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Hospitals profiting from private cord blood bank didn’t disclose financial ties to patients

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Two Toronto hospitals that have a financial relationship with a private company that banks blood from babies’ umbilical cords say they need to be more upfront about their affiliation after an investigation by CBC’s The Fifth Estate raised questions about their practices.

Mount Sinai Hospital and the Scarborough Hospital have arrangements with Insception Lifebank, Canada’s largest private cord blood bank, and will offer more information to patients about it. 

Insception’s satellite office at Mount Sinai offers patients information about banking the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after a child is born. It is a rich source of stem cells, similar to those found in bone marrow, and can be used to treat leukemia, lymphoma, immune deficiencies and genetic disorders.

However, patients told The Fifth Estate they were not informed that the hospitals have a financial incentive in the cord blood banked in the facilities on their premises.  

Following The Fifth Estate‘s investigation, Mount Sinai Hospital said it is changing its practices and will be more transparent about its relationship with Insception.

The hospital recently put up signs highlighting its financial interest in cord blood collected there, and it changed its website to indicate the same.

Following an investigation by The Fifth Estate, Mount Sinai Hospital placed this sign at Insception Lifebank’s office on its premises. (CBC)

In a statement to The Fifth Estate, Sally Szuster, senior manager of communications at Mount Sinai, said a “process is underway to identity further opportunities to improve the transparency of our business relationship with our cord blood vendor to patients.”

In the last decade, hundreds of private companies have popped up worldwide, capitalizing on the billion-dollar stem cell industry. For a one-time fee of more than $1,000 for blood collection, and an annual fee of more than $100, a child’s cord blood is stored and earmarked exclusively for the family’s use.

Easy decision

When Colleen Maurizio, a Toronto resident, was pregnant with her first child, she visited Insception’s office in the women’s unit at Mount Sinai.

“I sort of passed by it a number of times on different appointment visits, and I finally went in there one day and got some information,” said Maurizio.

After speaking with the company’s representative, she said the decision was easy. She delivered both her children at Mount Sinai and stored the cord blood of her daughters with Insception.

Colleen Maurizio banked both her daughters’ cord blood with Insception Lifebank at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. (CBC)

“[Insception] being right in the same area as all the obstetricians gave me a lot of confidence that they are obviously a reputable company.”

Maurizio, like other parents, was not made aware that a portion of the money she paid to Insception goes to the hospital.

Inception’s affiliation with Mount Sinai began in 2004 when it was founded by doctors at the hospital. Documents obtained by The Fifth Estate show that Mount Sinai received close to $2.7 million when Insception was sold to an Australian company in 2016.

Today, Mount Sinai receives $50,000 a year from Insception and an additional $125 per cord blood unit banked at the hospital. Through Mount Sinai, Insception has stored more than 4,000 units over the last five years.

Insception also has a satellite office at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Like Mount Sinai, Sunnybrook and the Scarborough Hospital get a yearly fee from the private company and additional fees per cord blood unit banked in exchange for access to patients.

Changes promised

The Scarborough Hospital said it has not been disclosing its financial arrangement to patients who bank their cord blood with Insception. However, following The Fifth Estate‘s investigation, David Belous, the interim executive director of communications and government relations at the hospital, said “we are going to be working on disclosure to the patients.”

Sunnybrook said it is still looking into the matter.

In a statement to The Fifth Estate, Mount Sinai said a portion of revenues generated from Insception’s Mount Sinai location is “directed towards supporting clinical research, education, medical equipment and other investments in patient care.”

Trudo Lemmens, a health law and policy professor at the University of Toronto, says he finds it disturbing that public hospitals are promoting private cord blood banks. (CBC)

Trudo Lemmens, a professor of health law and policy at the University of Toronto, said the hospitals’ practices are problematic.  

“They should certainly disclose, in my view, the fact that there is financial benefit,” he said.

There have also been longstanding concerns about the medical necessity of privately banked cord blood. For the past decade, the American Academy of Pediatrics has advised that “private storage of cord blood as ‘biological insurance’ should be discouraged.”

