This season’s influenza strain, H3N2, is proving to be a beast, and it is more virulent than other strains because it is mutating faster than previously known viruses. Although this season’s flu vaccine is only 25% effective against the H3N2 strain, it is more effective in children. The vaccine provides 59% protection against the flu in children 8 years old and younger, which is promising news if you are a parent or work with children. It is not too late to get the flu vaccine, but you need to allow 2 weeks for it to become fully effective. I have not had the flu (tap wood) since I was pregnant with my first child in 2000, and it was horrendous. I am hoping that these tips for boosting your immune system naturally will help you become a flu warrior in this particularly nasty season of flu, colds, and viruses.
It is no surprise that keeping surfaces clean help thwart the spread of viruses. I have an unnatural attachment to my Norwex EnviroCloths, which use no chemicals and trap 99% of bacteria in their patented microfibers. Just wet the cloth with water and rinse surfaces. These cloths have replaced all of my cleaning solutions—a huge money- and time-saver. For DIYers, you can make your own surface cleaner by mixing distilled water, vinegar, and several drops of tea-tree oil in a spray bottle, which will kill bacteria and leave surfaces clean. If anyone is sick in your home, make sure to wipe down frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, toilets, tech devices, etc.
Wash your hands. No explanation needed! Soap and water is your best defense. “Some data suggest that long-term exposure to certain active ingredients used in antibacterial products — for example, triclosan (liquid soaps) and triclocarban (bar soaps) — could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects,” the FDA states. Use traditional antibacterial products sparingly; you can find safer, effective natural solutions at Whole Foods, online, and other health stores.
Reducing stress will increase your body’s ability to fight infection, as there is a direct link between getting sick and increased stress. The release of the stress hormone cortisol interferes with the immune system and creates chronic inflammation in the body. Even mild exercise keeps cortisol in check; for example, walking 30 minutes a day will keep cortisol levels balanced. Establishing rituals for self-care and relaxation will allow your immune system to focus on warding off intruders. Additionally, getting fresh air by opening a window or getting outside is beneficial to our health, as indoor winter environments have concentrated amounts of toxins and germs.
Having a positive attitude also has a direct effect on immunity. The Huffington Post states that gratefulness has been linked with improved immune system and sleep quality.
In our hurried, list-making, plugged-in culture, sleep often suffers. The disruption or deprivation of sleep leads to negative changes in the immune system. Aim for at least 7 hours per night.
Avoid refined sugar and processed foods. Refined sugar reduces immune function and increases inflammation in the body. Additionally, sugar feeds harmful bacteria in the gut and interferes with vitamin C absorption. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (or 25 grams) of sugar per day. The average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons of sugar a day, or 85 grams. Eating wholesome, unprocessed foods rich in antioxidants will decrease inflammation and help build the immune system. Eating an array of colorful, whole foods which are high in phytonutrients will increase the body’s ability to ward off infection. Phytonutrients give plants their color, texture, and nutrition. Eat the rainbow!
Stay hydrated. All of our body’s cells, organs, and tissues use water to maintain healthy bodily functions. Drink water throughout the day; keep your taste buds from boredom and infuse your water with citrus and other fruits. Avoid soda and other sugary drinks. You can tell if you are hydrated when your urine output is clear.
The microbes in our intestinal tract help us digest foods, regulate metabolism, hunger, weight, and our immune system. Seventy percent of our immune system is housed in the gut. Taking a probiotic supplement and eating fermented foods (e.g., kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, kefir) decrease inflammation, prevent infection, and populate the gut with friendly bacteria. Click on this link for a more detailed list of fermented foods and why they are so beneficial to our health: https://draxe.com/fermented-foods/.
Aim to have protein with each meal. Protein creates antibodies and fights infection. If you do not eat meat, some great vegetarian options include quinoa, eggs, nuts (including nut butters), seeds, tofu and soybeans, leafy greens, chickpeas and green peas, beans, and protein powder.
At the first sign of a scratchy throat, cough, or imbalance in my system, I begin taking Wellness Formula by Source Naturals. These capsules contain an impressive array of herbs, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals all designed to boost the immune system’s response to invasion. Since discovering this product, I have yet to get a full-blown cold or virus if I begin taking this at the first sign of illness.
