I occasionally start arguments when I tell people I do NOT recommend the flu shot. Oh well, I just love stirring trouble . Well, instead of arguing the valid reasons why you shouldn’t get it, I will just offer you the best ways to help strengthen your immune system and treat a cold or flu the natural way, using supplements & eating healthy:
• Antioxidants: Vitamins A, C, and E boost the immune system by increasing the white blood cells that fight disease, and blocking the enzyme neuraminidase, which viruses need in order to reproduce. A good quality antioxidant formula will do the trick.
• Garlic: A very effective anti-viral (not to mention anti-fungal), it’s no wonder that our grandparents and great-grandparents used it for pretty much whatever ailed them. It’s best used raw and crushed within one hour of crushing; although enteric coated capsules are available (the capsule doesn’t break down until it reaches the intestines) so now we can actually consume garlic and still go out in public.
• Resveratrol: In addition to inhibiting neuraminidase, Resveratrol also sends a message to cells to stop manufacturing viruses. This anti-viral found naturally in red wine, peanuts, raisins and red grapes but is more effective taken in supplement form, unless you’d like to drink many, many glasses of red wine daily–while this might be tempting, I don’t recommend it
• Vitamin D: Plays an important role in the body’s immune defense system, so it’s a good idea to take 1000 IU of Vitamin D daily, especially during the winter months or if you always use sunscreen. If you are low in Vitamin D, as indicated through a blood test, you may have to take more for optimum health.
• Green Tea: Another effective anti-viral, this can be taken in supplement form, although I prefer the actual tea. Green tea is high in antioxidants and low in caffeine, although if you are sensitive to caffeine like I am, decaf green tea is available.
• Pro-biotics: Natural bacteria in the gut are essential to maintaining proper health (not to mention digestive function). It never hurts to take this important supplement, especially for people who have received repeated courses of antibiotics.
• Echinacea: One of the more popular supplements, Echinacea helps stimulate the immune system and fight viral infections. (Do not use if you are allergic to daisies or ragweed. If you have asthma or a general propensity for allergies, you’re also more likely to have an allergic reaction to Echinacea, so it’s best to avoid in that case).
• Influenzinum or Mucococinum: A homeopathic flu prevention remedy taken typically once a week or every 2 weeks during the flu season. (Do not take these if you are pregnant or have an auto-immune disorder).
• Say no to sugar, additives, preservatives, and artificial food coloring: I know this is a tough one, but these items weaken the immune system and make it more likely that you will get sick.
• Limit dairy products: Dairy products increase mucus production, certainly not helpful for a cold or flu.
• And of course, drink lots of water: This helps to flush toxins out of your body.
• Wash your hands. Purell your hands. You know the drill. Coming in contact with germs doesn’t mean you have to get sick. Washing your hands is a simple and effective way to destroy bacteria and viruses.
• Gargle with salt water and clean your nose with salt water on a q-tip: Sounds hokey, but this is actually medical professional advice, not alternative medicine! Since it takes some time for the virus to take hold, much like washing your hands, these methods can kill it where it enters so it doesn’t spread.
• Get enough sleep and try to relax: Do not under-estimate this one. Stress wreaks havoc on the immune system and makes you more susceptible to getting sick.
If you still catch that cold or the flu, the supplements listed as preventatives can also be taken to reduce the symptoms & duration, but here are some additional ones that help destroy the virus:
• Oil of Oregano: Study outcomes vary on its effectiveness against flu, although for the common cold, much like that Buckley’s commercial, “it tastes disgusting but it works”.
• St. Johns Wort: Oddly enough, this herb has nothing to do with warts. It’s normally used as an anti-depressant but it is also a very potent anti-viral. (Do not take if you are on prescription anti-depressants).
• Olive Leaf Extract: Helps eliminate the flu virus by interfering with certain amino acid production processes.
• Goldenseal and Elderberry: Two more excellent flu fighters.
Now, before you run out and buy every item I listed here, please note that not all supplements are created equal. The cheaper ones have fillers, binders and coatings that make them not break down as easily, and are certainly not absorbed well by the body. They may also contain much less of the active ingredient(s) than a high-quality supplement, and some have even been found to contain toxins. It’s better to spend a little more and get good quality supplements from a health care professional or at a reputable health food store. There, you will also find combination formulas that contain many of the ingredients mentioned in one easy to take capsule 2 or 3 times daily.
Additionally, please do not give any of the items listed to children because not only do you have to be careful with dosing, some are simply not safe for kids. However there are some herbal remedies, such as Echinacea, Goldenseal and Elderberry that are available in liquid form (tinctures) that are specifically designed for children. If you are unsure, it is always best to consult with a natural health practitioner. That being said, the homeopathic remedies listed below can be safely used for younger kids (and adults as well) to reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms. Give 3 pellets, 3 times a day of your chosen remedy, 15 minutes away from food or drinks. If there’s no improvement after 3 doses, switch to a different remedy. If there is some improvement, stop the remedy and only give again if and when those same symptoms return.
• Gelsemium, 30ch: A flu remedy when the symptom picture is complete and utter exhaustion.
• Bryonia, 30ch: The remedy to try when everything in the body hurts, especially if there is a headache, cough, and irritability.
• Mercurius solubilis, 30ch: for a lingering flu that just doesn’t seem to go away. Symptoms include sore throat and tender, swollen glands.
Wishing everyone a great Holiday Season!
This article was written exclusively for the Toronto Jewish Family Magazine and first appeared in their November 2012 issue.