Whether or not you got a flu shot this year, there are a few simple ways that you can help prevent influenza. Here, Dr. Tori Hudson, ND, talks about her recommendations for natural flu prevention, including nasal irrigation with sprays or neti pots, drinking green tea, taking elderberry supplements throughout the season and keeping Boiron's Oscillococcinum on hand to take at the first signs of flu. And don't forget to wash your hands frequently, drink lots of water and keep coughs covered!
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Unfortunately, cold and flu season is upon us. Whether or not you choose to get a flu shot this year, you can definitely arm yourself and your family with smart preventive measures. While OTC meds can be helpful, it's worth trying some natural supplements and strategies to boost your immunity.
Stock up on organic veggies and fruits, especially those naturally packed with vitamin C. Fruits like strawberries, papaya and kiwi are loaded with the cold-combative vitamin C. Superfoods like kale, red peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts also pack a powerful punch of “C” and will boost your immune system to fight off influenza’s unpleasant symptoms naturally.
According to the National Institutes of Health, when taken in adequate amounts, vitamin D produces cathelicidin, a virus-killing protein. In general, 600 IU daily is the recommended adult daily dosage, but always consult your physician before adding any vitamin D supplements to your daily routine.
As always, in warm or cold weather, keep yourself hydrated to strengthen your body and boost your immune system. Generally 6-8 glasses of water per day is adequate, but you’ll know you are drinking enough water when your urine is clear or very pale yellow.
Practice Preventive Hygiene
One of the most effective ways to get through the cold and flu season without using OTC meds is to take preventive action by washing your hands frequently and thoroughly. Mayo Clinic health experts recommend scrubbing your hands vigorously for at least 15 seconds or use a hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available. During peak flu season you can also reduce your risk of getting the flu or a cold by avoiding large crowds or places where people congregate in small spaces.
Use Natural Alternatives
Natural products such as essential oils are not only pleasant to the senses, they also serve as a natural antihistamine. Grade A essential oils can be applied as a soothing therapeutic rub or added to a diffuser to bring restorative elements into the air you breathe. And at the first sign of a sore throat, soothe it with a dose of elderberry syrup or brew a cup of elderberry tea, both a great source of vitamins B, C and A.
Last but definitely not least, bolster your immune system with daily exercise, a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables and wash your hands throughout the day. Be your own best advocate!
Want to help prevent the flu? First you need to know a little about how flu and your body work. The flu is a viral infection that often occurs in the winter, for several reasons—because we don't get much exposure to sunlight and are often deficient in vitamin D, because we’re indoors consistently (and therefore passing around more germs) and because we’re more vulnerable to extreme changes in temperature.
Infections first begin when you’re exposed to the virus through the secretions of coughs and sneezes of an already infected person. The virus then enters yourbody through the nose, eyes, throat and/or bronchial tubes and attaches itself to a cell wall there. It’s important to note that a virus is technically not a live organism, but rather a tiny particle that can only multiply within live cells. The virus particles must attack and take over the machinery of a host cell by injecting its own DNA, and diverting the work of the cell’s enzymes to its own duplication.
Once the virus is fortified, it then kills the original host cell and is released into your system via the bloodstream. As this happens, the majority of flu symptoms begin. The lymph swells and the virus travels through the circulatory system, attaching to muscle cells and causing aches and pains. The immune system responds with inflammation, mucus and fatigue.
While these symptoms may feel uncomfortable, they’re not necessarily bad for you. One great example of the vast intelligence of the body is that it responds to the infection by increasing the body temperature—creating a fever that helps fight the infection by slowing down the down the rate of viral reproduction. This immune response continues until the viruses are eliminated from the body and the lymph completes the purification of debris, dead cells, pathogens and waste.
So how you do start feeling better?
First, support your immune response instead of suppressing it, and you’ll move quickly through dis-ease and discomfort. Likewise, the sooner you take action against an infection, the easier it is to minimize its effects.
The first 12-18 hours of the flu offers a window of opportunity to potentially stop the attack. At this stage, use herbs that support lymph and circulation and stimulate the immune response—like echinacea, stephania, yarrow, elderberry and flower and osha. Eat healthfully, and get to bed early. Products to try: Plantiva’s ImmuneDx, WishGarden Herbs' Kick-Ass Immune and Gaia Herbs’ Black Elderberry Syrup.
If you didn’t catch it in time, it’s okay! But don’t suppress a fever right away. The fever is your body’s way to decrease viral duplication and encourage you to rest. At this stage you should focus on killing microbes, draining the lymph and moderating inflammation with herbs like garlic, cleavers, elderberry and elderflower, lemon balm and olive leaf extract. Products to try: Plantiva’s ColdDx, WishGarden Herbs' Lymph Mover or WishGarden Herbs' Kick-Ass Heroes (including Kick-Ass Immune, Biotic and Sinus, for all stages of illness). If you’re very uncomfortable, you can at least reduce inflammation and fever with natural or over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.
Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water to flush out the body and loosen secretions (try coconut water or pure water, like from Eldorado Springs). To reduce discomfort from the fever, soak your feet in cool water and/or use a cool compress on your forehead. If the fever or aches are unbearable, consider herbal anti-inflammatories like New Chapter’s Zyflamend and sip chamomile, peppermint or elderflower tea or tincture.
Continue to assist your lymph system and support your circulation. Add a hot cup of ginger tea to your regimen. Try gentle movement like stretching and hot baths to help move lymph, support circulation and ease discomfort. Try a bath with a half-cup baking soda (to alkalize, calm and deodorize) and 2 cups Epsom salts to cleanse the lymphatics, relax sore muscles and soften skin.
Get plenty of rest. This means both physically and emotionally! Too much exercise can actually place more stress on your body and suppress your immune system. Limit activity to a simple walk if you’re coming down with a cold, since small amounts of exercise will facilitate lymph movement and circulation.
Avoid milk products, grains and sugar, all of which can promote mucus and inflammation and deplete the immune system. Avoid alcohol and restrict chemical over-the-counter medications that suppress symptoms (sometimes half an adult dose can ease symptoms!).
Stay home to avoid infecting others, and wash your hands and linens frequently. Small measures like these help prevent the virus from spreading to your community and family. Keep hand sanitizers, like those from Dr. Bronner’s or CleanWell, close at hand.
If you do have the flu, take the time to take good care of yourself and remember that your health is a priority. Feel better soon!