Additionally, at the first sign of illness, I begin taking a Zinc supplement. I particularly like Zicam’s dissolvable tablets, RapidMelts. But only take zinc before you actually become ill. A number of studies have shown that zinc has been shown to help decrease the duration of a person’s cold and increase immune response. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking zinc lozenges every one to three hours and that anyone taking zinc supplements stick with fairly low doses; we only need 8 to 12 milligrams per day. Always speak to your physician before taking zinc or any supplement to ensure zinc will not interfere with medications you currently take. Zinc supplements may cause an upset stomach or an unpleasant taste in your mouth, but I have had no problems tolerating Zicam.
I take 2000mg of vitamin D daily year-round; it is not uncommon for those of us who live in cold, gray climates to be deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced in the body by sunlight and regulates the expression of over 2000 genes, including those of the immune system. This essential vitamin identifies and destroys bacteria and viruses in the body and promotes bone health. It also strengthens the skin barrier which can help prevent infection.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble vitamin. Interestingly, we cannot generate or store it in the body, so it must come from food and supplementation. Vitamin C helps protect cells and keeps them healthy, and it is one of the many antioxidants that protect against damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals as well as toxic chemicals and pollutants. The most prevalent sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits such as oranges and grapes as well as many other colorful fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C enhances the immune system and facilitates the absorption of iron, therefore strengthening the body’s resistance to infection. I prefer the fizzy qualities of Airborne and EmergenC when added to water, which also help quell the queasiness I experience when my immune system is compromised.
The berries or flowers cultivated from the elder plant, elderberries, have been used medicinally for thousands of years. There are medicinal elderberry recipes dating back to ancient Egypt, and Hippocrates, the “father of medicine," referred to elderberry as his “medicine chest.” Elderberry is believed to deactivate the flu virus and increase immunity. Evidence suggests that chemicals in the elder flower and berries may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, including the sinuses, and help relieve nasal congestion. Elderberry contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties and may help prevent damage to the body's cells. In fact, elderberry outranks blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, and blackberries in terms of total flavonol content. I love the taste of elderberry and enjoy it in all its forms—syrup, fizzy drink, capsule supplements (great for traveling), and teas. It is also very soothing on sore, scratchy throats when taken as a syrup.
Both turmeric and ginger are antimicrobial, increasing the immune response in our system. Turmeric fights inflammation, and both turmeric and ginger contain powerful antioxidant compounds (curcumin for turmeric, gingerol for ginger) that are beneficial to health. Inflammation is important for health because it helps your immune system fight off harmful germs, but too much inflammation increases your risk of chronic diseases, including cancer and diabetes. If you have ever sipped on ginger tea or ginger ale to soothe your stomach during an illness or morning sickness, you already appreciate one of ginger's main benefits: its anti-nausea properties. Ginger and turmeric are used widely in cooking, and turmeric teas and tonics are becoming more popular. Both turmeric and ginger may also be taken in capsule form. This delightful, soothing turmeric latte (minus the coffee) from Joy McCarthy of Joyous Health provides all the benefits of turmeric and ginger in a creamy, soothing drink: https://www.joyoushealth.com/27186-blog-lazy-lady-turmeric-latte. Gaia’s Golden Milk is also nourishing and delicious; just add the milk of your choice.
I carry all of these supplements when I travel and always take vitamin C before flying. Here’s to a healthy, immune-boosting 2018. Please share any other flu and virus fighting tips you might have.
Here are links to the products mentioned in this article:
Sambucus Elderberry products http://www.naturesway.com/Brands/Sambucus
Gaia Black Elderberry Syrup http://www.gaiaherbs.com/products/detail/95/Black-Elderberry-Syrup
Honey Gardens Ginger Syrup http://honeygardens.com/ginger-honey-syrup.html
Wellness Formula http://www.sourcenaturals.com/products/GP1345/
Genuine Health Fermented Vegan Protein Powder http://www.genuinehealth.com/store/fermented-vegan-proteins
Whole Foods Spray Hand Sanitizer (both gel and spray) https://www.amazon.com/365-Everyday-Value-Cucumber-Sanitizer/dp/B074H61LYK://
Gaia Golden Milk http://www.gaiaherbs.com/products/detail/774/Golden-Milk