Using hidden cameras The Fifth Estate recorded an appointment between a prospective mother and Insception’s clinical consultant at Mount Sinai. The consultant made the case for storing a child’s cord blood, giving a list of more than 80 life-threatening diseases cured by cord blood.

Watch The Fifth Estate recording

Insception representative says banking cord blood is an investment 0:55

“It’s an investment for this baby, God forbid, if the baby ever needed it,” the consultant said. “[Once] you have it, you can be free and have peace of mind.”

The consultant said cord blood has been used to cure more than 45,000 patients over two decades worldwide.

Dr. Donna Wall, a leading transplant specialist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, said “there is no question [cord blood] is lifesaving.” However, she said that the majority of transplants and diseases cured are through the public cord blood bank, not private or “family banks.”

Dr. Donna Wall, a transplant specialist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, says she would not use a child’s own cord blood for treatment of leukemia or a genetic defect. (CBC)

About five years ago, Canada joined the world of public cord blood banking. Managed by Canadian Blood Services, the National Public Cord Blood Bank gives patients free access to an international network of 70 registries around the world.

Those who question the medical viability of private banks say there is a much greater likelihood of doctors using cord blood from the public bank over privately stored cord blood.

“When I do a transplant for a child with leukemia, I don’t want that child’s own blood,” said Wall.  

“If a child needs a transplant … well guess what, their cord blood has the same disorder. So it makes no sense to use it,” she said.    

The one exception is for families where a sibling or family member has a genetic or malignant condition that could potentially be treated with cord blood.

Not their understanding

Two mothers who stored their cord blood with Insception at Toronto-area hospitals said their understanding was that, if needed, the blood could be used to treat their children for any condition.

“When I signed up for it, nobody told me that ‘Oh actually, if she was to get leukemia, you can’t use her own.’ I feel like that is important information,” said Gillian Kuriyan, who had the cord blood banked after her daughter, Lilah, was born in 2015.  

Anupama Dawson said she saw banking cord blood as “an investment and as insurance” for her baby.

When Anupama Dawson banked her daughter Arya’s cord blood with Insception Lifebank, she thought it could be used as treatment if her daughter ever developed leukaemia (CBC)

“I find it honestly a little disheartening that this kind of information is not provided by our doctors or OBGYNs,” said Dawson.  

Lemmens said it’s not surprising that hospitals have fiscal ties to private companies but it does make him uncomfortable.

“In the context of a publicly funded hospital providing services to pregnant women,” said Lemmens, “it’s clear that this is a sales pitch that basically aims at obtaining a contract.”

In a letter to The Fifth Estate, Insception said it is proud of the services it offers, and in addition to having used “sibling cord blood stored at Insception for treatments,” it funds ongoing medical research involving the potential future utility of cord blood. According to Insception, of the 70,000 cord blood units stored in its facilities in Canada, it has released 14 for transplants since 2004.

Following The Fifth Estate‘s inquiries, Insception also changed its website to state that “in cases of early childhood leukemia, the child’s own cord blood would not likely be used.”

‘How would I have known?’

Maurizio said she feels more needs to be done from the medical side to ensure the parents are making informed decision for their families.  

“Part of me feels a little bit foolish for not having considered these things, but then part of me said how would I have known?” said Maurizio.

Dawson agrees. “Honestly, as someone who’s not from a medical background, how would you even know what questions to ask?”

Lemmens said the situation can be “emotionally vulnerable” and daunting for prospective parents. Instead of providing them with the support they need, Lemmens said it looks like hospitals are supporting cord blood banking as a form of “insurance.”  

“I find it indeed disturbing that because of the funding they receive for this service they’re basically promoting a practice which I would say from a medical perspective doesn’t seem to be the best standard of care.”

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Sweet! Here are 7 reasons to eat sweet potatoes

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(Natural News) Sweet potatoes may not be as popular as regular potatoes, which is too bad — since they’re packed with vitamins and minerals. One cup of sweet potatoes can provide more than 100 percent of the daily value of vitamin A. It’s also rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and manganese. Both purple and orange varieties contain antioxidants that can protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.

Eating sweet potatoes is beneficial for your health

Sweet potatoes are brimming with micronutrients and antioxidants —  making them useful to your health. Below is a list of reasons why you should incorporate sweet potatoes into your diet.

They improve brain function

The purple variety of sweet potato contains anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have revealed that anthocyanins are effective at improving cognitive function. Moreover, the results suggest that purple yams can help protect against memory loss. Antioxidants from the purple variety safeguard the brain against damage from free radicals and inflammation.

They aid digestion

Sweet potatoes are rich in dietary fiber. This macronutrient prevents constipation, diarrhea, and bloating by adding bulk and drawing water to the stool. In addition, fiber keeps a healthy balance in the gut by promoting the growth of good bacteria.

They slow down aging

The beta-carotene in orange sweet potatoes can help reduce damage caused by prolonged sun exposure. This is especially true for people diagnosed with erythropoietic protoporphyria and other photosensitive diseases. Sweet potatoes also contain antioxidants that protect against free radical damage. Free radicals are not only linked to diseases but also premature aging.

They boost the immune system

Orange and purple sweet potatoes are loaded with a good number of antioxidants that help protect the body from harmful molecules that cause inflammation and damage DNA. This, in turn, protects the body from chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.

They can prevent cancer

Eating sweet potatoes can help protect against various types of cancers. The compounds in sweet potatoes restrict the development of cancer cells. Test tube studies have shown that anthocyanins can prevent cancers in the bladder, breast, colon, and stomach.

They lower blood sugar

Despite its relatively high glycemic index, studies have shown that the regular intake of sweet potatoes can help lower blood sugar, thanks to the presence of dietary fiber. While fiber falls under carbohydrates, it is digested differently, compared to starchy and sugary forms of carbohydrates. Interestingly, insulin doesn’t process fiber (unlike other types which get turned into glucose), and it only passes through the digestive tract.

They promote healthy vision

Orange sweet potatoes are rich in a compound called beta-carotene, an antioxidant which transforms into vitamin A in the body. Adequate intake of vitamin A promotes eye health. Conversely, deficiencies in vitamin A have been linked to a particular type of blindness called xerophthalmia.

Sweet potatoes are easy to incorporate into your everyday meals. They are best prepared boiled but can also be baked, roasted, or steamed — they can even replace other carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, and toast. (Related: Understanding the phytochemical and nutrient content of sweet potato flours from Vietnam.)

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Frostbite: What it is and how to identify, treat it

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Manitoba’s temperature has plummeted to its coldest level this season, triggering warnings about the extreme risk of frostbite.

Oh, we know it’s cold. We can feel Jack Frost nipping at our noses. But what about when he gnaws a little harder — what exactly does “frostbite” mean?

People tend to underestimate the potential for severe injuries in the cold, says the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. We laugh off the sting of the deep freeze, rub our hands back from the brink of numbness and wear our survival proudly like a badge.

That’s because, in most cases, frostbite can be treated fairly easily, with no long-term effects.

But it can also lead to serious injury, including permanent numbness or tingling, joint stiffness, or muscle weakness. In extreme cases, it can lead to amputation.

Bitter cold can cause frostbite in just minutes. Here’s how to recognize the warning signs and treat them. 0:59

Here’s a guide to identifying the first signs, how to treat them, and when to seek medical help.

What is frostbite and frostnip?

Frostbite is defined as bodily injury caused by freezing that results in loss of feeling and colour in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes — those areas most often exposed to the air.

Cooling of the body causes a narrowing of the blood vessels, slowing blood flow. In temperatures below –4 C, ice crystals can form in the skin and the tissue just below it.

Frostnip most commonly affects the hands and feet. It initially causes cold, burning pain, with the area affected becoming blanched. It is easy to treat and with rewarming, the area becomes reddened.

Frostbite is the acute version of frostnip, when the soft tissue actually freezes. The risk is particularly dangerous on days with a high wind chill factor. If not quickly and properly treated, it can lead to the loss of tissues or even limbs. 

