Contrary to popular opinion, the flu shot may not be the best way to keep colds and flu at bay this winter.
It’s a little known fact that vaccines only “neutralize” a few flu strains. And since vaccines are developed in advance of the winter season, chances are pretty good that the strains actually circulating will be different than those the vaccine covers.
Besides, all vaccines contain risky and potentially fatal adjuvants. It’s notoriously difficult to predict in advance who’s most likely to have adverse reactions. So guard against the hype.
9 Natural Alternatives to the Flu Shot
Fortunately there are many effective ways to keep your household free and clear of colds and flu – and hedge your bets against the circulating enterovirus and other modern day diseases.
The average American gets two to three colds a year. Most colds last 8 to 9 days, but some drag on for 2 or 3 weeks.
I’ve compiled this list of the best 9 ways to stay healthy from years of reading, study, research, and writing for the alternative health industry, plus my own personal experience. Add them together, and maybe you can get through flu season unscathed.
1. The sunshine vitamin
Most flu epidemics happen during the winter, just as everyone hibernates indoors and vitamin D levels plunge dramatically from their summer highs. A 2010 study showed that vitamin D is indeed a highly effective way to avoid flu.
Children taking even low doses of vitamin D3 (not vitamin D2) were 42% less likely to get the flu.
In the study, 430 children ages 6 to 15 were given either 1200 IUs of vitamin D3 daily or a placebo. The results: 18 of the vitamin D group got Type A (more severe) influenza compared to 31 children in the placebo group. A 42% reduction.
It’s possible even better results might come from using higher doses, though it’s really the blood serum level that matters, not the dose. Current results of the D* Action Study suggest that adults need about 8,000 IUs of vitamin D a day to keep their levels high enough.
2. Why your Grandma told you to eat oranges
Vitamin C, right? But an orange won’t give you enough to keep flu at bay (though it provides other benefits). Likely you’ll need at least 1 gram a day.
Unfortunately, controversy has swirled around vitamin C for 70 years, and is ongoing. In the 1930s Linus Pauling healed all sorts of diseases with high intravenous doses of vitamin C. But he was disregarded as a quack.
Today most natural doctors regard the vitamin C RDA as way too low. Based on scientific research, the dose for treating the common cold needs to be 1 to 2 grams (1,000-2,000mg) per day.
The first thing I do at the faintest hint of a cold or the flu is start taking one gram of vitamin C every waking hour. My goal is to snuff it out as fast as possible.
Your body will excrete any excess vitamin C. So back off a bit if you get diarrhea. Till that point, your body is using it to fight the illness. When sick, your system needs far more vitamin C than it does when you’re healthy, as it helps prevent organ failure.
3. Support your gut
A strong and healthy immune system starts with a healthy, well-functioning gut, since 70 to 80 percent of your immune system resides there.
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help keep your system in balance, and can reduce your risk of and severity of a cold or flu. They can also protect you from stomach flu and food poisoning. Many who travel internationally use probiotics to prevent GI problems.
Fermented foods, like unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir, also support your gut, sometimes even better than a probiotic supplement. You can purchase them in health food stores, or make them yourself.
4. Don’t skimp on sleep
Can sleep deprivation give you a cold or flu? Studies suggest it can…
Lack of sleep decreases how well and how fast your immune system responds to infections. And it can boost your chances of getting sick.
One study showed that even if people thought they were well rested, if they got less than 7 hours of sleep they were almost 3 times as likely to get sick as those getting 8+ hours.
Sleep deprivation disrupts the circa diem of your immune system, which reduces white blood cell and T cell function and increases production of inflammatory cytokines. In other words, it creates the perfect conditions for viruses to flourish.
Besides the negative effect on your immunity, skimping on sleep will also make you and your children crankier and less productive the following day(s). So it’s not a good trade-off at all.
5. Ditch the foods that torch your immune system
Fermented veggies are good for your health, but what foods cause it to go haywire?
Sugar, grains, pasta, chips, soda, and even excessive fruit (beyond 2-3 pieces a day) can wreak havoc on your immune function, because they quickly decimate the good flora in your gut and allow it to be overrun with pathogens.
A study at Loma Linda University showed that those consuming 6 tablespoons of sugar (in orange juice, honey, and sugary drinks) quickly lost their ability to fight bacteria and viruses. Plus sugar deactivates your infection-fighting white blood cells for several hours. Ouch!
I realize that’s particularly sad news right as we hit the holidays, but you probably also want to be healthy enough to enjoy them.
While it likely won’t be the end of the world if you have a piece of pie on Thursday, having pie, cookies, bread, cereal, chips, and soda every day can cause immune system compromise or even collapse. It will catch up to you sooner or later.
To get buy-in from your children regarding dietary changes, you can explain to them that sugar makes people sick, sometimes sooner and sometimes later. Do a study together on how it causes “sugar blues.”
Quit serving bread and chips with meals, and start making dessert a special treat for birthdays and holidays only. Eat as the French do the rest of the time – have fruit, nuts, or cheese as dessert. (Tie it into a unit study on France, and they might think it’s really cool to eat like the French.)
6. Stay hydrated
You’ve heard it before… if you get sick, drink lots of liquids to flush it out.
And while that’s important, experts also say that staying hydrated can keep you healthy, not just help you recover. Your mucous membranes and immune cells need water to work properly. You’re shortchanging them if you’re not hydrated.
How much do you need? Divide your weight in half, and drink that many ounces of water every day. And if you drink more than one cup of coffee a day, increase your water intake.
Garlic contains a substance called allicin that helps fight viruses.
In one British study, volunteers taking an 180-mg allicin supplement caught a staggering 63% fewer colds over 12 weeks than those taking a placebo.
Garlic cloves have less allicin than that, but even a couple cloves (not heads) a day can make a difference. Find ways to sneak it into your dishes, even if the recipe doesn’t call for it.
According to a study done at Appalachian State University, those who exercised at least 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes had an average of 43% fewer days with upper respiratory infections.
Exercise helps oxygenate and circulate immune cells throughout your body.
9. Wash your hands (often), keep them away from your face (always), and one last hygiene note
Experts suggest washing with warm water and plain soap (not antibacterial) for at least 15 seconds. Have your children wash their hands often – after using the toilet, before meals, after being in public…
And keep them away from your face – eyes, nose, mouth, anywhere. All those mucous membranes are pathways for germs to enter the body. Teach your children to keep their hands away from their face.
What do you do when you’re out and about, and don’t have access to a sink for washing hands? Commercial hand sanitizers contain triclosan, a hormone disruptor. The antibacterial craze resulted in harsh products loaded with toxins that tax your immune system. Instead, use a few drops of lavender essential oil as a hand sanitizer.
Though I’m generally a fan of reusable towels, during flu season I quickly transition to being a fan of paper towels, in order to help prevent the spread of germs.
One last hygiene note that might be a little tricky if your children are very young… Store toothbrushes so that they don’t touch each other. Otherwise, if one person gets sick, it can easily spread to the entire household. This may require some instruction for younger children – or the direct oversight of mom or dad.
These nine ideas are so well-researched that you can’t go wrong with them.
They can keep you and your family happier, healthier, and much less disrupted by illness. Don’t even get me started on expounding all those benefits to you!
One of the things I learned through my many years of parenting and homeschooling was that it was challenging enough to keep all the balls in the air when everyone was healthy, let alone when you or others are sick. Prevention strategies like these kept us humming along smoothly for the most part. I recommend you implement as many of them as possible. And hats off to a healthy winter!
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