“I got my flu shot yesterday.  I figured it was better than nothing.” – Anonymous

    I have been hearing statements like the above again and again over the last few weeks.  I smile and sigh with empathy, but the truth is that the choices are not only “Flu Shot” or “Nothing.”  As research becomes more mainstream detailing the reasons that the flu shot is often ineffective and may even increase your risk to get more sick from more dangerous strains of flu, here are some prevention tactics for the folks who neither want the shot nor want to sit and do “nothing.”  These are also great tools for individuals who were vaccinated against the influenza virus, as more viruses abound than those included in the immunization, and vaccination does not guarantee protection.

  • Wash Your Hands.  You’ve heard it again and again, but that’s because it’s true.  We pick up viral particles on our hands, then slip them into our bodies via our eyes, noses and mouths.  Wash your hands frequently to reduce your risk of initial exposure.  Stay tuned for my family’s favorite way to ensure proper hand washing.
  • Move Your Body.  Your immune fighting cells kick up in number and activity with a little blood pumping.  Frequency rather than intensity is the key here.  Stand up from your desk, stretch you arms over your head, down to your feet–and then do a quick lap to the water cooler.  There!  Now repeat that hourly, park far away from the grocery store, take Fido for a walk when you get home and you’ll have boosted your immune system without a second thought.
  • Get Enough Sleep.  We’ve talked about this before.  Every hour of sleep before midnight is as good as two hours after midnight.  Aim to be in bed by 10pm, and sleep in a completely darkened room.
  • Avoid Sugar and Alcohol.  Sugar and alcohol slow down the action of immune cells that need to be in tip-top fighting shape to identify and destroy viruses and unwelcome bacteria entering your body.
  • Eat Your Veggies.  Vegetables and fruits are powerhouses of the micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes) your body needs to keep its barriers up and its armies strong.
  • Load up on Garlic.  Garlic, and to a lesser extent its friend the onion, kills unwanted viruses and bacteria and provides your body with sulfur.  Sulfur is necessary for detoxification, which is necessary for prime immune function.  For strongest effect, eat it raw.
  • Get Elderberry On Board.  Elderberry has a long traditional use for prevention and treatment of influenza.  In one study of patients positively infected with the flu virus, Elderberry reduced the duration of illness by 56%.  Whew!  You can make your own syrup using the dry berries, or pick up a bottle from the health food store.  Either way, it’s a great herb to have in the house for the first signs of illness, and can be taken all through the cold and flu season for an added anti-viral boost.
  • Ensure Adequate Zinc.  Zinc is necessary for appropriate cell-mediated immune responses and supports the integrity of your mucous membranes–essential for keeping the “bad guys” out.  According to the research, Zinc is most effective in populations that are Zinc deficient.  In my clinical practice, this seems to be almost everyone!  15mg of Zinc per day for children and 30mg per day for adults is generally a good starting place to ward off deficiency.  Bonus:  Zinc is necessary for optimal digestion, which will help you get all the nutrients from the veggies you will be eating.
  • Consider Homeopathic Prophylaxis.  If you are really concerned about getting the flu, consider taking a dose of the homeopathic remedy “Oscillococcinum.”  One good way to use this product is to take three to five pellets under your tongue (yes, the pellets are tiny, and yes I know the instructions say to take the whole tube) once a week during the flu season, increasing to every day with known exposure.  Or, take a dose before visiting shopping malls, climbing aboard airplanes, or inhabiting other areas known to harbor the influenza virus.

These are only a few of the ways to prevent the flu and other seasonal viral illnesses.  Just as the flu shot does not guarantee you will not get sick, neither do these prevention tools.  However, contrasted with sitting on your hands and “doing nothing” or trusting a syringe of viral particles, the above tips will at the very least put you in a strong position to fight the flu as effectively as possible if you do fall ill this season!  And if that happens, well, there is plenty of support in the world of natural medicine for you then, too.