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It’s that time of year, ladies and gents, when the flu arrives, and with it, the choice of whether or not to get the flu vaccine. One thing we all agree upon, flu vaccine or not, is that none of us wants to get the flu. While for most, the flu is not serious or fatal, it is a miserable 5 days of high fever, deep achiness, and other cold symptoms. This article will provide you with helpful tips for building your immunity and preventing illness.
The influenza virus, a different strain of which comes around during the fall and winter each year, causes the flu. Many doctors are terrified of the flu because historically there have been massive deadly outbreaks. The greatest risk today is pneumonia, which can lead to complications in susceptible people.
The main reason folks choose to avoid the vaccine is because it’s effective only about 50% of the time, if that, and it contains a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal that is a known neurotoxin, along with a host of other preservatives and additives to make it last longer and work stronger.
It is associated with side effects ranging from flu-like symptoms to more rarely, allergic reactions and even severe neurologic problems.
If you have diabetes, heart disease, asthma, obesity, or an immune-compromised condition, the flu vaccine can be an important safety measure. If you are a health care worker or take care of children under 6 months old, your job might require you to receive the vaccine.
The flu vaccine is highly recommended for pregnant women, but this is also controversial. If you choose to, or must get the vaccine for health or work reasons, ask your doctor for the “single dose” vaccination as this is thimerosal free.
There’s no good treatment for the flu once you get it and in fact, Tamiflu, the medication that has been used for years, has recently been found not only to be relatively ineffective but to have all kinds of side-effects that the manufacturer covered up.
The World Health Organization is trying to get to the bottom of this issue as we speak! Supportive comfort measures are generally recommended for the symptoms. (I’ll share these in my article next week!)
If you are otherwise healthy, getting a flu shot or not is really a matter of personal preference. Either way, there are a number of things you can do to build and support your immune system that can help prevent the flu.
Here are 6 important things you can start doing now to avoid winter illnesses, including the flu:
1. Hand Hygiene – and Hugs!
Silly as it sounds, simple hand washing with soap and water goes a long way to prevent disease. Antimicrobial soaps, on the other hand, lead to more resistant infections and do not help prevent disease. Plain alcohol hand soaps are ok. And check this out, giving a hug instead of a handshake has been shown to prevent the spread of common viral infections!
2. Make your food your best medicine.
Focus on eating foods such as seasonal veggies, especially steamed leafy greens like kale and collards. Other good bets include broccoli, winter squashes, carrots, and sweet potatoes, garlic, onions, and fresh ginger. High quality sources of protein include beans, nuts, seeds, and good quality lean, organic meats if you are not a vegetarian. Fresh and frozen berries provide powerful antioxidant activity that reduces inflammation and keeps your immune system happy! Good quality oils, particularly olive and coconut oil, keep your cell membranes healthy. Sugar dampens the immune system and should be avoided as much as possible. Ditto on fruit juices, soda, and regular alcohol intake.
3. Take your vitamins.
Vitamin D3 and Zinc are perhaps the most important vitamin supplements for boosting your immune system. And did you know that much of your immunity happens in your gut? It's true: probiotics keep your GI system immunity in top shape. If you typically get sick in the winter, consider a high-quality general multivitamin for daily use.
4. Stay well hydrated.
Keeping well-hydrated is super important because parched mucous membranes are more susceptible to inflammation and irritation, and then they don’t do their job of acting as a primary barrier against infection. Water and herbal teas are your best bet.
5. Include herbs as part of your daily prevention.
There are several herbs that can be used preventatively to boost the immune systems and prevent infection. My favorites are ashwagandha, which is taken daily in capsules or as a liquid extract for several months at a time to relieve stress and optimize immune function, elderberry syrup which is absolutely delicious and specifically prevents against flu and upper respiratory infection, fresh ginger which can be made into a lovely tasting tea, and lots of garlic, preferably raw, which can be eaten in salad dresseings and in sauces, such as tahini sauce, over steamed vegies. Some alternative practitioners recommend grapefruit seed extract thinking it is a natural product, but it is not; it is heavy contaminated with pesticide residues and should not be used.
6. Get enough rest and practice stress reduction.
Your nervous system and immune system are interlaced. Inner calm and a recharged nervous system keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Optimally, sleep 7-8 hours each night and turn off your electronics at least an hour before bed to let your system get quiet for a night of restorative sleep. Use a quick de-stressing technique during the day to regain that inner sense of calm when things get tough. My favorite “quickie” is a deep inhalation during which I tell myself I am followed by a long exhalation where I say, at peace.
Do you have favorite flu prevention tips? I'd to hear from you in the comments. And stay tuned for Part 2 of this article next week: 7 Herbal Comfort Measures for Colds and Flu.
Wishing you lots of good health!