Signs of frostbite

Health officials call them the four P’s:

  • Pink: Skin appears reddish in colour, and this is usually the first sign.
  • Pain: The cold becomes painful on skin.
  • Patches: White, waxy-feeling patches show when skin is dying.
  • Prickles: Affected areas feel numb or have reduced sensation.

Symptoms can also include:

  • Reduced body temperature.
  • Swelling.
  • Blisters.
  • Areas that are initially cold, hard to the touch.

Take quick action

If you do get frostbite, it is important to take quick action.

  • Most cases of frostbite can be treated by heating the exposed area in warm (not hot) water.
  • Immersion in warm water should continue for 20-30 minutes until the exposed area starts to turn pink, indicating the return of blood circulation.
  • Use a warm, wet washcloth on frostbitten nose or earlobes.
  • If you don’t have access to warm water, underarms are a good place to warm frostbitten fingers. For feet, put them against a warm person’s skin.
  • Drink hot fluids such as hot chocolate, coffee or tea when warming.
  • Rest affected limbs and avoid irritation to the skin.
  • E​levate the affected limb once it is rewarmed.

Rewarming can take up to an hour and can be painful, especially near the end of the process as circulation returns. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help with the discomfort.

Do not …

There are a number of things you should avoid:

  • Do not warm the area with dry heat, such as a heating pad, heat lamp or electric heater, because frostbitten skin is easily burned.
  • Do not rub or massage affected areas. This can cause more damage.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Do not walk on your feet or toes if they are frozen.
  • Do not break blisters.

Seek immediate medical attention

While you can treat frostbite yourself if the symptoms are minor — the skin is red, there is tingling — you should seek immediate medical attention at an emergency department if:

  • The exposed skin is blackened.
  • You see white-coloured or grey-coloured patches.
  • There is severe pain or the area is completely numb.
  • The skin feels unusually firm and is not sensitive to touch after one hour of rewarming.
  • There are large areas of blistering.
  • There is a bluish discolouration that does not resolve with rewarming.

Be prepared

The best way to avoid frostbite is to be prepared for the weather in the first place.

Wear several loose layers of clothing rather than a single, thick layer to provide good insulation and keep moisture away from your skin.

The outer garment should breathe but be waterproof and windproof, with an inner thermal layer. Retain body heat with a hat and scarf. Mittens are warmer than gloves because they keep the fingers together.

Be sure your clothing protects your head, ears, nose, hands and feet, especially for children.

Wind chill and frostbite rates

Wind chill: 0 to –9.
Frostbite risk: Low.

Wind chill: –28 to –39.
Frostbite risk: Moderate.

Exposed skin can freeze in 10-30 minutes

Wind chill: –40 to –47.
Frostbite risk: High.

Exposed skin can freeze in five to 10 minutes.

Wind chill: –48 to –54.
Frostbite risk: Very High.

Exposed skin can freeze in two to five minutes.

Wind chill: –55 and lower.
Frostbite risk: Extremely High.

Exposed skin can freeze in less than two minutes.
 

NOTE: In sustained winds over 50 km/h, frostbite can occur faster than indicated.

Source: Environment Canada

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Awkward Flu Jabs Attempted at Golden Globes

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In what can only be described as a new level of propaganda, hosts Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh featured a flu shot stunt during the 76th Golden Globe Awards ceremony. They told the audience to roll up their sleeves, as they would all be getting flu shots, while people in white coats stormed down the aisles, syringes in hand.

Most of the audience looked thoroughly uneasy at the prospect of having a stranger stick them with a needle in the middle of an awards show. But perhaps the worst part of the scene was when Samberg added that anti-vaxxers could put a napkin over their head if they wanted to be skipped, basically suggesting that anyone opposed to a flu shot deserved to be branded with a proverbial scarlet letter.

The flu shots, for the record, were reportedly fake,1 nothing more than a bizarre gag that left many people stunned by the Globe’s poor taste in turning a serious medical choice into a publicity gimmick.

