Fighting the flu makes headlines during this time of year. The drug companies, newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, and doctors' offices all preach the same message: get a flu shot now before it's too late. But is that what you should do? I don't think so. Here's why:

I've told you many times in the past that the flu shots are dangerous and usually worthless for preventing the flu (
see my website for details). I've also showed you how vitamin D can fight the flu much better - and with fewer side effects - than the flu shot. But vitamin D isn't the only natural way to fight the illness. There's another nutrient you can use that's amazingly effective for preventing the flu.

The nutrient is the essential trace mineral zinc. You may know that zinc is great for fighting colds. But new information shows how effective it is at preventing the flu.

Ananda Prasad, MD, PhD is a distinguished professor of medicine at Wayne State University. He recently published a paper on zinc. In that report, he says, those over 55 "have lower zinc intake ... and the absorption of zinc is decreased." As you age, you lose stomach acid, which is essential for digestion and absorption of minerals.

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His group supplemented elderly subjects with zinc gluconate (zinc acetate is also excellent, as neither irritate the stomach). The researchers used 15 mg of elemental zinc three times daily on an empty stomach to ensure better absorption. Their study results are important for all of us.

At the beginning of the study, all of the subjects (55-87 years old) had lower levels of zinc in their blood. They had markers of increased oxidative stress (free radical generation). And they also had more tissue damage from inflammation. The more inflammation you have, the more tissue damage you get.

Those subjects who took the zinc had a significantly lower incidence of infections. Their plasma zinc levels went up significantly. And their inflammation dropped considerably, as did oxidative stress markers.

Dr. Prasad believes that the majority of those over 55 will benefit from zinc supplementation. I agree. However, I don't think 15 mg is enough. I typically recommend 30-45 mg daily. And I also suggest you take 1-2 mg of copper with the zinc. Theoretically, zinc supplementation can reduce your absorption of copper, another essential trace mineral.

Zinc is crucial for proper immune function. With flu season at its peak, your level of zinc could be the difference between avoiding the infection (or having a mild case) and getting a whopping big case. And taking zinc along with vitamin D (5,000 IU) will really help you avoid it altogether.

The older you are, the more you need to take (up to 45 mg). You're already at risk of insufficient zinc levels. A good place to start is by taking a high-potency multivitamin (such as
Healthy Resolve's Max Plus), which has 15 mg of zinc. You'll want to add up to 30 mg more from a zinc supplement (available at any health food store). Max Plus also has 2 mg of copper, so you don't need to take an extra copper supplement. Minerals by themselves are best taken away from meals. So take them when you first get up and before you go to bed.

Prasad, Ananda S., MD, PhD, "Zinc Supplementation Decreases Incidence of Infections in the Elderly: Effect of Zinc on Generation of Cytokines and Oxidative Stress," Am J Clin Nutr, 2007 Mar;85(3):837-44 45884 (8/2007).

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