Local clinics and hospitals here in NH and MA have been operating at a frenzied pace since influenza became widespread. Many want to know, “Can I still avoid it?” And, “Are there natural ways to treat it?”
Flu has been ferociously widespread and flu related hospitalizations and deaths have so far exceeded all other years since the CDC has been monitoring activity. While this year’s vaccine efficacy is particularly low due to a poor match with circulating strains, it might still be helpful in reducing the severity and duration. However, even if you are running out for one today, it still takes a couple of weeks for some immunity to kick in.
So what can you do? Fortunately, there are some natural medicine techniques which can be helpful, and I thought I’d share my favorites here, as well as a few things to avoid doing. Please be advised that nothing written in a blog post should ever be taken as medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your own doctor.
First, let’s start with prevention. For the rest of you, I’ll give some tips and recipes to help ease your groggy, feverish, aching self.
One of my personal favorites for both first-line prevention and treatment of flu is elderberry syrup. It helps to limit infection from many strains of flu and other types of viruses primarily by blocking its ability to infect one cell from another. So taking it before exposure or shortly after symptoms begin is key. One that I recommend frequently to my own patients is Natures Way Sambucus Immune syrup. It also includes zinc, vitamin C, echinacea, and does not contain alcohol. Again, check with your doctor for advice before taking any natural remedies, especially for children. Elderberry and zinc can sometimes cause stomach upset, so taking it with food, and not overdoing it is key.
Sleep. I can’t emphasize this enough. When flu is going around, make sure
EVERYONE in your family is getting enough sleep. This is a big factor in being more susceptible to all kinds of acute and chronic illnesses.
Hydration. Dry air thins the mucus in your nasal passages and causes irritation, which makes it easier for flu to penetrate this protective layer. In addition, influenza viruses can survive on surfaces longer in a dry environment than when the ambient humidity is high.
So in addition to drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding diuretics like caffeine and alcohol as much as possible, and having stews, soups, and fruit to hydrate from the inside, you might also consider adding a humidifier to your home and office. Avoid any with the replaceable filters. These are usually treated with triclosan (now banned by the FDA) and other antimicrobials which can irritate lungs and worsen asthma, and have other adverse chronic health effects. You can pick up reservoir systems at most any pharmacy that can be easily emptied and cleaned weekly. Humidifiers help limit spread of flu as well as ease respiratory symptoms. Just don’t forget to clean them regularly.
Skip the fish oil. If you are taking fish oil, this is a good time to take a hiatus. Its inflammation-modulating effects can weaken your immune defenses and actually make you more susceptible to infection.
Vitamin D: make sure you are getting your dose! Read my previous blog on this subject here.
Probiotics: they can help prevent colds and flu, or at least help limit duration. I prefer food-sourced products first, such as unsweetened yogurts with live cultures, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut. Plus, they help keep you regular! What’s not to love.
Don’t: do detoxes, use colloidal silver, and exercise caution about any over the counter combination manufactured homeopathic products.
This is just an interesting aside, but did you know that simply observing the act or sound of someone coughing or sneezing actually boosts your white blood cell count? Your body has an amazing ability to anticipate the need for defense.