Quick, take cover! Flu season is here! We all know what that means—we are looking toward a good few months filled with sniffling, running, stuffy noses, and wheezy, phlegmy coughs.
The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It is spread by the sneezes and coughs of an infected person. People with the flu are contagious 1–2 days before symptoms show up and up to 7 days after being sick.
Symptoms of The Flu
When a person comes down with the flu, they may think at first that they have a bad cold, because they share many of the same symptoms. The flu, however, is more severe and is usually accompanied by fever. Signs and symptoms of the flu include:
- Runny/blocked nose
- Sore throat
- Cold sweats and shivers
- Muscle, joint, or body aches
Symptoms normally last for about a week, although the fatigue may last for several weeks. The best way to protect yourself against the influenza virus is to enact prevention techniques and immune-boosting tactics.
Preventing the Flu
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) covers the most important techniques when it comes to flu prevention. These habits can help to stop the spread of the disease and keep immunocompromised people a lot safer during the winter months. (1)
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, keep a distance to protect others from getting sick as well.
- Stay home if you are sick. Don’t go to work and don’t run errands—just stay at home and rest to avoid spreading the virus.
- Cover your nose and mouth. Bring tissues with you wherever you go and cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing. This is the primary way in which the flu is spread.
- Wash your hands. You can easily spread the disease by touching someone or something while sick, and you can easily get the disease by touching something that has been contaminated. Wash your hands often to avoid spreading or getting the flu this way.
- Avoid touching your face. Keep your hands off your eyes, nose, and mouth, where germs can easily get in or out.
- Practice good health habits. Keep your immune system strong by getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water, eating nutrient-rich foods, and exercising. Disinfect surfaces in your home that are frequently touched, especially if someone in the home is ill.
These prevention techniques will help to keep you and your family safe at the most basic level. However, it’s also important to focus on building up your immune system naturally so that you have a stronger defense against pathogens like the influenza virus.
Natural Immune-Boosting Flu Remedies
The flu is most dangerous for people who are immunocompromised, including small children, older adults, and people who are on certain medications or with diseases that compromise their immune systems.
The immune system is directly influenced by the intake of nutrients. The richer your diet is in micronutrients, the more effectively you’ll fight off diseases like the flu. These nutrients and other natural treatments can help to protect yourself during this flu season.
1. Vitamin C
Your immune system cells, including phagocytes and T cells, need vitamin C in order to function properly. This essential nutrient supports cellular functions and contributes to a barrier designed to keep pathogens out. It’s no secret in the medical community that vitamin C deficiency is directly related to impaired immunity. (2)(3)
Throughout the year, you should include vitamin C-rich foods in your diet. Fruits including citrus fruits, melons, kiwis, mangos, papaya, and pineapple are an especially good source of vitamin C. With flu season approaching, start supplementing with 1,000 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per day.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is another biggie when it comes to immune support. Research shows us that the vitamin D receptor is expressed on immune cells, including B cells, T cells, and antigen-presenting cells. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with autoimmune problems and increased risk of infection. (4)
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Nutrition Research found that 41.6 percent of participants were deficient in vitamin D. (5) According to the Vitamin D Council, the global rate of vitamin D deficiency is about 15 percent. (6) People with dark skin are more likely to be deficient in this essential vitamin.
You can combat this by taking vitamin D3 supplements. The Vitamin D Council suggests supplementing with 6,000 IU per day to eliminate the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
The essential trace mineral zinc is crucial for normal development and function of immune cells. Research shows that zinc deficiency causes severe immune dysfunctions.
Zinc deficiency is a major problem in the developing world. Studies show that it affects up to two billion people worldwide and is directly related to growth retardation, immune dysfunction, and cognitive impairment among those people. (7)
Supplement with 50–100 mg of zinc per day to keep cold and flu symptoms at bay.
There is a unique and important link between gut bacteria and the immune system. Seventy percent of the immune system is in the gut, and healthy gut microbiota plays an essential role in this relationship.
Research shows that probiotics enhance cellular immune response. They activate immune cells, including macrophages, natural killer (NK) cells, antigen-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocytes, and more. (8)
People who take probiotic supplements and eat probiotic foods—such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, natto, and tempeh—may have a better chance of fighting off the influenza virus.
Elderberry is a common medicinal plant that has been used for thousands of years to treat infections, colds, and the flu. They’re packed with antioxidants vitamin C, phenolic acids, flavonols, and anthocyanins.
Research shows that elderberries are effective in preventing and reducing the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms.
In one study, 60 patients suffering from flu symptoms were given either elderberry or a placebo. Those who received elderberry were relieved of symptoms on average 4 days before the placebo group. (9)
In another study, 312 passengers who were traveling overseas were given either elderberry or a placebo. When comparing the cold episodes between the placebo group and the elderberry group, episodes lasted significantly longer and were more severe than those of the elderberry group. (10)
Take 10–15 milliliters (ml) of elderberry syrup to prevent or reduce the severity of flu symptoms.
6. Oregano Oil
Essential oils are unique in their potency and versatility. They have powerful antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, and so many of them are used medicinally to protect from and treat diseases.
Oregano oil has been used by healers for thousands of years to treat cold and flu symptoms, sore throat, and bronchitis. It helps to bring down a fever because it promotes sweating, and it loosens phlegm due to its expectorant qualities.
Oregano oil can be ingested, diffused, or rubbed onto the skin when mixed with a carrier oil. Add a few drops to the water in a humidifier or steam bath for sinus and respiratory relief.
This medicinal herb has proven itself to be a powerful infection-fighting treatment.
Studies have proven that echinacea works to render certain viruses inactive, including rhinovirus, influenza virus, and herpes simplex virus. (11)
Treatment with echinacea can help to prevent or reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms. You can supplement with echinacea in the form of tablet, tincture, or tea.
RELATED: Immune Boosting Foods
The Flu Vaccination
The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older. It is especially important for those who are at higher risk of serious flu complications, including young children, older people, and those with health conditions as well as those who live with them. (12)
Each year, experts pick a few strains of the virus to put into the vaccine based on the trend that they are observing. This happens quite a while before flu season sets in, and so the strains in the vaccine are not always a perfect match with the particular strain of influenza virus that may be circling your community. This means that those who do get the flu vaccination are not 100 percent covered and are still susceptible to catching the flu.
For some years, the flu vaccine has proven successful at reducing the incidence of the flu; for others, it was considered a failure. For 2017–18, the CDC reported a 36% effectiveness in the flu vaccination in the United States. (13)
While it may seem as if the flu vaccine is becoming less effective, this is not actually the case. When new strains of the flu arise, it takes us a year or two to catch up with it and add it to our vaccinations. When we look at the bigger picture, we see that 500 million people died of the flu in 1918, one million people died of the flu in 1968, and the numbers continue to drop. Overall, the flu vaccine does work, but sometimes, particularly dangerous strains will knock us off our feet.
The flu vaccine is sometimes accompanied by side effects, the most common of which include soreness or swelling in the arm (or site of inoculation), body aches, and occasionally fever. On rare occasions, severe allergic reactions to the flu vaccine have been reported.
With or without the flu vaccine, it’s important to strengthen your immune system naturally with certain nutrients and medicinal plants that have proven effective in preventing and reducing the severity and duration of colds and flu.
Keep yourself and your family healthy this flu season by following CDC guidelines for preventing the flu and by boosting your immune function with the natural remedies listed above. It’s also worth considering getting the flu vaccination, especially if you have small children or older people at home. If you do feel an illness coming on, make sure to bulk up on your micronutrients, antioxidants, and natural antiviral remedies, and stay home to help prevent other people in your community from getting sick.