Flu Prevention Tips
The seasons have shifted, there is a chill in the air and the days are becoming noticeably shorter. As we move deeper into fall, you may be excited for spiced pumpkin treats, cozy sweaters and pulling out that warm comforter for your bed. This is also the beginning of another season and one that is much less fun: flu season.
While so many fear it, how many people actually understand what the infamous flu actually is?
Influenza, or the flu, is a virus that causes a respiratory infection. It’s spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing or touching a common surface (such as a door knob or tablet) and then ingesting that tiny viral droplet. Symptoms of the flu include: fever, fatigue, achy muscles, sore throat, runny nose, cough, chills, sweating and weakness. The onset of these symptoms can be quite rapid.
From a Functional Medicine perspective, prevention is really the best medicine when it comes to the flu. Of course prevention isn’t always possible and if the flu strikes, working with your body and using natural tools can be incredibly helpful for a speedy recovery.
Our primary focus at Vine Healthcare is to help people become Fully Functional® – their most healthy, productive and joy-filled. Our proprietary Fully Functional® process includes 5 pillars -: IDENTIFY underlying root issues and stressors, REDUCE anything negatively impacting your health, OPTIMIZE your natural detoxification processes, SUPPORT your body and immune system and PERSONALIZE this and navigate your health journey differently in the future. These are essential steps to reverse disease, create vitality and do things like withstand the flu season.
Our Top 5 Flu Prevention Tips:
Good health provides a solid foundation for flu prevention since you are more susceptible to the flu if your immune system is weakened from poor food, inflammation, stress and burning the candle at both ends. Here are our best tips for getting your body in prevention mode.
Use Food as Preventative Medicine
A Standard American Diet, characterized by processed, packaged food high in vegetable oils and refined carbohydrates, can not only contribute to chronic disease over time, but can leave your immune system susceptible to any virus that comes your way. In fact, eating refined sugar can suppress immunity for several hours after ingestion. This is why the first 2 pillars of becoming Fully Functional® are IDENTIFY and REDUCE – identify unhealthy, inflammatory foods that are negatively impacting your health and reduce them.
We recommend ditching processed foods as much as possible because they are inflammatory and replacing with real, whole food. This means:
- Eat plenty of colorful produce at each meal. The rich colors in vegetables and fruits are associated with plant compounds that act like antioxidants in the body. This study suggests that flavonoid compounds found in berries, tomatoes, kale, apples, cherries, broccoli, green tea and other plant foods suppress influenza.
- Eat a serving of protein with each meal. Protein helps you to build immune cells. Great options are: grass-fed beef, wild fish, pastured eggs, beans and nuts.
- Reduce inflammation by choosing high quality fats (coconut oil and avocados, for example), eliminating food sensitivities and personalizing your diet.
Optimize Vitamin D
Vitamin D has many important properties in the body and plays a key role in immune system function. Every cell of the body has a vitamin D receptor, including immune cells, where vitamin D acts as an important immune modulator and enhancer.
Most of my patients, here in Carmel, Indiana (and throughout the northern US), are vitamin D deficient when we check levels via blood work. I recommend supplementation, especially through the fall and winter months, to maintain blood levels of vitamin D between 60-80 (with a minimum of 40) ng/ml. In fact, some evidence suggests that supplementation through flu season, may work to prevent influenza.
Other supplements I recommend to enhance immunity include omega 3 fats, , elderberry syrup, zinc, buffered vitamin C and probiotics. You can find these online in our Antoine Apothecary store.
Support Your Gut
Your gut is the heart of your immune system and represents your body’s first line of defense against incoming pathogens. A robust and balanced microbiome (the community of bacteria that live in and on your body) can serve as protection from influenza.
How do you support your gut microbiome?
- Eat whole foods and plenty of fiber-rich and colorful produce
- Take a probiotic, and possibly a prebiotic, supplement
- Avoid toxic environments such as moldy, water-damaged buildings and toxins such as glyphosate (in Roundup) and chlorine in drinking water that kill bacteria
- Avoid antibiotics as much as possible
- Heal any gastrointestinal conditions
Sleep Well and Stress Less
Both sleep and stress management are foundational aspects of health and there is no exception when it comes to immunity. Poor sleep and high stress both impact the immune system in negative ways. You’ve likely experienced a time in your life when you weren’t sleeping well, stress was high and you ended up sick, possibly even with the flu, as a result.
When it comes to prevention and supporting your body during flu season, make sleep a priority. We call this ‘sleep hygiene.’ This means setting a bedtime and sticking to it as routine is something your body truly needs. We like to tell our patients to use their bed for sleep and sex only. One of my favorite things to do before I hit the sack is to relax by soaking for 20 minutes or more in a bath with magnesium chloride flakes and lavender oil. Absolutely amazing! If sleep doesn’t come easy to you or you have insomnia, creating a relaxing bedtime routine that includes winding down without screen time along with ensuring your room temperature is around 67 degrees Fahrenheit can help. If insomnia is a big struggle we recommend Alpha Stim, an FDA approved device for the treatment of insomnia, anxiety and depression. If you’re having trouble regulating your room temperature, you might want to try Chill Technology to help provide the optimal temperature for your body to receive deep, restorative sleep. Another way to regulate your sleep is to focus on melatonin. Give yourself some time during the early morning to get natural sunlight in order to trigger the necessary circadian rhythms that keep you awake and alert during the day and feel drowsy and tired in the evening.
Stress can depress the immune system and also negatively impact the microbiome. I know that we can’t always control what happens in our lives, but there is likely some stress on your plate that you can let go of or shift your mindset around. In addition to cognitive approaches to stress, relaxation approaches are also helpful for bringing your body into the parasympathetic nervous system, or relaxation, state. These tools can include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture, energy work, reading, journaling or even taking a hot bath. Anything that is relaxing can help your body be more resilient to the stressors in your life. One of my favorite books to help you learn how to deal with uncomfortable feelings is 90 Seconds to a Life You Love, by our friend, Dr. Joan Rosenberg.
Wash Your Hands
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, don’t underestimate the importance of good hygiene. Wash your hands frequently during flu season with warm water and soap, especially when around those who are sick or after touching any surfaces in public. I like to keep a bottle of natural essential oil hand sanitizer in my purse when I’m out and about in case I don’t have access to a sink. Commercial hand sanitizers can actually impair immunity by killing healthy bacteria on the skin or exposing you to unhealthy chemicals.
Top 5 Flu Support Tips:
As much as we would like to never have the flu, it is probably inevitable at one point or another in life. Here are my suggestions for feeling better fast.
Trust Your Fever
We live in a culture where the predominant medical approach is to suppress the symptoms. Although a fever can be uncomfortable, it serves a very important role. When the body increases its temperature, it is acting to create a hot environment where the virus can’t survive. Of course if your fever gets incredibly high or symptoms become unbearable, you can try a fever reducer or give me a call. Otherwise try to make yourself comfortable and allow your immune system to do what it knows how to do. If you are in good health and have followed the tips above, you can rest assured that your body has the capability to restore balance.
Having the flu is a sure message from your body that you need to rest. Don’t try to push through to meet all of your commitments and be a hero right now. Take a day, or several, off of work. If you don’t rest, you may not recover as quickly and may be at risk for developing a complication such as a secondary infection.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I can’t say it enough! Hydration is so important all of the time, but especially so with the flu. You are losing water and electrolytes through sweating or loose stools and when you pair that with less of a desire to eat or drink, you could end up dehydrated. Dehydration amplifies flu symptoms and puts additional stress on your body. As former emergency room doctors, Dr. Scott and I have seen thousands of patients who could have avoided their visit to the ER if they had just pushed the fluids at home. Even small sips frequently works.
My advice is to push liquids even if you don’t feel like them. Besides water, choose herbal teas and bone broth. Season broth and soups with garlic (raw is best), ginger and turmeric for their antiviral and immune supportive properties. Broth will also serve as a good source of electrolytes to help your body retain hydration. You can also up the electrolytes by drinking coconut water or adding a splash of juice and a pinch of Himalayan sea salt to a glass of water.
Sweat It Out
Sweating can improve circulation to stimulate the immune system and supports the body’s own effort to get rid of the flu virus. Sitting in a hot Epsom salt bath is one way to promote sweating. It can also be very comforting to soothe sore and aching muscles. Since sweating can be dehydrating though, please be sure to grab a cup of tea, electrolyte water or broth to sip while you soak. We love using our portable infrared sauna at home.
Other suggestions include getting in an infrared sauna or putting on a couple layers of comfortable clothes along with a winter hat and get under the covers of your bed. This will feel comforting if you have the chills and are experiencing any pain in your body. It will also likely invite a long nap. If, when you wake, your clothes are wet from sweat, be sure to change them and drink some water. Check out our favorite portable sauna here.
Try Natural Remedies
I like to have some immune-supportive natural remedies on hand so I can use them at the very first sign of a cold or flu. Here are some of my medicine cabinet favorites:
Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic remedy that is widely available and can be taken at the first sign of flu symptoms in order to help reduce the duration of the flu and make symptoms more comfortable. Homeopathic medicine is very safe to try since its preparation involves very small (homeopathic) doses of the natural medicinal ingredients.
Echinacea is a herbal remedy for the flu and other acute conditions to enhance immune function. Echinacea has a long history and high safety profile in herbal medicine and can even be used during pregnancy. It can be taken as a tea, or as a tincture for a more therapeutic dose. It can be taken at the first sign of flu symptoms by following dosage instructions on the package.
Vitamin C at levels around 1000 mg per day can be helpful for preventing the flu, but at the first sign of the flu, you can take up to 4000 mg per day for several days. Vitamin C provides a boost to immunity and can decrease the duration of a flu.
Zinc is another immune boosting nutrient that can be taken at higher than normal doses at the onset of the flu. Zinc is a popular ingredient in cough drops and cold and flu supplements. A dose of 50-100 mg can be taken for the first few days of a flu episode. Be careful not to take high doses for too long, as too much zinc can actually have the opposite effect of suppressing immunity.
At Vine Healthcare, we are committed to helping you feel your best and living your Fully Functional® life. This includes preparing your body for flu season. If you want help identifying underlying root issues and strategizing to come up with a plan to help you live with vitality and optimal health with a personalized support plan, please schedule an appointment. Visit www.vinehealthcare.com or call 317-989-8463 to find solutions to your health concerns and be your best self.