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Frequent cold and flu (influenza)? – 5 reasons why

Frequent cold and flu (influenza)? – 5 reasons why

Influenza has been featuring in the media lately and rightly so. Are you one of those unlucky people who catch every cold and flu in town? Do you tend to be sick for seemingly the whole winter? Dragging yourself through the winter and going to work with the flu is the fast track to a miserable existence.

Many years ago, I had multiple chest infections every winter. I was so run down and taking antibiotics all the time that it took extreme measures with a full diet and lifestyle overhaul to recover and end the cycle. I didn’t realise at the time, but on retrospection and after naturopathic training, a mould problem in the house was a primary driver causing a host of personal health issues. There can be many reasons why we experience recurrent infections. Here are my list of top 5 reasons.

  1. Iron deficiency

Research conducted by Lakhan et al in 2016 observed an association between iron deficiency anaemia and the severity of influenza A and B in children. In fact, the authors noted a 5x fold increase in risk of hospitalisation from the flu in this group of children. Have you heard on the news lately the number of Australians dying every season from the flu? You might even have had the flu vaccine? With the death toll climbing this is really scary stuff. It’s so important to leave no stone unturned when it comes to your health. Especially if you are prone to recurring infections. This is a message from your body to let you know that something is out of balance.

Iron plays many roles in the body for example the carriage of oxygen in the blood, neurotransmitter production and immune function to name a few! Insufficient iron can cause signs and symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, pallor, heart palpitations, brittle nails etc. It’s important to have a blood test to check your stored iron levels and if low, find out what is causing it. However if you have the test during an active infection, the results will reflect an unrealistic measure as the body increases iron stores to hide iron from pathogens during an infection. Isn’t the body amazing? This is because many pathogens use iron to grow. There are many causes and taking an iron supplement should not be the first port of call. It is critical to identify the reason your iron is low.

  1. Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D plays a significant role in the modulation of the immune system. It can be hard to get enough vitamin D especially in the winter months so make sure you have a blood test to check your status. Australia is renowned for vitamin D deficiency and we are more and more aware of the risk of skin cancer from excessive ultraviolet radiation making us more prone to deficiency.

Cannell, JJ et al. (2006) refer to an intervention study that demonstrated reduced frequency of respiratory conditions among children supplementing with vitamin D. They postulate that the association with influenza during winter months correlates with ultraviolet radiation exposure from sunlight directly affecting vitamin D status. Vitamin D is both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial stimulating natural killer cells and exerting a protective effect in the respiratory tract. This has been shown in many studies however the degree of deficiency or blood levels are important to measure as this will help to guide your practitioner with dosing.

  1. Zinc deficiency

Zinc is a key immune system nutrient, nutritional precursor to the production of stomach acid and intestinal barrier integrity, neurotransmitters, liver detoxification, connective tissue repair and thyroid hormone metabolism to name only some of zinc’s activities in the body. Deficiency can be due to low dietary intake, poor gut integrity and malabsorption, low stomach acid, high demand and phytic acid which inhibits the bio-availability. Zinc and iron also compete for absorption so if you do supplement with either of these nutrients be sure to monitor your levels and do so only under the guidance of a qualified health practitioner.

Sandstead & Prasad (2010) explored zinc status and its association with influenza H1N1 and observed a correlation between zinc status and the severity of bacterial pneumoniae. Zinc deficiency affects approximately 20% of the global population and is particularly relevant for vegans and vegetarians. Zinc is less bio-available in plant foods due to phytic acid which inhibits the uptake and rich in red meat. In their research they found that mildly zinc deficient children infected with H1N1 influenza were better with zinc and other micro-nutrients than other micro-nutrients alone suggesting a beneficial effect of zinc against that strain of influenza.

Your naturopath will assess your zinc status using various techniques such as zinc tally taste testing, blood test and assessing for physical deficiency signs.

  1. Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes is associated with immune suppression and opportunistic infections. Managing blood sugar is paramount to prevent ongoing infections and to restore the immune system. Particularly to prevent cold and flu. Some symptoms include frequent urination, hunger and nocturnal urination. Ensuring you eat regular meals and don’t go for long periods without eating, alongside a high fibre diet is just as key to addressing recurring infections as addressing the infections directly. Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions and your naturopath will always have your fasting insulin levels and blood sugar levels checked if you are experiencing recurrent infections.

  1. Stress

When we are stressed our adrenal glands produce the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol can suppress our immune response leading to chronic or recurring infections during times of severe ongoing stress and depletion. Over and over I hear of people who can’t shake off a simple cold that lingers for weeks and goes to the chest. A snotty nose turns into a raging chest infection with thick green mucus. I ask the same question every time, “have you been resting” and 10 times out of 10 the answer is “no”. Our society and culture (particularly the media) encourage us to “soldier on” instead of stopping to rest allowing our bodies to deal with the infection.

We don’t learn self-care at school even though it’s one of the most important tools for our survival. Self-care means taking time off when you are sick, taking active measures to prevent burn out in this fast-paced world and highly stimulating environment, eating to nourish our well being, sleeping well and getting enough sleep as determined by our natural biorhythms. What are you doing to proactively manage your stress levels?

Today we have talked about only 5 potential contributors to recurring infections. There are many more potential causes. Often there is a combination of contributing factors rather than only one specific cause. If you are taking a treatment for an infection and it keeps coming back, it might be time to seek out your underlying imbalance so that you can address the cause. We offer extensive testing to help illuminate your personal nurture points and provide a targeted holistic treatment. Your health is your most valuable asset so book in today and find out what you can do to get on the fast track to wellness.

Jean is a degree qualified naturopath with clinics in Sydney, Glen Innes and Australia wide online. Servicing Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Darwin, Tasmania and rural Australia.

Read our top tips for boosting your immune system this Winter:


Lakhan N, Clarke M, Mathew SM, Marshall H. Retrospective review of factors associated with severe hospitalised community-acquired influenza in a tertiary paediatric hospital in South Australia. Influenza Other Respir Viruses. 2016 Nov;10(6):479-485. doi: 10.1111/irv.12403. Epub 2016 Aug 8.

Sandstead HH, Prasad AS. Zinc intake and resistance to H1N1 influenza. Am J Public Health. 2010 Jun;100(6):970-1. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.187773. Epub 2010 Apr 15.

Discovery of human zinc deficiency: its impact on human health and disease. Prasad AS et al. Adv Nutr. 2013 Mar 1;4(2):176-90. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003210.

Cannell JJ1, Vieth R, Umhau JC, Holick MF, Grant WB, Madronich S, Garland CF, Giovannucci E. Epidemic influenza and vitamin D. Epidemiol Infect. 2006 Dec;134(6):1129-40. Epub 2006 Sep 7.

Greiller CL, Martineau AR. Modulation of the immune response to respiratory viruses by vitamin D. Nutrients. 2015 May 29;7(6):4240-70. doi: 10.3390/nu7064240. Review.

Li S, Wang J, Zhang B, Li X, Liu Y. Diabetes Mellitus and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Population-Based Study. Diabetes Metab J. 2019 Jun;43(3):319-341. doi: 10.4093/dmj.2018.0060.

Yeager MP, Guyre CA, Sites BD, Collins JE, Pioli PA, Guyre PM. The Stress Hormone Cortisol Enhances Interferon-υ-Mediated Proinflammatory Responses of Human Immune Cells. Anesth Analg. 2018 Aug;127(2):556-563. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000003481.


This blog is for education only and is not intended as personal health advice. Please consult your health care provider for personal health advice. Natural medicines and supplements do interact with medications and you should refrain from self-prescribing natural medicines.



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