Natural Ways to Fight the Flu

frosty winter leafIs it just me, or does the flu always seems to come at the worst times? The illness we call the flu is caused by a number of influenza viruses. This year’s flu  may be especially bad, with lots of high fevers, body aches, and a productive cough. Unfortunately, the flu vaccine that’s currently available appears to only be about 10% effective. Fortunately, there are some natural ways that you can keep you and your family healthy and flu-free this season.

Preventing the Flu, Naturally!

The best strategy for health is always prevention. Here are some easy things you can do to build a strong foundation of health:

  • Get Plenty of Rest!
    • Sleep is your body’s chance to repair and heal and we all need to get plenty of sleep to allow this natural process to happen. Most children need about 12 hours of sleep each night, adolescents need about 9 or 10 hours, and adults need 7 to 8 hours to function optimally.
  • Eat Well!
    • Have you ever heard the saying, “You are what you eat”? For the immune system to function properly we need to give it the building blocks that it needs to do its job. This means getting plenty of protein and fresh fruits and vegetables.
      • Protein is needed to make sufficient antibodies. A good rule of thumb is to base your daily protein needs on your weight. Most healthy people should aim to eat 0.35g of protein per pound that they weigh. For example, someone who weighs 100lb would need 35g of protein and someone who weighs 150lb should eat about 52g of protein every day.
      • Fresh fruits and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help keep our bodies healthy and functioning properly. A daily goal for most healthy adults is 1 to 2 servings of fresh fruit and 4 to 6 servings of vegetables every day.
      • A healthy diet should also contain good sources of fat and carbohydrates and be low in processed, sugary foods. Examples of some of the healthiest fats include: olives; nuts; seeds; fish; avocados; free-range poultry and eggs; grass-fed beef and lamb; and coconut, olive, or avocado oil. Healthy sources of carbohydrates include: whole grains (i.e. quinoa, oats, millet, whole wheat, spelt, barley) and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and winter squashes.
    • Don’t Smoke Cigarettes
      • Tobacco smoke irritates the cells of the respiratory tract and may make you more susceptible to infections.
    • Hygiene
      • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough
      • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water

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Natural Treatments for Flu Season

Sometimes prevention just isn’t enough. If you do get sick this cold and flu season there are many things you can do to soothe your symptoms and shorten their duration, while also giving your body a general immune boost.

  • Vitamin C
    • Regular supplementation of Vitamin C may help to prevent and reduce the severity and duration of cold. This effect seems to be greatest in people undergoing physical stress (i.e. strenuous exercise) and in children. Vitamin C is less effective if it is started after cold symptoms have already begun.
    • Common dosages:
      • Dosages for children 1-3 years old: 250mg
      • Dosages for children 4-13 years old: 500mg
      • Dosages for most adults and children 14 and older: 1000-2000mg per day
    • Caution: Excess Vitamin C can cause digestive upset and diarrhea; do not exceed recommended dosages.
  • Vitamin D3
    • There are receptors for Vitamin D on most cells in our body, making it important for a wide variety of normal functions. Vitamin D is also needed for appropriate T lymphocyte function, a key way that our immune systems protect us from viral illnesses.
    • Although Vitamin D comes in two forms, D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol), Vitamin D3 is the form of the vitamin that is more easily absorbed.
    • Common dosage ranges:
      • Dosages for children 1-3 years old: 400IU
      • Dosages for children 4-13 years old: 800-1000IU
      • Dosages for most adults and children 14 and older: 1000-2000IU per day
    • Caution: Vitamin D is fat-soluble so it is stored in the body for long periods of time. Because of this, it is important not to take high doses of the vitamin for long periods of time unless recommended by a health care professional due to deficiency. If you haven’t had your Vitamin D levels checked, it’s a good idea to do this at least once a year.
  • Zinc
    • Zinc is an essential trace mineral needed for structural integrity (i.e. skin and bones), growth and development, reproduction, and neurological function, and is essential for normal functioning of the immune system.
    • Zinc plays a role in the normal development and function of cells that mediate both innate immune responses (i.e. the immunity we are born with) and adaptive immunity (i.e. acquired immunity to specific targets).
    • Zinc may reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms when started within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Zinc should be continued until symptoms have completely resolved.
    • Supplementation with zinc may also reduce the incidence of lower respiratory infections, like pneumonia, which can follow the flu.
    • Common dosage ranges:
      • Dosages for infants 0-6 months: 2 to 4mg/day
      • Dosages for infants 7-12 months: 3 to 5mg/day
      • Dosages for children 1-3 years: 3 to 7mg/day
      • Dosages for children 4-8 years: 5 to 10mg/day
      • Dosages for children 9-13 years: 8 to 20mg/day
      • Dosages for adolescents 14-16 years: 10 to 25mg/day
      • Dosages for adults 19 and over: 10 to 30mg/day
    • Caution: You should avoid long-term supplementation of high doses of zinc (i.e. in excess the recommended doses below), as this can result in a copper deficiency.
  • Echinacea
    • Echinacea is one of our most studied herbs and for good reason. This beautiful native flower has profound effects on the immune system. Extracts of Echinacea were shown to be as effective as the pharmaceutical anti-viral Oseltamivir in treating influenza, and with significantly less side effects.
    • There are many strains of Echinacea available, but the variety that has been shown to have the greatest effect on the immune system is Echinacea angustifolia. Echinacea purpurea has also been studied for its ability to support immune functions. Look for either of these varieties when you are choosing supplements!
  • Black Elderberry
    • Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has been traditionally used for centuries to prevent and treat respiratory infections. It is especially useful for preventing and treating viruses and studies have shown that Elderberry extracts may actually block the influenza virus from attaching to the cells of the respiratory tract. Elderberry also helps to boost our immune systems by increasing the activity of certain immune cells and their messaging systems.
  • Probiotics

Wishing you all a healthy and happy 2018!

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