As you may already know, cold and flu season is upon us, and this year’s strain of flu is particularly wicked. In fact, trying to avoid being exposed to flu germs may be next to impossible even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, the CDC announced a first in its 13 years of flu monitoring: “As of Jan. 6, every part of the continental U.S. showed “widespread” flu activity.”
“This is the first year we had the entire continental U.S. be the same color on the graph, meaning there’s widespread activity in all of the continental U.S. at this point,” CDC Influenza Division Director Dr. Dan Jernigan said during a briefing on Friday. “It is in a lot of places and causing a lot of flu.” (CDC, Jan. 2018).
I do not recommend flu shots and this year, the flu shot is only about 10-30% effective against the flu, so even that is not a line of defense you can count on. The flu vaccine used this year in Australia — which is basically the same composition as the vaccine used in the U.S. — was only 10 % effective, according to some estimates, at preventing the strain of the virus that is the primary flu virus, says an international team of medical experts who published this perspective in The New England Journal of Medicine.
This year’s flu virus is particularly virulent as it is one of the H3N2 viruses, a strain that can often cause lots of complications, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be just the elderly or infants who get hit hard. Many of us seemingly healthy middle-aged adults, children and teens can get it bad too. So how do you avoid this nasty stuff?
While it may seem there’s nothing you can really do, short of washing your hands constantly, and hiding in your house—there is. You can actually ‘beef’ up your immune system to the point where you can be exposed time and again, and still be able to fight that bug off.
The best immunity to the flu virus is still your own ‘natural immunity’ provided by your own immune cells like T cells, B cells and Natural Killer cells. If you treat these guys right, these immune cells can be the first line of defense in the body and keep those nasty viruses that cause cold and flu at bay. These efforts can improve the activities of immune cells and enhance their abilities to protect against cold and flu viruses.
Natural Ways to Avoid or Fight Off Flu
- Maintain a strong immune system—You can do this by getting plenty of sleep, eating lots of healthy, organic, REAL food like high-antioxidant veggies, grass-fed meats; avoiding sugar and carbohydrates, and going easy on the alcohol.
- Get plenty of exercise, but don’t overdo it! Getting the blood moving is beneficial, and helps to stimulate the immune system as well. If you can get your exercise outside, even better! Don’t over train, however; over-training adds a considerable degree of stress and inflammation to the body, which can lead to being even more rundown and often opens the door to illness. If you are feeling under the weather, light exercise is actually good for the immune system.
- Get outside! Even if the weather is not the greatest, getting outside has a major positive effect on the body and the brain. Go for a walk, or a hike and get plenty of fresh, outside air. Studies show that being outside is extremely beneficial at reducing stress (a major disease-contributing factor), improving the mood and boosting serotonin, helping with sound sleep, improving attention span, emotional stability, and overall well-being. While the sun is fairly weak in the Northern Hemisphere winter and won’t have much of an effect on vitamin D levels, getting out in the sun is still highly beneficial.
- Obviously, you want to try to minimize contact with those who are sick, although it can be difficult, especially if they are family members or children. Research shows, however, that repeated exposures are the most harmful. Most people are at the peak of being contagious in the three or four days after the beginning signs of illness, and when they have a fever.
- Avoid sugar! This is one of the biggest things you can do to help prevent becoming sick. This major study shows that sugar can suppress the body’s immune responses. Simple sugars, including glucose, table sugar, fructose, and honey can cause a 50% drop in the ability of white blood cells to fight off microbial activity. The immune suppression was most noticeable two hours post-ingestion, but the effect was still evident five hours after ingestion. That is one reason why diabetics usually have a hard time fighting off infections and have difficulty with wound healing. The impairment of the phagocytic (and perhaps other aspects of the immune system) property of white blood cells caused by high blood sugar levels in diabetes lowers resistance to infections. In the same way, overwhelming the body with sugar can temporary impair the functions of white blood cells even in healthy people.
If you feel you are starting to come down with something, what are the best natural supplements to take? My recommendations for both prevention or to get rid of a cold or flu quickly are:
- Vitamin C helps to boost the immune system and strengthen the white blood cells. I generally take about 1,000 mg, and up to about 4,000 mg a day when trying to fight off a cold or flu virus. (Be sure to build up tolerance slowly; large doses of vitamin C can cause loose stools.) Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants and vitamin C to help beef up the immune system.
