It's that time of year again—flu season. The flu is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a number of influenza viruses. Each year, between 5-20% of Americans get the flu, which starts in the fall and peaks in January and February. Unlike the common cold, influenza is a more serious illness with higher fever, body aches and often a longer course, persisting for 1-2 weeks. Influenza spreads via inhalation of airborne droplets from infected people sneezing, coughing, talking or by touching a surface contaminated with flu virus and then touching your face, nose or mouth.
More than 200,000 people a year are hospitalized for flu-related complications, which include bacterial pneumonia, ear or sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of other chronic health conditions. Seniors 65 years or older, children under 2 years old, and people with chronic health conditions are at greatest risk for complications. The CDC estimates that about 36,000 Americans die of the flu or flu-related complications every year.
The most common recommendation to prevent the flu is getting a flu shot annually. Every year the vaccine is prepared in advance by scientists estimating which strains of flu are most likely to emerge. But, the flu virus mutates regularly which can make this a challenge. Some years the vaccine targets the flu quite accurately; other years new strains emerge that make the vaccine less effective. As we start 2015, it has already been determined that this year’s flu strain has mutated, and thus the vaccination’s effectiveness has been reduced. However, whatever the effectiveness is of this year’s flu vaccine, we know that vaccinations in general work best in those with strong immune systems. Vaccines are not a substitute for weak immunity.
Many over-the-counter remedies may help you feel better temporarily, but they often work by suppressing your symptoms and can actually lengthen the duration of your disease.
Don’t wait for the flu to strike. There are proven strategies you can follow to increase your resistance, decrease symptoms and length of illness, and avoid complications if you do get sick. The flu is a serious disease and can be scary, and navigating what to do can seem overwhelming. At SFNM, we're here to help you stay well, and if you get sick, to recover more quickly and completely.
Tips to stay healthy during flu season
WASH YOUR HANDS: The most important thing you can do to prevent the flu is wash your hands often and before touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. It is also important to clean commonly touched surfaces at school, home, and work, such as doorknobs, faucets, coffee pots, computer keyboards, etc.
SLEEP: Adults need 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep for the body to rejuvenate. Studies have shown that our T cells (the immune cells that fight infections like the cold and flu) are decreased with sleep deprivation. Decreased sleep = decreased immune system function. Get your rest!
HYDRATE: Take your weight and divide it by half; this is how many ounces of water you need daily to keep hydrated. So if you weigh 150 lbs, you should drink 75 ounces of water (~6-8 12 oz. glasses) daily. Dehydration weakens the body's overall immune system, which can eventually cause sickness and premature aging. Herbal teas are a wonderful way to hydrate and stay warm in the winter. We can recommend specific herbs to help boost the immune system.
DIET: Eat fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C and A: lemons, limes, oranges, watercress, mint, cabbage, cilantro, dandelion greens, apples, pears, kale, and cabbage broth are helpful in preventing the flu or to eat if you have the flu. Soups are a great way to get nutrition and stay hydrated. Avoid refined sugars as they weaken the immune system and increase your risk of getting sick. Eating a variety of mushrooms has been shown to boost the immune system.
Supplements you can take to increase your immune system health
Vitamin A is important for the immune system. It helps produce more white blood cells that fight infections. Sources of vitamin A include liver and fish liver oils, kale, cantaloupe, and carrots.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant and has antiviral and antibacterial effects. 1000 mg three times a day is a good place to start.
Zinc is important for immune function and has antiviral activity. Zinc lozenges have been proven to be preventive for viral infections, especially colds.
Vitamin D is important for proper immune function. Research has shown that vitamin D supplementation can decrease your chances of contracting the flu and other respiratory infections. It is important to have your levels checked to see if you are low on vitamin D.
Black elderberry has wonderful antiviral properties. It can help you from getting the flu, decrease the severity of the flu once contracted, and decrease your risk of spreading it to others. One study showed it reduced the recovery time from the flu by 56.3%. It tastes great and can be given to children.
How our doctors can help
At San Francisco Natural Medicine, we are here to help you stay healthy, and if you do get ill to treat and support you effectively with the best tools nature has to offer. We offer a variety of services to help people stay healthy and recover faster if you do get sick. Here are some examples:
We stock a variety of herbal and nutritional products designed to support healthy immune function and increase your resistance to infection.
SFNM offers immune support injections containing vitamins and homeopathic remedies that can help prevent or treat colds and flu by boosting immunity, decreasing symptoms and shortening the length of illness. We also offer immune support IVs, some containing high dose vitamin C, to promote your immune response, provide hydration and antiviral effects.
If you get ill, we can help you manage your illness and get back to health more quickly using acupuncture. Acupuncture is not only great for muscle aches and pains associated with the flu, but it can also be used to boost your immune system to keep you from getting sick. It can help you manage symptoms during an acute illness and decrease its duration.
We offer homeopathic remedies designed specifically to prevent and fight the flu and respiratory illness. For example, Influenzinum is a homeopathic remedy that is prepared each fall based on the current year's flu vaccination. It can be taken to prepare your body to fight off the flu. It can be used alone or with the flu vaccine. If used with the flu vaccine, it has been shown to decrease adverse effects. It can also be taken during acute illness to treat the flu.
There are a few home hydrotherapy treatments that our doctors can recommend to help decrease symptoms and speed up recovery and strengthen your immune response. Examples include contrast showers to boost immunity, herbal steam inhalations to help with colds and sinus infections, and wet sock treatments to treat congestion.
At SFNM, our naturopathic doctors' goals are to enhance your immune system and help you get better faster. Supporting your immune system helps you prevent and fight colds and flu, whether or not you had the flu shot.