Health promotion, avoidance of synthetic suppressive medications, and use of safer natural therapies are the mainstays of the Naturopathic principle of Prevention. In other words, we orient ourselves around the innate healing ability of the person rather than orienting ourselves around a particular pathogen. For this reason Naturopathic physicians put more emphasis on supporting your whole health so that you are more resistant to all diseases rather than stimulating production of specific antibodies for that particular season’s most likely strain of flu virus. If you do get sick we’d like you to get through it as quickly and comfortably as possible without harm to your overall health. Synthetic or suppressive therapies can lead to unwanted side effects or chronic conditions.
There are legions of Naturopathic methods to prevent and treat the flu. In this article I will present a handful of safe, family friendly, and evidence based options. Your Naturopathic physician can offer many more.
First and foremost: Establish a Healthy Regimen. A positive attitude; quality sleep; a plant based, whole foods diet from organic local sources whenever possible; and consistent, moderate, exercise are the foundation of good health. All four have demonstrated benefits for the quality and effectiveness of your immune cells and glands. It is harder to get sick when you are healthy. That might sound like a Naturopathic bias but there are many interesting scientific studies supporting this fact and uncovering the exact mechanisms of how our habits determine the performance of our immune system.
Take the oft underrated sleep as one example. When you are asleep is when your immune system does its best scavenging and repair. Proper rest prevents stress, depression, anxiety, and sugar cravings all of which impair immunity. One study demonstrated a 30% reduction in immune activity from just one night with four hours sleep deprivation. So are you tired because you are sick or did you get sick because you were tired?
After addressing a healthy lifestyle, the next thing you want to do to prevent colds and flu (besides washing your hands and the surfaces you contact like keypads, faucets, and countertops) is tonifying your immune system. Because of the multifaceted nature of the immune system, what your Naturopathic physician might give you to build your immunity and prevent illness will likely differ from what they would give you to stimulate your immune response once already sick. Many agents do double duty.
Some key foods to build up your immunity are berries and mushrooms. Berries are rich in anthocyanins which have been identified as effective immune boosters. Elderberry syrup in particular can both reduce symptoms and cut the duration of flu in half, which is as or more effective than Tamiflu, without the risks. Note that in the studies examining Elderberry, the dose was a tablespoon multiple times a day. This treatment is safe for children. Mushrooms like Shitake, Maitake, and Reishi, have multiple benefits to immune function, both direct and indirect, by benefiting other integrated systems like the digestive system and endocrine system. The medicinal components (polysaccharides and beta glucans) are water soluble so mushrooms are best given as broth.
Probiotics (good bacteria that live in your intestines and supplements that support them) are another multi-system immune booster. It is worth noting that 70% of your immune cells are housed in the gut, so what makes for a healthy gut also supports immunity. In addition, many strains of bacteria have direct benefits to the development and regulation of immune cells. Quality is of upmost importance with probiotics, invest in a great brand.
Astragalus root is another favorite. There is quite a lot of research into the many ways Astragalus works for you; among other things it increases IgA secretion in mucus membranes which is a first line of defense. It tastes good, even in high doses, and it is exceptionally safe. It usually comes in thin slices, sometimes called Chinese tongue depressors, but it is a tough woody root so you really need to simmer it for ages to get the best out of it: 45 minutes to 2 hours. A handful to a quart is a good ratio. You can also put some in your chicken soup along with lots of garlic, but like a bay leaf take it out before you serve it.
I hope you will try these and other health promoting immune boosters. They are safe, effective; offer lovely fringe benefits instead of nasty side effects, and they are fun.