Holistic treatments: Stay healthy during flu season

January 18, 2011 10:13:45 AM PST
Most hospitals and physicians recommend a flu shot to prevent the flu, but there are other options for those who can't --or prefer not to -- take a flu shot.

They include building their immune system with healthy foods and supplements that help ward off the viruses that cause the flu. Judy Fulop, MS, MD of Northwestern Memorial Hospital says the concept is that if you can keep your body in tip-top shape, your immune system can help support your body's ability to help, and get over the flu quicker with fewer complications. Dr. Fulop also shares some great old fashioned remedies and products that help alleviate your symptoms.

    How to prevent the flu:
    Information provided by Judy Fulop, MS, ND, Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group for Integrative Medicine and Wellness at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

  • We at Northwestern Memorial Hospital believe that the best prevention for the flu is to receive the flu shot. But, for those that aren't able to get the shot or are starting to get sick, there are tips that can help stimulate your own immune system to heal faster and with less side effects.
  • Try to avoid sugar in large amounts. Sugar actually slows your white blood cells which fight infection. Sidebar- Many pediatricians are prepared after Halloween to see a lot of sick kids because of their lower resistance to infection. Warm soups such as chicken soup, garlic and ginger, stews with carrots and teas would be a better option during flu season.
  • There are many things you can do to enhance your immune system's ability to prevent the flu. These include vitamins such as C and D and specific herbs known also to enhance our immune system. Elderberry, green tea and Echinacea are antioxidants that are antiviral help your immune system to fight viruses. Since flus are separate from colds in that chills, fever and headaches come on fast you can help your body with a common food-ginger. Simmer sliced ginger in how water and drink a cup while soaking in a hot bathtub. Then dry off and immediately get under a wool blanket. As you lay under the blanket, your body will sweat and fight off the cold or flu more quickly.
  • Warming socks are also a good remedy for fighting the flu especially with children. At the first sign of the flu, they help stimulate the healing power by stimulating the circulation of white blood cells through the body that fight infection. Kids like these and call them magic socks because when they wake up in the morning the socks are dry and they feel better.
  • The key to avoiding colds and the flu as well as getting over it faster is to find what works for you. However, if your symptoms get worse or last longer than 3-5 days, you should go see your physician--you may need an antibiotic.

    Cold and Flu Old Wives' Tales, Debunked: Was mom's stay-well advice right?
  • Have chicken soup when you're sick--True
    Researchers found that chicken soup prepared with lots of veggies decreases the inflammation responsible for cold symptoms, such as a runny nose or congestion.
  • Cover your mouth with your hand --False
    Although this might look polite and prevent the spread of germs, it's anything but. When you capture a cough or sneeze in your hand, you're likely to pass the cold on to someone else. Cold viruses exist in large quantities in the nasal fluid of sick people and are easily transferred from their hands after even the briefest contact. You also leave viruses on doorknobs, phones, countertops, and elevator buttons. To prevent sharing your viruses, be sure to wash your hands frequently, and either use a tissue or if one is not handy, cough and sneeze into your inner elbow
  • Gargle and clean your ears with 3% Hydrogen Peroxide solution--True
    This is a weird one. But many people swear by it. Back in 1928, Dr. Richard Simmons proposed that cold and flu viruses enter the body through the ear canal. And 3% hydrogen peroxide solution (found at any drug store and sells for less than two dollars) is incredibly effective at killing bacteria and viruses. By gargling with 3% hydrogen peroxide solution and putting a few drops in your ears at the first signs of a cold or flu, you might be able to decrease your odds of catching the flu.
  • Don't go outside with wet hair-- False
    Exposure to viruses--not skipping the blow-dryer--causes cold and flu. Scientists have studied this really well. They've put cold viruses in the noses of two groups of people. One group was then exposed to cold/wet conditions, and people who were chilled were no more likely to get sick than those who weren't. However, if your immunoglobulins are low due to the stress of the exposure, they may be less likely to ward off the virus. You may want to cover your ears, which could be a route to infection, however.
  • Feed a cold, starve a fever-- True: This is half right.
    When you're congested, the first step is to make sure you are drinking plenty of room temperature water which helps to dilute congestion. If your appetite is low the first few days, that is fine because the body is using the energy to fight infection. After these three days, nutritious soups and protein will fortify your immune system. Bottom line: Stay hydrated and listen to your body.
  • Try to reduce a fever at even the slightest increase in temperature-- False
    Actually, fever is a healthy reaction that helps to raise the temperature to burn off the invading microbe. Too high a fever can be a problem but up to 100 degrees is safe, and helpful.
  • Everyone needs to run to their doctor to get an anti-viral if they get the flu-- False
    While an anti-viral may be needed in extreme cases, at the onset of the flu, making sure that you get plenty of fluids and rest, and doing things to help your own immune system goes a far distance to helping your body recover. An anti-viral if not needed can kill off viruses and leave those who are resistant to it, then the resistant virus can be passed on to others causing problems of resistance to the anti-viral
  • Rest, don't exercise, when you're ill -- False
    You do need to rest, but a little exercise might help you feel better if you feel up to it. While some exercise is good for you, don't overdo it when you're sick. Intense workouts (lasting more than 90 minutes) can actually weaken immunity.

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