Cold and flu

Q: I keep hearing about how bad the flu is this year. What else can I do to prevent the flu in addition to getting a flu vaccination?

A: This is an important question for many of us, especially with so much reporting about the severity of the flu this year. What I talk about next in this article includes steps you can take in addition to the normal advice for avoiding the flu. You will still want be mindful of washing your hands often, avoiding touching your face, staying away from those who already have the flu and considering getting a flu shot.

When it comes to the flu season, one of the most important things you can do is make sure you are getting enough vitamin D. I frequently find being low in vitamin D makes people more susceptible to whatever illness is going around. I have seen lack of vitamin D play a role in developing ear infections, sinus infections and especially in any illness that lingers. Also, I have observed when people are taking vitamin D, they just don’t get sick as often in the winter. Studies have also reported on the importance of vitamin D to avoid colds and the flu. When it comes to vitamin D, keep in mind more is not always better. If you are low in vitamin D, then supplementing with vitamin D can help give you added protection in the winter. If you already have enough in your system, then more might not give added protection. The best way to know is to have a vitamin D blood test. If you need a supplement to get to the right level, choose vitamin D3.

In addition to vitamin D, another hero in preventing the flu is green tea. Besides being filled with antioxidants and helping prevent cancer, green tea is also antiviral. Studies have shown washing your hands with green tea can destroy the virus on your hands and perhaps prevent you from getting the flu. Some studies have used a green tea gargle, which seems to moderately reduce the risk of getting the flu. However, I think the best approach is to drink 2-5 cups of green tea per day. In one study on children, the finding was green tea consumption reduced the chances of getting the flu by almost half. Another study on health care workers showed taking a green tea extract had a strong preventative effect. So, consider taking green tea to help with flu prevention.

Further, some herbs and spices are inherently antiviral, and many of them are very safe to take. For example, turmeric is considered safe to use in the long term and has even been studied as helpful for cancer prevention, as reported by the University of Colorado Medical School. Best known for reducing inflammation, turmeric also has a many antiviral properties. So, adding turmeric to your daily diet or as a pill can give you a little extra protection from the flu.

Nothing can guarantee you will not get the flu. But these are several things you can follow to try to reduce your risk. Couple these suggestions with those of your primary health care provider and you should be able to significantly reduce your risk this year. As with any health suggestions, talk with your primary health care provider first to make sure these suggestion make sense for your particular situation.

Shawn Palmer is a naturopathic doctor.

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