- Add in Zinc– Zinc is another immune defender and has a strong antiviral effect as well. Take zinc at the very first sign of any illness. Be careful with zinc however; too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Take about 50-100 mgs of zinc a day to help power up the immune system.
- Probiotics—Probiotics have been scientifically proven to help fight off colds and flu. Since 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, it makes perfect sense that probiotics are an effective tool in fighting off disease, including colds and flu. In order to keep your immune system in tip-top condition, you must maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria (vs. ‘bad’ bacteria). This study found significant benefits among children taking probiotics twice a day for six months. Fevers, coughing and runny noses were reduced by about 50% or more.
And this study done on college students, showed similar favorable results. The study found that while all students
caught colds at roughly the same rate, the students who took the probiotic supplementation experienced a shorter duration of colds, and symptoms that were 34% less severe and fewer missed school days (15 vs. 34 missed by students taking the placebo).
- Eat Garlic—While this method may not make you popular, it seems to be very powerful. I did this often when I was home with three children who would all seem to come down with a cold or flu at the same time. It certainly did a good job at keeping me well. Garlic is a seriously powerful antioxidant that contains antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibiotic properties. It also provides decongestant and expectorant effects as well. While the exact mechanism of why garlic works is not know, it does contain a massive amount of active enzymes, Sulphur and selenium, and other antioxidants. When garlic is crushed or chopped finely, it releases Allicin, which is a powerful antibacterial, antimicrobial agent only present for a short time after it is crushed and before it is cooked. Try crushing up a clove, and chopping finely. You can either gulp down with a glass of water (be careful if you have a sensitive stomach, as it can upset it) or with some food.
- Herbal remedies—Herbal remedies such as echinacea and elderberry have been shown to fight viral infections, and reduce inflammation and other symptoms. In addition, Echinacea fights off yeast and other microbes that can complicate colds and flu. Be careful when taking Echinacea, however; it can aggravate certain auto-immune responses. Other herbs that work well include maoto, licorice roots, antiwei, North American ginseng, berries, Echinacea, plants extracted carnosic acid, pomegranate, guava tea, and Bai Shao. There is plenty of scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of several of these complementary therapies for colds.
- Oregano oil and other essential oils are great tools to keep on hand to help fight sore throats, soothe coughs, clear stuffy heads, and fight off sinus infections as well. Try oregano oil in capsules, or add peppermint oil or clove oil to hot water to purify the air, and clear out the sinuses. Peppermint oil contains menthol, an ingredient found in topical rubs that helps relieve congestion. A 2003 in vitro study demonstrated the viral activity of peppermint oil. These oils also help to kill any bacterial infections in the nasal and sinus areas that may cause sinus infections. According to this 2010 review, eucalyptus oil has antiviral and antimicrobial properties. Inhaled or oral eucalyptus oil and its main component, 1,8-cineole, may safely fight viruses and respiratory problems such as bronchitis. Eucalyptus is also used to create a cool compress to reduce fever.
- Iron is also a powerful and necessary nutrient to be sure you have enough of. Too little iron can profoundly affect the immune system and even if you are not obviously anemic, a sub-clinically low level of iron can be responsible for a lowered immune function. This is why vegans and vegetarians, in spite of their seemingly healthy practices, often end up sick. Many vegetarians cannot process the plant forms of iron into the usable ‘heme’ iron that the body needs. There are literally hundreds of studies that relate low iron levels in the body to increased infections. So, if you are not eating much meat, be sure to tear into a juicy, grass fed steak or burger and you may find that it is all you need to kick the flu in the butt, and enjoy it in the process!
While the mainstream medical community and the media may have you believing you won’t be able to fight off the flu on your own, you most definitely can, by practicing a variety of healthy lifestyle options. Natural immunity, using your body’s own defenses are always the most powerful weapon against illness.
Even if you have been exposed and feel you may be succumbing to the flu, there are plenty of things you can do to strengthen your immune system, and shorten the illness and lessen the symptoms.
Conventional flu treatment should be your last choice—however, if you have chronic medical conditions or a weakened immune system, see your doctor right away for treatment. Also, if you experience severe flu symptoms or complications, seek out medical treatment right away. The flu virus this year in particular seems to be responsible for a lot of complications and hospitalizations.
Stay healthy, my friends!