Once the holiday season is over, along with its hectic schedules involving too much to eat and drink but not enough sleep, we need to be especially careful not to catch the flu.
Once the holiday season is over, along with its hectic schedules involving too much to eat and drink but not enough sleep, we need to be especially careful not to catch the flu. So how ”“ whether or not you had a flu shot last fall ”“ can you avoid getting sick? Since your best defense in beating the cold and flu season is to boost your immune system, put those New Year’s Resolutions in place and take good care of yourself.
“This is an ideal time to commit yourself to practices like yoga, meditation, healthy nutrition, restorative sleep and the use of herbs and supplements,” says Karen Koffler, MD, director of Integrative Medicine at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, near Chicago, Illinois. “These healthy habits can strengthen your immune system and reduce stress.”
One of the main ways to support your immune system is to get at least six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Your body needs that amount of sleep to repair itself and prepare itself to fight for the coming day.
Eating well is another component of immune system support. Avoid processed food, which is high in simple carbohydrates and hydrogenated oils that act as immune system stressors. Instead, eat complex carbs like brown rice and whole wheat, and indulge in vegetables and fruit, which are antioxidants as well as being high in vitamins and minerals. And eat lots of immune-boosting garlic and onions. Be sure to increase your intake of “good fats”, which are found in cold-water fish like salmon, or supplement with flaxseed oil. Nutritionists also recommend drinking more liquids, such as six to eight glasses of water a day.
Thirdly, find ways to deal with stress, because how well we deal with stress affects the health of our immune systems. People who are stressed out from having too much to do are more likely to catch the flu. So, in addition to the usual common-sense recommendations ”“ such as washing your hands often, teaching your kids “cough etiquette” and avoiding people who already are sick ”“ Dr. Koffler points out that it’s also important to find ways to consistently notice and reduce feelings of stress. “Controlling stressful feelings can help you achieve a balanced state of health and maintain your energy levels,” she says.
There are also supplements that can act as immune system boosters. They include Vitamins C (3 grams), A (25,000 IU), and E (400 IU) plus selenium. Some people swear by the flu-fighting abilities of zinc lozenges, or take a 30 mg zinc supplement. In the herbal medicine chest, the Chinese herb astragalus can be effective in the prevention phase but shouldn’t be used during an actual cold or flu, and echinacea is also known to help prevent and treat colds and the flu.
Green tea is another potent immune system booster, and anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Drinking a cup a couple of times a day is soothing, but capsules are more potent than the tea. Decaffeinated green tea is probably the best way to take it so that you’re not hyped up and unable to sleep, which weakens your immune system.
Garlic has been nicknamed “Russian penicillin”, due to its anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-yeast properties. Fresh garlic is great if you don’t mind the smell. An alternative is enteric-coated garlic pills that dissolve deeper in your digestive track and therefore don’t produce garlic breath. These pills can get the garlic into your system faster so it can seek out and destroy flu and flu-like viruses. Consult your doctor before taking garlic if you are on blood thinning medication.
Black elderberry extract is another good way to protect against colds and flu. Look for it in capsules, lozenges or syrup form at a health food store, where it is also generally available in sugar-free formulations for diabetics.
Homeopathic remedies, which are similar in principle to vaccinations, should also be considered. The homeopathic remedy Influenzinum 200C is another flu preventive. Take four pellets under the tongue twice a day for three days every month beginning now through April.
If You Still Get Sick
If none of the above works and you are still feeling under the weather, here are some remedies.
Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine and can help to block the effect of inflammatory substances produced by the body, thereby reducing discomfort from congestion. Foods that contain garlic and capsaicin can also help to open up bronchial passages. Peppermint tea will help clear your head, as will a tea made from well-steeped fresh parsley. Or put a few drops of eucalyptus and rosemary oil in a bowl of steaming water, then place your head over the bowl and cover with a towel to keep in the vapors. Soothe a sore throat with some marshmallow root tea. Cats claw can shorten the duration of the flu and catnip will help lower a fever.
A good combination of herbs for a cough includes coltsfoot, white horehound and licorice. Black elderberry extract is also good for shortening the duration of flu symptoms.
The homeopathic remedy Oscillicoccinum 200C can be taken in the dosage of one vial every six hours beginning with the onset of fever, chills and muscle aches.
Cold or Flu?
Although neither the common cold or the flu is particularly serious in healthy people, influenza causes more than 100,000 hospitalizations and claims more than 20,000 lives annually in the U.S. In Canada, it makes more than five million sick and kills 5,000 each year. Although most people who get the flu recover completely within a couple of weeks, some people may develop serious medical complications such as pneumonia. So it is important to be able to distinguish between the flu and a cold.
The most important indication that you have the flu rather than a cold is high fever. Flu fevers tend to be at least 102.5, 103, or 104 and even higher in children. Since the virus attacks your whole body, you may also experience weakness, tiredness, loss of appetite, severe muscle aches, headache and a cough. You will probably not, contrary to popular opinion, have an upset stomach; the term “stomach flu” is a misnomer for an ailment that usually involves having eaten something bad.
The influenza virus is spread by little respiratory droplets from sneezing or coughing. It is also spread by hands contacting an infected surface and introducing the virus into the body by rubbing your eye or eating with your fingers. Symptoms tend to develop within one to three days of exposure and last anywhere from five days to two weeks.
The cold virus tends to land in your head, creating the sneezing, stuffy nose, cough, headache, runny eyes and sore, scratchy throat. You may have a slight fever of 99 or 100.6.
What most people don’t realize is that there are many flu-like illnesses that are not the flu. In fact, Health Canada says that only somewhere between ten and 15 percent of influenza-like illnesses are actually influenza.
No matter what you get, look at it as your body’s way of detoxifying itself. If you won’t give it a rest then it will do it for you. So take care of yourself year ’round, including a detoxification program at least once year, and help your immune system protect you against illness.
The Flu Shot Debate
The jury is still out as to whether or not getting a flu shot will actually protect healthy people from the virus. The major controversy around flu vaccine involves its ingredients. If the vaccine is not purified, there could be other viruses in the mix aside from the intended ones. Flu vaccines are grown on chicken embryos, which can be a problem for those with allergies or, as in the case of children, can cause these allergies to manifest in the first place. Most vaccines also contain thimerosal as a preservative, which is 49.6 percent mercury. There are no safe levels of mercury, as it is a highly toxic element that does not easily leave the body once absorbed. See the Vaccination Risk Awareness Network website at www.vran.orgÂ Â for more information.
ENN would like to thank Natural Life Magazine for their permission to reprint this article.