Flu Shot Stunt Reeks of Desperation

Whoever came up with the idea to turn the Golden Globes into a platform for a public health message probably thought it was ingenious, but the stunt only serves as a seemingly desperate attempt to make flu shots relevant and in vogue. During the 2017 to 2018 flu season, only 37 percent of U.S. adults received a flu shot, a 6 percent drop from the prior season.2

“To improve flu vaccination coverage for the 2018-19 flu season, health care providers are encouraged to strongly recommend and offer flu vaccination to all of their patients,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote. “People not visiting a provider during the flu season have many convenient places they can go for a flu vaccination.”3

Yet, perhaps the decline in people choosing to get vaccinated has nothing to do with convenience and everything to do with their dismal rates of efficacy. In the decade between 2005 and 2015, the influenza vaccine was less than 50 percent effective more than half of the time.4

The 2017/2018 flu vaccine was a perfect example of this trend. The overall adjusted vaccine effectiveness against influenza A and B virus infection was just 36 percent.5

Health officials blamed the flu season’s severity on the dip in vaccination rates, but as Dr. Paul Auwaerter, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told USA Today, “[I]t is also true that the vaccine was not as well matched against the strains that circulated.”6

But bringing flu shots to the Golden Globes, and calling out “anti-vaxxers,” is nothing more than “medical care, by shame,” noted Dr. Don Harte, a chiropractic activist in California. “But it was entertaining, in a very weird way, including the shock and disgust of some of the intended victims, notably [Willem Dafoe],” he said, adding:7

“This Hollywood publicity stunt for the flu vaccine is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen from celebrities. But it does go with the flu shot itself, which is, perhaps, the stupidest of all the vaccines available.”

Did 80,000 People Really Die From the Flu Last Year?

The CDC reported that 79,400 people died from influenza during the 2017/2018 season, which they said “serves as a reminder of how severe seasonal influenza can be.”8 It’s important to remember, however, that the 80,000 deaths figure being widely reported in the media is not actually all “flu deaths.”

According to the CDC, “We look at death certificates that have pneumonia or influenza causes (P&I), other respiratory and circulatory causes (R&C), or other nonrespiratory, noncirculatory causes of death, because deaths related to flu may not have influenza listed as a cause of death.”9

As for why the CDC doesn’t base flu mortality estimates only on death certificates that list influenza, they noted, “Seasonal influenza may lead to death from other causes, such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease … Additionally, some deaths — particularly among the elderly — are associated with secondary complications of seasonal influenza (including bacterial pneumonias).”10

In other words, “flu deaths” are not just deaths directly caused by the influenza virus, but also secondary infections such as pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, as well as sepsis.11

According to the CDC, most of the deaths occurred among those aged 65 years and over, a population that may already have preexisting conditions that makes them more susceptible to infectious diseases. As Harte said of annual flu deaths, “[M]ost if not all, I would assume, are of people who are already in very bad shape.12

CDC Claims Flu Vaccine Reduces Flu Deaths in the Elderly — But Does It?

Since people aged 65 and over are those most at risk from flu complications and death, the CDC has been vocal in their claims that the flu shot significantly reduces flu-related deaths among this population. The research, however, says otherwise.

Research published in 2005 found no correlation between increased vaccination rates among the elderly and reduced mortality. According to the authors, “Because fewer than 10 percent of all winter deaths were attributable to influenza in any season, we conclude that observational studies substantially overestimate vaccination benefit.”13

A 2006 study also showed that even though seniors vaccinated against influenza had a 44 percent reduced risk of dying during flu season than unvaccinated seniors, those who were vaccinated were also 61 percent less like to die before the flu season ever started.14

This finding has since been attributed to a “healthy user effect,” which suggests that older people who get vaccinated against influenza are already healthier and, therefore, less likely to die anyway, whereas those who do not get the shot have suffered a decline in health in recent months.

Journalist Jeremy Hammond summed up the CDC’s continued spreading of misinformation regarding the flu vaccine’s effectiveness in the elderly, as they continue to claim it’s the best way to prevent the flu:15

[T]here is no good scientific evidence to support the CDC’s claim that the influenza vaccine reduces hospitalizations or deaths among the elderly.

