If you like, you can make it sweeter yet by drizzling in honey or maple syrup to taste. Vitamin C tends to neutralize stomach acid, so it’s best to drink this in divided doses away from mealtime — for instance, take a few swigs of your vitamin water every hour or so between meals.

While many experts consider vitamin C nothing less than miraculous, Dr. Rubman warns that it’s not magical. It won’t undo poor health habits, nor will it be helpful if you pair it with a poor diet. Instead, eat lots of flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables (citrus fruits, strawberries, cabbage, turnip greens, etc.), which help the body absorb and utilize vitamin C more efficiently. Also, consider taking vitamin C with synergistic supplements that support its use while adding in their own healing benefits. For example, pair vitamin C (which protects the watery parts of cells) with vitamin E (which defends their fatty parts). Vitamin D, selenium and zinc are likewise beneficial.