12 Things You Could Use in Your DIY Flu-Fighting Kit
Flu season is here! Be prepared with a flu-fighting kit filled with remedies recommended by health care professionals.
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First: Get a flu shot
If you’re really looking for protection, your flu shot is an essential part of your flu-fighting kit. And don’t let the myth that the flu shot will give you the flu steer you away from the needle. It’s simply not true. “The flu shot will not give you the flu,” states Dan McGee, MD, from the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Some people may experience some soreness at the injection site and low-grade fever, but this is not the flu.” And, you need to get the flu shot each and every year, even if you got it last year. “Every year the influenza viruses mutate, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot,” says Dr. McGee. In response, the flu shot is reformulated every year so you can have immunity to the strains that are the most likely to hit that year. Here’s where to get a flu shot near you.
Make disinfecting your job
Germs in public spaces are pretty obvious but germs at home may hide in places we least expect, like a shower curtain. “It is important to remove harmful germs from common areas of the home, school, or the office,” says Tanya Altman, MD, pediatrician and author. “Use a disinfectant approved to kill cold and flu viruses, like Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, to wipe the surfaces touched most frequently—like doorknobs, light switches, faucets, or toys.” Washing your hands after using the bathroom and frequently during the day is a given, but Dr. Altman tells her patients and own children to also wash after playing outside or before eating. If you really want to close the doors to germ entry locations, wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Keep a handy variety pack of disinfecting wipes, spray, and gel for those times when washing with soap and water isn’t available. (Not sure how to prep? Here’s what you should buy for a flu pandemic.)
If you want to stave off the flu, you could try echinacea. It’s a natural remedy that may work, although results have been mixed. Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, a board-certified internist, recommends Echinaforce. “It can be used to prevent infections, and also knock them out more quickly when taken at first sign of an infection,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. Check out these other natural remedies that may work.
Stress and a weakened immune system can make you more vulnerable to infections, so healthy eating is important. To fight the flu, take care of you. “Your body is a living organism that needs daily care in order to tackle all the harmful germs that come our way,” says Katharina Kaiser, Freeletics nutrition specialist. Still, even with the best intentions, you may get the flu. Almonds can boost your health when you’re feeling down. “One cup contains nearly 50 percent of your daily recommended amount of vitamin E, which boosts your immune system and reduces stress,” says Kaiser. Find out all the types stress and how to ease them.
You’ve heard how important it is to have good bacteria in your gut to keep your digestive system running smoothly; research shows that a large portion of your immune system is located in your gut. “When we do not have enough “good bacteria” in our system, pathogen take over and leave us susceptible to infections, disease, cancers, and other disorders,” says Rebecca Park, RN, and creator of Remedies for Me. “Eat probiotic-rich foods year-round to build up a strong immune system,” recommends Park. This includes foods like yogurt, Kefir, kombucha, and fermented foods.
Elderberry extract is an immunity-boosting product you can stash in your flu-fighting kit. Dr. Teitelbaum says. It should be started within 24 to 48 hours of the flu. “Its mechanism is fascinating,” Dr. Teitelbaum explains. “Like pirates trying to board a ship, these viruses have hooks called hemagglutinin spikes, which they use to grab onto cells and penetrate them. Elderberry neutralizes these hooks so that the viruses can’t grab onto your cells and infect them.” He recommends ViraPro, which contains elderberry, and immunity systems boosters zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin D. Check out these other immune-boosting foods.
Get ready to swish and spit. One study, which Gustavo Ferrer, MD, pulmonologist and author of Cough Cures, calls promising, show gargling cuts acute viral respiratory infections by 40 percent. Some participants in the study gargled with povidone-iodine, while others gargled with water. Both methods resulted in few upper respiratory tract infections, but Dr. Ferrer recommends not gargling with the antiseptic povidone-iodine because it’s toxic and shouldn’t be used orally. “Instead, use saline or saline with Xylitol, such as Spry Natural Oral Rinse. These are safe and effective and there is growing evidence for their use,” says Dr. Ferrer. Or try one of the 16 natural gargles to soothe sore throats.
If scents of cinnamon make you feel warm and cozy inside, then you may want to add essentials oils to your flu-fighting kit. Aromatic and naturally occurring essentials oils will definitely soothe and comfort flu symptoms and studies suggest there may be evidence they are antiviral and antibacterial. “The combination of the two has not been studied but it is an acceptable practice with low risk and high potential benefit,” says Dr. Ferrer. “There is no research to support the safety of nebulized oils,” warns Dr. Ferrer. Use them topically or vaporized but don’t try nebulization directly to the nose and lungs, as Dr. Ferrer says as it can damage the lung tissue. Get the scoop on how to safely use essential oils with this handy reference guide.
If you haven’t used your humidifier since last winter, it’s time to find it and clean it before flu season hits. A humidifier is a must for flu season. “Some studies show that during wintertime humidity drops to less than 10 percent, a condition that favors viral infection transmission. When humidity is increased between 40 to 60 percent, viral transmission drops,” states Dr. Ferrer. A warm mist humidifier for adults and a cool-mist humidifier for children (to prevent burns) with a humidity monitor will ensure the humidity levels are in the flu-prevention zone.
This herb belonging to the legume family has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. “Research shows that astragalus has antiviral properties and stimulates the immune system, suggesting that it may help viral invasion,” says Elizabeth Trattner, a Miami-based acupuncturist. “Astragalus increases white blood cell production so that the body can manufacture its own anti-viral compounds alpha- and gamma- interferon, which generally protect against viral invasion,” says Trattner. You can take astragalus in tincture form, pill form, or as a root.
You may have seen commercials for chicken growers that use oregano instead of traditional antibiotics to prevent disease. Turns out, the chicken growers are on to something as oregano is one of nature’s most powerful antibiotics. “Research shows oregano oil contains terpene and carvacrol, which are natural chemicals that actively fight off bacteria, fungus, yeasts, parasites, and viruses,” says Park. You’ll want to look for “P73” (polyphenol 73 percent) on the label to get the high-grade medicinal wild oregano. Discover nature’s other antibiotics.
When you feel miserable, a hot cup of tea is a comforting way to ride out a cold—add certain spices and herbs and it will also fight the flu. Tasty combinations like a ginger and turmeric herbal tea provide soothing relief. The ginger helps with nausea and turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which according to Park, as been widely used to treat flu symptoms including coughs, congestion, and headaches. Here are 14 more ways tea fixes what ails you.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet."
- American Journal of Preventative Medicine: "Prevention of upper respiratory tract infections by gargling: a randomized trial."
- Microbios: "Antibacterial and antifungal activity of ten essential oils in vitro."
- Current Pharmaceutical Design: "Biological and pharmacological activities of carvacrol and carvacrol bearing essential oils."
- Integrative Medicine Insights: "The Effectiveness of Ginger in the Prevention of Nausea and Vomiting during Pregnancy and Chemotherapy."
- Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology: "Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin."