Have you been knocked off your feet by the flu this season? It’s been a particularly nasty flu season and it’s not over yet. Flu season usually lasts through the end of March, but sometimes it can go on even through May.
There are steps you can take to protect yourself from getting the flu or to help you get over it.
How do you know if what you have is the flu? According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are all symptoms of the flu, although you may not have all of them:
- Fever of 100.4 F or higher
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Severe widespread muscle aches
- Extreme fatigue or exhaustion
Avoiding a bad case of the flu depends far more on having a strong immune system than it is about vaccination (which is highly controversial). If you have a well-functioning immune system and still get sick, you’ll move through the illness with fewer complications and return to health much sooner than others will. Remember, the flu is a virus, not a bacterial infection, so antibiotics don’t help.
So how do you keep your immune system in top-notch shape? First you’ll want to have a therapeutic level of Vitamin D, which is one of the best ways for avoiding all sorts of infections. It’s the most important (and least expensive) action you can take. Monitor your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test to see if they are within the 50-70 ng/ml range. If you don’t get enough sun, take an oral supplement, but make sure it’s vitamin D3. If you take a high dose (around 8,000 IUs/day) to get your levels up, also take 800-1,000 micrograms of vitamin K2, which helps prevent any vitamin D toxicity and works synergistically with D. If you feel like you are coming down with something, consider taking 50,000 units of Vitamin D3, once a day for 3 days.
Next, make sure you are getting plenty of rest. Most of the people I know who have gotten the flu this year were pretty much fatigued or stressed out already. If your body is tired, or if you’re in an emotional tailspin, it’s hard to fight off infection. So make sure you are doing something to relieve stress (meditate!) as well as getting enough sleep each night.
Many people don’t realize that the way your gut is functioning has an enormous impact on your immune response. In fact, 80 percent of your immune system lies in your gastrointestinal tract! Avoid sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup, and processed foods (a good idea at all times) because sugar can wipe out the beneficial bacteria as well as feeding yeast and viruses. You can take a probiotic supplement to help reestablish good gut bacteria. Eating fermented foods also helps, as does taking a high-quality source of omega-3 fats (found in fish or krill oil).
Regular exercise helps keep your immune system humming along by increasing blood flow throughout your body. If you get sick, however, delete your workouts entirely until you are better. And make sure you are drinking plenty of water!
Of course, you need to take the usual precautions, especially if your workplace seems to be crawling with sickies: wash your hands with a simple, chemical-free soap (no need for antibacterial soaps); cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; if possible, avoid close contact with those who are sick; and please stay home yourself until you are better!
Then there’s garlic. It not only wards off vampires, but also protects against infectious diseases like the flu by boosting your immune system. Scientific studies have shown garlic to be more effective than the flu drug Tamiflu! (although it’s not for those who have a lot of Pitta, the Ayurveda “fire” element) Another great item in your “medicine cabinet” is zinc. If you take zinc within a day of getting your first symptoms, it can cut down the time you’re sick by at least a full day. Between 50-65 mg/day of zinc (preferably in syrup, not lozenge form) also reduces the severity of symptoms. Note that zinc is not recommended if you have asthma or chronic illness.
If you do get sick, be sure to stay warm and dry and out of the wind and cold; it’s especially important to keep your neck covered if you do go out.
Of course, there’s always chicken soup. Seriously. It really does help with cold and flu symptoms. There’s a natural amino acid in chicken called cysteine that thins the mucus in your lungs so you can get rid of it more easily. Forget the canned version. Make some at home with plenty of pepper (which also helps thin mucus). Here’s a simple recipe: put chicken bones (from organically-raised chicken) in a big pot and cover with water; bring to a boil and then lower heat. Simmer for at least an hour. Throw in any vegetables you like, but the broth alone is the important ingredient!
Finally, while you’re lying on the couch feeling miserable, watch some old episodes of Seinfeld, or Friends, or The Big Bang Theory—anything that makes you laugh. Laughter is always healing.