Flu Fighters

Holistic ways to stay healthy this season.

| January/February 2006

Throbbing head, raging fever, chills and body aches. Sound familiar? With flu season in full swing, one in 10 Americans will find themselves laid low by the flu bug. Yet, while the flu can make you feel miserable, severe cases can be downright dangerous. According to Mike Leavitt, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), seasonal flu sends 200,000 Americans to the hospital each year and kills an average of 36,000.

Luckily, most of us won’t be among these statistics. But even a mild case of the flu can leave us feeling lousy, with symptoms lasting for a week or more. And while most of us resign ourselves to periodic bouts with the flu, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, waging a bit of natural germ warfare now just might keep you flu-free all year long.

Beat the Bug

Fortunately, there are a number of simple ways to protect yourself against the flu. First and foremost, practice some commonsense hygiene. HHS officials note that most flu viruses are spread by infected people coughing or sneezing. You also can pick up a flu bug by touching a contaminated surface — a doorknob, telephone or even the change you get at your corner convenience store. So wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze. Another great tip is to carry your own pen with you, so you won’t have to use the potentially germ-infested pens at the doctor’s office or grocery store.

Following a healthy lifestyle also is important. That means eating a diet full of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, exercising, getting enough sleep and reducing stress. These last two are especially important, say researchers at the University of British Columbia. In a study conducted in 2005, 83 healthy young adults were monitored for stress before, during and after receiving a flu shot. The researchers also looked at a battery of different things like cigarette and alcohol use, level of physical activity and how much sleep the volunteers got. It turns out that, as unhealthy as smoking and drinking are, the two things that really undermined the participants’ immune systems were a lack of sleep and high stress levels.

Boost Your Immunity

One of the best ways to protect yourself against the flu is to strengthen your immune system. And, while Mother Nature can provide a number of ways to boost overall immunity, the following herbs specifically increase the body’s resistance to the flu.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus). This traditional Chinese herb is noted for its antiviral and immune-boosting properties. A member of the pea family, astragalus contains polysaccharides that boost the production of immunoglobulin — proteins that help the immune system resist infection. Astragalus also fortifies immunity by increasing the activity of T-cells, natural killer cells and macrophages (large white blood cells that consume viruses). In one study, researchers found that astragalus helps promote and maintain respiratory health — an important consideration for fending off the flu.

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