If we want to understand how to prevent the flu, then we need to know a little about how our bodies work.
Our immune system is complex, intricate and wise. A healthy body and immune system is dependent on lifestyle. Take your health into your own hands and be proactive.
Supplement Vitamin D
Catching a cold or flu may actually be a sign that you’re deficient in vitamin D. Keep your levels optimal with vitamin D supplementation throughout the winter months. Vitamin D is shown to improve mood, calm inflammation and create hundreds of antimicrobial peptides inside the body.
“With flu season in full swing here in the United States, you need to be aware that your vitamin D levels play a direct role in your risk of getting the flu. The vitamin D levels in your blood fall to their lowest point during flu season, which generally coincide with low-sunlight seasons. Less than optimal vitamin D levels will significantly impair your immune response and make you far more susceptible to contracting colds, influenza and other respiratory infections.” ~ Dr Joseph Mercola
Emotional stress and physical stress change our bodies chemically. The extra burden can leave us vulnerable to infection, making illness more prolonged or severe. Find ways to manage stress daily through exercise, meditation and yoga. Note: junk food is not only deficient of nutrients, but inflicts systemic stress.
Movement is a crucial strategy for clearing out toxins, moving chi and increasing your resistance to illness. There is evidence that consistent exercise can reduce your risk for respiratory illness. One study found that people who exercised regularly (five or more days a week) cut their risk of having a cold by close to 50 percent.
What is the flu?
Everything from infection, repair and health all happen at the cellular level. The flu is a viral infection (influenza virus) which often occurs in the winter when we’re lacking sunlight exposure, are indoors the majority of the time and are vulnerable with extreme changes in temperature.
Infections first begin when you’re exposed to the virus through the secretions of coughs and sneezes of an already infected person. Next, the virus enters your body through nose, eyes, throat and bronchial tubes. It then attaches itself to the cell wall and rapidly starts reproducing. A virus is technically not a live organism, but rather a tiny particle that can only multiply with live cells. The virus particles must attack and takeover the machinery of the host cell injecting its own DNA, and then divert the cell’s enzymes to its duplication—assembling its power. The newly formed virus then kills the original host cell and is released throughout your system via your bloodstream and down your throat and lungs. As this happens, the majority of the flu symptoms begin. The lymph swells and the virus travels through the circulatory system attaching to muscle cells causing aches and pains. The immune system responds with inflammation, mucus and fatigue.
While these symptoms feel uncomfortable, they’re not necessarily bad for you. One great example of the vast intelligence of the body is that it responds to the infection by increasing the body temperature—creating a fever which helps you fight the infection by slowing down the down the rate of viral reproduction. This immune response continues until the viruses are eliminated from the body and the lymph completes the purification of debris, dead cells, pathogens and waste.
Support your immune response, do not suppress it, and you will move quickly through disease and discomfort. Likewise, the sooner you take action against an infection, the easier it is to minimize its effects.
>> Upon first signs of a cold or flu, take action with natural remedies. Within the first 12-18 hours there is a window of time to potentially stop the attack. At this stage use herbs that support lymph, circulation and stimulate the immune response like Echinacea, stephania, yarrow, elderberry, elderflower and osha. Eat healthy and get to bed early. Recommended products: Plantiva’s ImmuneDx, WishGarden Kick Ass Immune and Gaia’s Elderberry Syrup.
>> If you didn’t catch it in time, it’s okay. Don’t suppress a fever right away. The fever is a wise response by the body to damage viral duplication and encourage you to rest. At this stage you want to reduce the fever, kill microbes, drain lymph and moderate inflammation with herbs like garlic, cleavers, elderberry, elderflower, lemon balm and olive leaf extract. Product recommendation: elderflower tincture, Plantiva’s Cold Dx, WishGarden’s Lymph Mover or WishGarden’s Kick Ass Hereos 3-pack which gives you remedies for all stages.
>> Stay hydrated. Drink a lot of pure water to flush out the body and loosen secretions. If you’re very uncomfortable from the fever, soak your feet in cool water and/or use a cool compress on your forehead. Also, consider herbal anti-inflammatories if the fever or aches are unbearable. Recommendations: stay hydrated with coconut water to replenish electrolytes and pure Eldorado Spring Water.
>> As you continue to assist your lymph system support your circulation too. Add a hot cup of ginger tea to the herbs listed above. Gentle movement like stretching and hot baths can help move lymph, support circulation and ease discomfort. Try ½ cup of baking soda to alkalize, calm and deodorize and use 2 cups of epsom salts in the bath to cleanse the lymphatics, relax sore muscles and soften the skin.
>> Get plenty of rest. This means physically and emotionally. At certain times over-exercising can actually place more stress on your body and suppress your immune system. Try a simple walk if you are coming down with a cold, and know that rest is just as vital to health as the air we breathe.
>> Avoid milk products, grains and sugar, all of which promote mucus, inflammation and deplete the immune system. Avoid alcohol and restrict chemical over-the-counter medications that suppress symptoms and know you can always just take half an adult-sized dose to ease symptoms. More is not always better.
>> Stay home to avoid infecting others and wash your hands and linens. Small measures like these help prevent spreading the virus to your community and family. Product recommendations: Dr. Bronner’s Hand Sanitizer, Cleanwell Hand Sanitizer.
Herbs help us move towards health without suppression and often work in harmony with the body. Use these herbs to calm symptoms and for prevention.
>> Olive leaf extract: This extract has been found to be a potent broad-spectrum antiviral agent, active against all viruses tested, including numerous strains of influenza viruses.
>> Boneset: An immune system stimulant that was traditionally used to break high fevers through its potent diaphoretic actions, cleansing and antispasmodic properties.
>> Yarrow: Anti-septic, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and fever reducing.
>> Elderberry and elderflowers: Traditionally used as a tonic to boost immunity, these herbs are lymph cleansing, fever reducing, diuretic, calming for spasmodic cough and help relieve a sore throat. Elderflower extract is high in vitamin C and flavonoids, including quercetin, which promotes lung and bronchial tract health. In one study published in the Journal of International Medical Research, elderberry syrup reduced the severity of flu symptoms and shortened their duration by about four days. Elderberry extract is also known for inducing sweating and helps relieve congestion.
>> Peppermint and lemon balm: Fever reducing, antiviral and safe for all ages, these herbal balms can also help calm an irritated stomach. Use the herbs as prevention or during viral breakout.
Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist & Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, CO, and works as a consultant with local herbal and nutraceutical companies. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach to health by educating her clients about the dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food allergies, using therapeutic doses of vitamins and minerals and in using herbs in alliance with the emotional body, it is possible to revive health and reconnect body with spirit.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing