November through April is influenza season. That's a long period of time to keep your guard up. But staying on high alert is worth the extra effort. According to the Health Canada, the flu sends an estimated 12,200 people to hospital and about 3,500 deaths are linked to influenza each year.
There are some highly effective natural solutions you can try to help prevent contracting the flu, or mitigate the symptoms once you have it. Still, recent news about the effectiveness of some supplements and home remedies has left many confused with what remedies are best to take both proactively and reactively.
Here are your best bets for easy natural solutions, most of which can be found around the house:
1: Make a jelly germ barrier
Use a cotton swab to apply petroleum jelly to the inside of your nostrils to help keep the germs at bay. Voila: You've got an enhanced germ barrier.
2: Onions help beat the boogers
Kids are primary germ carriers and will inevitably fall ill this flu season. Health Canada recommends no over-the-counter medicines containing dextromethorphan cough suppressant or guaifenesin expectorant for children under six. Instead, make your own all-natural cough syrup which is safe and effective for coughs and colds for the young ones. Thinly cut and plate two onions. Sprinkle sugar over the sliced onions. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours. With the liquid that results, dose out one tablespoon every three to four hours.
3. Honey...how sweet it is
If you or a loved one is hacking away, research says a few teaspoons of liquid gold might help. Much of the medicinal powers of honey stems from its antimicrobial properties in wound management. But it is also excellent for coughs. Medical grade honey – often registered as a "medical device" – is hyper-processed and sterilized and turned into a natural ingredient standardized for its antibacterial activity. Like onions, honey-based homeopathics may provide a safe and effective solution.
4. Garlic: What's good for the heart blows infections apart
If what you've got now is a bacterial infection, garlic is a powerful all-natural antibiotic solution. Keeping in mind that antibiotics don't kill viruses, Allimax – a stabilized allicin from garlic – has published evidence detailing significant antibacterial and antifungal activity. This stuff has even been shown to kill Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – a bacteria responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections in humans.
5. Get proactive with probiotics
A happy gut means a healthy immune system. In fact, about 80 per cent of your immune system is found wrapped up in your gut. It's called gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). Where yogurt might help you maintain a healthy GALT, the therapeutic strength of probiotics that have evidenced-based strains within them actually have a medicinal effect and can help you build a healthier immunity. You can't get enough probiotics from diet alone, so reach for proven probiotics, like Bio-K, with 50-billion live bacteria per dose! (This is of utmost importance if you've just taken antibiotics, since antibiotics kill the bad and the good bacteria).
6: Be zealous for Zs
Lack of sleep is proven to contribute to an unhealthy immune system. To ensure you have a congestion-free sleep, sick or not, use a nasal strip to help open your airways.
7: Shower your nose
Irrigate your nasal cavity with a neti-pot. It'll flush out the viruses and bacteria harbouring in your honker, reducing chances of impending infections.
8. Whip up an immune-boosting soup recipe
Research shows that astragalus root (a Chinese herb used to ward off flu), has powerful immune-enhancing properties. The sliced, dried root is widely available in herb stores. It adds a pleasant, sweet taste when simmered in soups. Shiitake mushrooms, onions, and tumeric also boost immunity and have an antiviral effect. Garlic is an antibiotic; ginger, a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
Rest assured, catching the flu – or any other virus or bacteria for that matter – doesn't necessarily determine how healthy you are. Your current state of health is better measured by how quickly you recover from an infection. When it comes to the flu, most healthy people recover in a week or less eating chicken soup and getting good amount of rest. Implementing the above tips gets you closer to a winter season where there is no flu for you!
Bryce Wylde is a complementary alternative medicine (CAM) expert, clinician, and associate medical director at P3 Health in Toronto. He is a television host, author, and a medical adviser on Citytv and the Dr OZ show. His latest book, Power Plants, will be published March 2014. Follow him on Twitter @WyldeOnHealth or visit his website.