Natural ways to prevent the flu this winter

With the holiday spirit come and gone, and 2013 already entering its second week, there’s only one winter milestone left to hit before we plod our way to spring: flu season.

Chances are many of you have already been feeling the flu’s nasty effects.  Just last week, experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the country’s early flu season is continuing to spread – and has not yet reached its peak.

Whether you’ve received your flu shot or not, there are key natural steps we can all take to ward off influenza and to protect our loved ones from the virus’s associated fever, cough, achiness, and general unpleasantness.

1. Wash your hands

One of the most effective and easiest methods of flu prevention is something we should all do several times a day – simply because it’s good manners. Do it after you use the restroom, of course, but also after you’ve shaken someone’s hand, kissed hello, been on public transportation, attended a party, gone to the gym, or many other situations. You can never be too careful, especially this time of year.

2. Staying hydrated

Staying hydrated is important in every season, but it is particularly useful in the winter. It’s easy to forget to drink enough water in the cold weather, as we’re not sweating as much as we do when it’s warmer outside. Steadily drinking six to eight glasses of water a day can boost your immune system, keeping your body strong and ready to fight off illnesses all year round.

3. Exercise

Like water, exercise has immune-boosting effects. It also enhances circulation, reduces stress, and offers another mode of eliminating toxins through perspiration, according to naturopathic doctor Amy Rothenberg. Of course, take care not to overdo it.  If you’re really sick, get plenty of rest and consult a medical professional before engaging in any physical activities.

4. Organic, plant-based diet

Increase the amount of organic fruits and vegetables in your diet, particularly those high in vitamin C like papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli and kale. To be safe, you can also take a vitamin C supplement. I recommend camu camu, a plant-derived antioxidant vitamin that is considered a top source of vitamin C.

5. Vitamin D supplement

Have your vitamin D levels checked with a simple blood test from your physician. If they’re low, consider taking a vitamin D supplement to help prevent not only the flu, but also a host of other health conditions– like cancer and cardiovascular disease – that have been linked to vitamin D deficiency.

6. Probiotics

As discussed in my Green Your Tummy blog, these so-called “good bacteria” in your gut have been shown to help fend off colds and the flu and can rebalance the bacteria we need in our bodies that can be destroyed by antibiotics. Probiotics come in pill form and a typical dosage is in the billions of CF units, but you can also introduce probiotics into your diet through yogurt, miso, tempeh, kimchi, coconut kefir and sauerkraut.

7. Elderberry syrup

Elderberry syrup is not only packed with vitamins A, B and C, but it also stimulates the immune system, has been shown to prevent colds and the flu, and tastes delicious. At The Imus Ranch®, we make elderberry syrup from scratch, but you can find a bottle at your local natural foods market. If you feel a tickle in your throat, soothe it with some elderberry tea.

8. Essential oils

Essential oils are restorative, curative and natural antibacterial agents. They also happen to smell pretty great. Diffuse grade A essential oils throughout your home, or apply them topically to your skin. Apply some oregano oil to your back, chest and bottoms of your feet. Aside from being a natural antibiotic, it also has bacteria-fighting properties and is a powerful antihistamine.

9. Omega-3

Rather than turn to fish oil for your health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, consider going right to the source and using marine phytoplankton instead. It’s where fish get their omega-3, 6 and 9, fatty acids, as well as their Vitamin A. You can enjoy its benefits by simply adding 10 to 15 drops into your water or juice.

If you find yourself getting sick every winter, it’s important to change your habits, and not continue doing what you’ve always done. For more flu-fighting strategies, see my past blog, Preventing Colds and Flu.

The best defense is a good offense, right? This year, take control of your health and start warding off the flu before it rears its ugly head. Beef up your immune system, be kind to yourself and protect the littlest and most fragile members of your family.