Influenza has arrived early this year, and it looks like it’s gearing up to be a nasty one: both the H1N1 and H3N2 strains of influeza A virus have been identified, as well as influenza B. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of infection is still low this week in Illinois, but is high in southern states like Alabama and Mississippi.
Remember, this is the respiratory flu we’re talking about (sore throat, fever, fatigue, muscle aches), not the “stomach flu” (more properly called gastroenteritis). The CDC recommends flu vaccines for everyone, though there is no scientific evidence for this approach. Furthermore, the flu vaccine might prevent flu virus infection, but does absolutely nothing to protect against related viruses that cause flu-like illnesses. Are there good natural alternatives for preventing and treating the flu?
My first recommendation to everyone at this time of year is to get a blood test for vitamin D levels. The proper test is called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, and the optimal level should be between 40 and 100 ng/ml. Research has shown a clear connection between low blood levels of vitamin D and risk of catching the flu. Flu season can span anytime from October to May – the same time period that we don’t get enough sun exposure to produce vitamin D naturally through the skin. Coincidence? If you have low vitamin D levels now, it’s critical to supplement at high doses under a doctor’s supervision. Without a blood test, a supplement of 1,000-2,000 International Units per day is advisable through the winter.
Remember good hygiene – wash hands frequently, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. There is no need to use antibacterial soap, since this does no better than standard soap in protecting against infection. Get a good night’s sleep to support your immune system. For supplemental support, look into herbs such as astragalus, larch, and elderberry, as well as extra vitamin C and zinc. If you’re exposed to people with flu or other respiratory illnesses, use a neti pot or squeeze bottle with plain salt water to rinse the nasal passages, twice a day.
Flu vaccination is important for those with asthma and other lung problems; for nursing home residents and health care workers; and for those with suppressed immune systems. For the rest of us, take care of yourself naturally. At the first sign of illness, use supplemental support often: elderberry and andrographis every two hours for 24-48 hours can help to shorten the duration and severity of your misery.