The types of studies the CDC has relied on to support this claim have been thoroughly discredited due to their systemic ‘healthy user’ selection bias, and the mortality rate has observably increased along with the increase in vaccine uptake — which the CDC has encouraged with its unevidenced claims about the vaccine’s benefits, downplaying of its risks, and a marketing strategy of trying to frighten people into getting the flu shot for themselves and their family.”

Death of Vaccinated Child Blamed on Not Getting Second Dose

In January 2019, the state of Colorado reported the first child flu death of the 2018/2019 flu season — a child who had received influenza vaccination. But instead of highlighting the vaccine’s failure and clear limitations, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment blamed the death on the child being only “partially vaccinated.”

“It’s an unfortunate but important reminder of the importance of two doses of influenza vaccine for young children who are receiving influenza vaccine for the first time,” Dr. Rachel Herlihy, who is the state communicable disease epidemiologist, said in a news release.16 For those who aren’t aware, the CDC notes that one dose of flu shot may not be enough to protect against the flu. Instead, they state:17

“Children 6 months through 8 years getting vaccinated for the first time, and those who have only previously gotten one dose of vaccine, should get two doses of vaccine this season …

The first dose ‘primes’ the immune system; the second dose provides immune protection. Children who only get one dose but need two doses can have reduced or no protection from a single dose of flu vaccine.”

Not only may the flu vaccine fail to provide protection against the flu, but many people are not aware that other types of viruses are responsible for about 80 percent of all respiratory infections during any given flu season.18 The flu vaccine does not protect against or prevent any of these other types of respiratory infections causing influenza-like illness (ILI) symptoms.

The chance of contracting actual type A or B influenza, caused by one of the three or four influenza virus strains included in the vaccine, is much lower compared to getting sick with another type of viral or bacterial infection during the flu season.

Does Flu Vaccine Increase the Risk of Influenza Infection, Contribute to Vaccine Shedding?

There are serious adverse effects that can come along with annual flu vaccination, including potentially lifelong side effects such as Guillain Barré syndrome and chronic shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA). They may also increase your risk of contracting more serious flu infections, as research suggests those who have been vaccinated annually may be less protected than those with no prior flu vaccination history.19

Research presented at the 105th International Conference of the American Thoracic Society in San Diego also revealed that children who get seasonal flu shots are more at risk of hospitalization than children who do not. Children who had received the flu vaccine had three times the risk of hospitalization as children who had not. Among children with asthma, the risk was even higher.20

There’s also the potential for vaccine shedding, which has taken on renewed importance with the reintroduction of the live virus vaccine FluMist during the 2018/2019 season. While the CDC states that the live flu virus in FluMist is too weak to actually give recipients the flu, research has raised some serious doubts that this is the case.

One recent study revealed not only that influenza virus may be spread via simple breathing (i.e., no sneezing or coughing required) but also that repeated vaccination increases the amount of virus released into the air.21

MedImmune, the company that developed FluMist, is aware that the vaccine sheds vaccine-strain virus. In its prescribing information, they describe a study on the transmission of vaccine-strain viruses from vaccinated children to nonvaccinated children in a day care setting.

In 80 percent of the FluMist recipients, at least one vaccine-strain virus was isolated anywhere from one to 21 days following vaccination. They further noted, “One placebo subject had mild symptomatic Type B virus infection confirmed as a transmitted vaccine virus by a FluMist recipient in the same playgroup.”22

Are There Other Ways to Stay Healthy During Flu Season?

Contrary to the CDC’s and Golden Globe’s claims that flu vaccinations are a great way to prevent flu, other methods exist to help you stay healthy during the flu season and all year, and they’re far safer than annual flu vaccination. Vitamin D testing and optimization have been shown to cut your risk of respiratory infections, including colds and flu, in half if you are vitamin D deficient, for instance.23,24

In my view, optimizing your vitamin D levels is one of the absolute best respiratory illness prevention and optimal health strategies available. Influenza has also been treated with high-dose vitamin C,25 and taking zinc lozenges at the first sign of respiratory illness can also be helpful.

Following other basic tenets of health, like eating right, getting sound sleep, exercising and addressing stress are also important, as is regularly washing your hands.

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