Every year, we’re bombarded with one of two messages: get a flu shot, or try these flu remedies. Some decisions are easier to make than others – most of us in the natural health world pass the flu shot by without thinking twice. But it can be challenging to sift through what is an actual remedy and what is just an old wives’ tale.
So which flu remedies actually work, and which should you leave by the wayside? Before choosing remedies, it helps to understand what the flu is and what it does to your body.
Know Your Enemy: All About the Flu
The flu is the nickname we have for the influenza virus, which has three main types: influenza A, influenza B, and influenza C. (1) Type C is much less severe and hardly ever talked about. Types A and B circulate annually during what we call flu season, though you can find it now and then during the rest of the year, and are usually the source of epidemics.
As the viruses adapt to their surroundings and replicate, different subtypes, lineages, and strains emerge. Influenza A, for example, has quite a few subtypes indicated with letters and numbers – i.e. H1N1.
When your body is introduced with a virus like influenza, perhaps from someone else’s sneeze or handshake, it goes to work producing antigens that will fit the virus and ultimately deactivate it or destroy the viral cells themselves, meanwhile trying to damage them or rid the body of them through fever, achy inflammation, sneezes, and coughing.
With bacterial illnesses, such as strep throat, antibiotics are the standard treatment – one medicine that kills the bacteria and stops the infection. Viruses aren’t quite as simple, since they aren’t technically a living organism.
Instead, antiviral treatments are given, usually as a prescription in conventional medicine, which still does not stop the illness itself. The common prescription Tamiflu only works to inhibit the communication aspect of the flu virus, keeping it contained while the immune system works its magic. But if the cells have already multiplied significantly or have a chance to outpace Tamiflu, the prescription is useless. (2)
Spot Effective Natural Flu Remedies
The alternative treatments and natural flu remedies that work do so by focusing on building a stronger immune system. Instead of holding the virus down so a presumably weak immune system can poke at it, natural remedies turn immune cells into prize fighters.
Use this 10-step plan for wellness to help gauge natural flu remedies:
- Liquid nutrition
- Careful exercise
- Fresh foods
And, of course, regular chiropractic adjustments. This was how I was raised: getting my spine checked for vertebral subluxation on a regular basis, regardless if I were sick or not. No wonder I never had any ear infections when I was a kid!
If someone claims there is a natural flu remedy, check to see if it accomplishes one of these goals. If you do have the flu, walk through each step, outlined below, as your own personal guide to beating the flu. The last thing you need when you’re sick is to expend your efforts on useless treatments, remedies, and folklore.
10 Steps to Wellness – How to Beat the Flu
As you work to strengthen your immune system and protect your family from the flu this year, keep this list of flu-busting steps around in case you or a loved one does fall ill. In addition to avoiding the flu with chiropractic, knowing what to do in times of sickness is empowering and can prevent wasted time on unnecessary prescriptions and unproductive so-called remedies.
1. Get Plenty of Rest
When you truly have been infected with the influenza virus, it comes on hard and fast. You probably won’t feel like doing much, but sometimes even that doesn’t stop us. It’s important to give your body a chance to recover, from the onset of the virus until the end.
Not only does resting help you feel better, it helps your body work better, too. According to a thorough International Review of Neurobiology article detailing the brain’s interactions with the immune system, “the primary response to antigens following viral challenge is enhanced by sleep.” (3) When you allow yourself to slow down and sleep, your body is able to more effectively respond to the viral onslaught the flu sets in motion.
Take a day or two off work or school, stay down, and make resting a top priority.
2. Drink Lots of Water
Our bodies are comprised mostly of water. It performs a number of functions for different systems, including the immune system. By comprising much of the fluid between tissues and cells, water helps to carry the antigen response were it needs to go. (4)
Dehydration is a dangerous effect of the flu, turning uncomfortable illness into a potentially life threatening condition. Stay ahead of it by continually drinking water, even when you don’t feel like it. A straw or squeeze bottle can help. If you or someone you’re caring for begins to show signs of dehydration, it’s time to head to the doctor. Signs include (5):
- Excessively dry mouth and skin
- Skin that doesn’t bounce back when pinched
- Reduced, concentrated urine
- Difficulty breathing
- Fast heart rate
- Significant weakness or mood changes
Better yet, avoid complications in general by staying well-hydrated from the first signs of illness!
3. Find Some Sunshine
Unless you already understand the reasoning and intentionally seek it out, you’re probably not going to get much sun when you’re down with the flu. With curtains drawn, blankets tucked, and an uncomfortable body curled up on the couch, not much sun is reaching your skin. But sunshine should be a priority, or vitamin D supplements if that isn’t feasible.
