Updated: Nov 4, 2019
The flu season is here and it is in full swing! According the CDC, the peak of the flu season has occurred in previous years from November to March with flu activity in the US peaking between December and February. Hello January! The year of 2018 seems to have the particularly virulent and troublesome virus H3N2 to contend against.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months or older receive a flu vaccine as the best preventative measure to prevent an influenza infection but is this really the best thing that we can do to prevent the flu?
Are there there preventative measures that we should take in addition to (or perhaps, instead of) receiving the flu vaccine?
And what if you already have symptoms of the flu?
Is there anything that can be done to lessen the effects of the most dreaded viral infection of the season?
The Flu Vaccine
The flu vaccine is created with input from the experts who guess which of the multiple strains of the flu virus will be the most prevalent of the flu season.
There are 4 different types of the flu virus: Influenza A, B, C, and D.
Influenza A is the most worrisome, with the potential to cause a flu pandemic. Influenza A and B cause the seasonal flu and type C can cause mild respiratory illness. Influenza D doesn't affect humans at all .
Since there are potentially 144 strains of Influenza A, two of which commonly infect humans (H1N1 and H3N2), it is impossible to accurately predict which strains will be the most common.
Experts must pick the flu virus strains to include in the vaccine many months ahead of the actual flu season .
According to the CDC, the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine for last season for all circulating viruses was 39%. This year's H3N2 virus has an average vaccine effectiveness rate of 33% (from the years of 2004-2015) compared to the higher rates of 61% against H1N1 and 54% against the Influenza B virus .
With the dismal numbers, is there anything else that we can do to prevent catching the flu?
Everyone knows that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure so preventing an influenza infection is optimal.
While the flu vaccine may be necessary or desired among certain populations, there are some who would prefer to forego receiving the vaccine.
For those who decide against receiving the flu vaccine or who need added protection against flu exposure, here are some natural effective preventive measures to take.
Hand washing and proper hygiene:
Hand washing is a powerful tool that you can use to prevent the spreading of the flu.
Washing your hands prevents spreading of germs from person to person and from one portion of your body to another.
Always wash your hands after touching any hard surfaces especially if someone has coughed or sneezed around you since the flu virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. While the flu can live for 24 hours on hard surfaces, it can only live for 15 minutes in tissues.
Since the flu is spread through droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes, it's a good idea to keep some tissues on hand at all times, either to sneeze into or cover your mouth and nose with when someone near you coughs or sneezes.
Proper nutrition: When you give your body the proper nutrition to thrive, then your immune
system is much more effective in fighting off and preventing disease.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, and health promoting phytonutrients.
The more building blocks that your body has that promote optimal health, the less chance there is that you will contract disease.
Have a healthy weight:
Research shows that adults who are obese have a higher rate of contracting the flu and flu-like illnesses even if they have been vaccinated.
In fact, research shows that individuals who are obese have twice as high a chance of getting the flu as compared to their healthy weight counterparts .
Avoid crowds if possible: Since the flu is spread through droplets of infected saliva or nasal
secretions in the air, it is best to avoid crowds and those who are actively sick as much as possible.
If you know someone who isn't feeling well, then actively encourage them to stay home.
Keep play dates and interactions with friends and family who are sick to a minimum, especially if you have young children or immune-compromised individuals at home or if you yourself are immune-compromised.
Sleep and de-stress as much as possible:
In our highly driven society, we rarely have the time to rest and get the sleep we need so much.
We are also under a lot of stress and this has an effect on our health.
Research shows that people who report themselves to be lower on a socio-economic scale and have shorter duration of sleep, 6 hours or less a night, have more of a chance of getting an upper respiratory illness .
This can be due to the stress associated with a lower socio-economic status which could lead to less sleep than what is needed. It's hard to fall asleep when you're awake worrying about how the bills will be paid.
Try to sleep at least 8 hours a night to receive the maximum benefits that a good night's sleep confers.
With these preventative tips, you can keep your chances of getting the flu to a minimum but what if you already have the flu or flu like symptoms? Is there anyway to lessen the effects of the flu infection naturally?
Tips to reduce symptoms of the flu
If you're feeling achy and under the weather or if you have a case of the full blown flu, you can use these tips to help shorten the duration and severity of your symptoms.
Vitamin D: High dose vitamin D has been found to be extremely efficient in not only the
prevention of the flu but in also reducing the severity of symptoms. Vitamin D also caused a rapid decrease in symptoms, decrease in the influenza viral load, and decreased recovery time .
1200 IU (international units) is the recommended dosage and was found to be safe in infants as well.
Remember that high dose vitamin D is a short term therapy and should not be used for more than consecutive 3 days without the supervision of a health care provider.
Vitamin D is an extremely effective and necessary vitamin but since it is fat soluble, it can have the potential to be deadly given in too large of a dose.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): Elderberry has been used traditionally for the treatment of upper respiratory illnesses like colds and flu for a long time and for good reasons. Research shows that oral administration of concentrated elderberry juice reduced viral replication of the influenza virus in the fluid of the lungs . A reduction in viral load will naturally lead to a lessening of symptoms and a shorter time being ill.
Skullcap (Scutelleria baicalensis): Skullcap has been found to be very helpful as an anti-influenza herb. Skullcap has chemical compounds like baicalin, that help to activate the immune system, especially a cytokine called interferon-gamma. Interferon gamma is an important chemical produced by the immune system that helps fight viruses like the flu .
High dose Vitamin C: Vitamin C has long been touted as a folk remedy against the cold and flu remedy when taken prophylactically.
What isn't popular knowledge though, is that vitamin C, in high enough doses, can lead to a lessening of the duration and the severity of the symptoms of the flu .
It also plays a role in preventing occurrence of the disease in the first place .
Doses at 1 gram or higher can lead to an upset stomach and diarrhea but these effects aren't permanent.
If you find that you have taken too much vitamin C and start experiencing loose stools, then reduce the amount that you are taking by a half and see if your gastrointestinal discomfort subsides.
If you are experiencing symptoms of the flu or you just want to increase your chances of preventing an infection the first place, then using these natural tips can be helpful. Make sure to contact your local naturopathic doctor for a more comprehensive individualized approach to your unique health care needs.
Your turn! What is your favorite natural remedy for beating the cold and flu? Let me know in the comments below!
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