If you fear the flu, but aren't a huge fan of getting the flu vaccine, there are plenty of ways to keep it at bay using more natural products. The same can be said for if you've already contracted the virus and would rather not take over-the-counter meds to treat the symptoms. Today, there are many different holistic routes to take, from Eastern medicine to naturopathic medicine to herbalism. Each one offers natural remedies to boost your immune system and fight back against those pathogens.
First things first, you're going to want to bolster up your immune system before coming into contact with the many strains of flu viruses that are out there. Elvis Ali, N.D., of Scarborough, Ontario, who's been a naturopathologist for 30 years, suggests taking probiotics regularly, along with vitamins C and D and omega-3 fatty acids. You can get all of these in pill form from your local vitamin store, Whole Foods or just by eating foods rich in these vitamins, like oranges, milk and salmon.
Any foods that cause inflammation are bad news around cold and flu season. This especially includes foods containing lots of sugar, dairy (especially cheese, sad, I know) and fried foods.
On the other hand, spices are great for the immune system, according to Ali. He specifically recommends cayenne, curry, garlic, ginger and curcumin to boost immunity, digestion and energy.
Melissa Carr, Dr.TCM, who practices traditional Chinese medicine in Vancouver, says targeting the most vulnerable organ first is key. “We call the lung the ‘delicate organ’ because it’s most exposed to the exterior. Most [infectious agents] start in the nose and throat, and go into the chest," she told Alive.
Carr recommends keeping your lungs strong with daily breathing exercises in the winter. Meditative or yogic breathing techniques are great guides to follow here. She also suggests keeping your chest and throat covered with a scarf at all times in the winter to keep your vulnerable lungs protected.
Herbal treatment usually comes into play if you've already gotten sick. Ranvir Pahwa, Ph.D., a clinical herbalist and holistic nutritionist touts astragalus, elderberry extract and echinacea with goldenseal as some of the best herbal remedies.
Echinacea was likely used by Native Americans to cure infections for more than 400 years. It builds up the immune system so it can better fight infections by attacking the enzyme hyaluronidase, which breaks down our body's natural defenses. When you're sick, Pahwa recommends using it as a gargle or throat spray.
Elderberry has been used as a tea for centuries to cure upper respiratory infections. It contains viburnic acid, which helps you sweat and rid your body and blood of toxins. It's also a proven fever reducer.
One of the best ways to get bacteria out of your body is to find a way to release the mucus. Medication tends to dry up your sinuses, but using things like a saline spray or even just holding your head over steam for 10 minutes works. You can also add natural oils to help encourage the process. Herbalist Mindy Green, co-author of Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, recommends adding a few drops of eucalyptus, thyme, rosemary or peppermint oil to boiling water, then putting a cloth tent over your head and the pot to get the most out of the steam.
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