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We are in the midst of a vigorous flu season.  So what can you do to protect yourself and your family members from getting sick?  Here is one naturopath’s top 10 list of the most effective ways to optimize your immune system and beat the flu.

1) Wash Your Hands. The most common way that viruses spread is via hand-to-hand contact.  Use hand-sanitizer and wash your hands frequently.  Having said that, exposure to a cold virus does not guarantee that you’re destined to get sick.  If you’re immune system is functioning at peak performance, it should actually be quite easy for you to fend of the virus without getting ill.  The reason that you catch a cold or a flu is because your immune system is weak or impaired.  It is not based on exposure alone.  

2) Avoid eating too much sugar.  Sugar decreases your immune function because it feeds an unbalanced gut flora.  Sugar is like a fertilizer for pathogenic bacteria, yeasts, and fungi that live in your digestive tract.  When you feed the pathogenic bugs in the gut, you create an environment where viruses can take hold of the immune system.  Over 80% of your immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract.

6953088707_76b95725b3_t3) Pump up the probiotics.  Given what I said in #2, probiotics containing strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria are imperative for building a strong and healthy immune system.  Look for a supplement that contains at least 10 – 15 billion organisms per capsule and keep it refrigerated to extend shelf life.

4) Keep your vitamin D levels optimal (50-70 ng/ml).  One reason for the widespread prevalence of colds and the flu may be due to vitamin D deficiency, which is incredibly common in the United States during the winter months when cold and flu viruses are at their peak.  According to a research article in JAMA published in February, 2009, catching the flu may actually be a symptom of underlying vitamin D deficiency.  If you are starting to get sick, you can increase your vitamin D3 intake to 30,000 – 40,000IU/day for 3 days and then return to a lower dose of 4,000 – 5,000 IU/day.  This short-term high-dose of vitamin D can help your immune system fight off infection.

6712213751_e5718afbc0_m5) Take vitamin C.  This antioxidant influences your ability to fight off infections by stimulating white blood cells.  Increasing your dosage to 4,000 – 6,000 mg per day in divided can help boost your immune system and support recovery from the cold or the flu.  If you develop loose stools cut the dosage in half.

6) Consider andrographis.  Also known as “Indian echinacea,” andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) is a natural herbal immune booster helpful for fighting upper respiratory infections including colds, flus and sinus infections.  Andrographis is sold in capsule or tincture form and can be found at most health food stores.  

4920360425_9060c0beb4_n7) Mix elderberry syrup in your tea.  Elderberry syrup is one of the tastiest natural remedies that you will find for improving your immune system.  Kids enjoy this remedy because of the sweet berry flavor.  Elderberry syrup is packed with vitamin A, B and C and has anti-viral properties.  It works great for sore throats, coughs and runny nose.  I recommend 1/2 teaspoon twice per day for kids and more for adults.  You can even make your own syrup at home!

8) Take a homeoapthic remedy.  There are a slew of homeopathic remedies that can be taken for treating flu symptoms.  The most commonly prescribed homeopathic medicines for the flu are listed in Larry Malerba’s article: Homeopathy: A Time Tested Treatment for the Flu.  Homeopathic medicines are exceedingly safe and available for purchase at health food stores and natural pharmacies.

Orange citrus9) Eat garlic, citrus and broth-based soups.  Garlic is an excellent immune booster because of it’s anti-microbial properties.    Citrus fruits like grapefruits, lemons, limes, oranges, clementines are loaded with vitamin C.  Broth-based soups contain minerals and electrolytes which are extremely important for moving lymphatics and helping your body recover from illness.  I recommend drinking at least 1/2 your body weight in ounces of fluids per day and more if you exercise.  

10) Stay home and rest.  I saved the most important recommendation for last.  Sleep is NOT over-rated, especially if you are sick.  I tell patients that getting 8 hours of sleep at night is healthy, 9 hours is healing.  Every hour that you sleep before midnight is worth double in terms of cellular repair and regeneration.  If you are starting to come down with a fever, the chills or a cold, the best thing you can do for yourself and your co-workers is to stay home and rest.

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