Low vitamin D levels are associated with poor outcomes for many illnesses, and could lead to infection in the first place.(6) Because it’s a vitamin not found naturally in many foods, the body converts sun exposure into vitamin D. (7) By resting near a window, where sunshine can reach your skin, or spending some time each day in the fresh air and sunshine, you can let your body essentially supplement itself using the rays of the sun.
When sunshine isn’t available, vitamin D supplements can take its place. You may already be taking them, in which case just bump your dosing up a bit while the flu runs its course.
4. Boost Supplement Intake
As is the case with vitamin D, supplements exist to improve nutritional status when diet or lifestyle changes aren’t feasible. When the flu or other infectious illness strikes, getting the right nutrients from food isn’t usually possible. Plus, there are lots of substances found in nature that can specifically help battle illness, and taking them in supplement form is like adding another skilled warrior to the battle.
Some of the best supplements to take during the flu include:
- Beta Glucan
- Antiviral essential oils
- Elderberry extract
- Whole foods multi vitamins
Each of these have been known to improve immune response, lessen severity or duration of disease and especially the flu, or support the body nutritionally in a time when eating going so well. (8, 9, 10) Take them as directed or under the guidance of a healthcare professional, just make sure you take them! Supplements are your ally when fighting the flu.
5. Don’t Stress!
I know, you’re missing work and you feel horrible and there’s so much you’d rather be doing. But don’t let it get to you. Stress is not only unnecessarily unpleasant, but it dampens the immune system significantly. (11)
Incidentally, women in a 2012 study who were both under stress and dealing with an illness like the flu found that taking beta glucan reduced both symptoms and mood problems, effectively killing two birds with one stone. (12)
Other ways to reduce stress during a bout with the flu might be to enjoy relaxing music, enjoy some light hearted television, or diffuse calming essential oils.
6. Listen to Your Body
Some of us are more in tune to our bodies than others, but it’s an important skill to hone. All of the “right things to do” in the world mean little if it’s not what your body needs. Granted, you won’t always feel like drinking water or taking a supplement, but a little intuition goes a long way. Should you be up walking around? Do you need to lie down more? Is it going to take one more day of rest before getting up and around?
The art of listening to your body is one that we should all cultivate, in times of wellness as well as sickness. Every cell in your body is communicating with the others, working together to accomplish some pretty amazing feats. The more we learn about those processes, the more we begin to trust them and clue in on what’s happening and how we can help.
7. Get Nutrients Through Liquids
As you listen to your body, you’ll probably find it telling you not to each much food. Over-eating (which looks a whole lot like normal eating when you’ve got the flu) mires your body in the work of digestion when its primary focus is the work of eliminating the flu virus.
Chicken soup has long been made by mothers for their sick children – of all ages! In recent years, it has gained more attention in studies as more than a folk remedy or old wives’ tale. (13) The rich, concentrated nutrients found in bone broth, packaged in an easily digestible liquid that is soothing to the gut and easy to consume, makes it an ideal “food as medicine” option.
Choose liquids wisely, however. Many official recommendations for fluids include sports drinks, which may be heavy in sugar, dyes, and artificial flavorings that will do nothing to help you heal.
8. Don’t Make it Worse
Comfort foods like chicken soup can be extremely beneficial, but if your comfort is found in sugary junk foods or rich dairy, you’re moving in the wrong direction.
Refined sugar – along with trans fats and other refined starches – are known to increase the inflammatory response. (14) Excessive inflammation during the flu is part of that achy, miserable feeling. Why bog your body down and make it feel worse when it’s trying to do its job?
Dairy is often thought to increase mucus or phlegm production, but you may be surprised to know that recent studies seem to have debunked this concern. (15) You should, however, consider the impact dairy-rich foods may have on your gut, which we know to be closely linked to immune responses. Remember, we want to be as gentle on the body as possible while it works to eliminate the flu virus!
9. Exercise When You’re Able
While still listening closely to your body, think about getting some light exercise in as soon as you’re able to. Exercise is important in all stages of life, both well and sick, and early tests show that regular exercise can help your body respond better to the flu. (16) If you’ve already come down with it, don’t let it keep you down.
Simply taking a walk around the block can get your body moving and heart pumping after an extended time on the couch battling the flu. As a bonus, you’ll likely be in the sun, as well, boosting vitamin D production. Light swimming, weight lifting, and yoga are other options for slowly getting your body back up to par.
10. Reintroduce Foods Wisely
When you are feeling better and know it’s time to start eating again, don’t just jump right in. Slowly add food – say, veggies to your bone broth – and work your way back into normal eating.
Dairy is hard on the body, as is meat. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can restore nutrient levels without taxing the digestive system.
This may be a good time to re-evaluate your normal eating habits. Are there foods that drag the immune system down or damage the gut? What could you be eating to better support your immune system? Take care of your body every day, and when something like the flu tries to invade, your body will take care of you.