How to Beat Flu Season
The Vaccine, Home Remedies, and More!

We all know what the flu feels like – the headache, malaise, fever, coughing, sneezing, and achiness. It can be miserable, and most of us want to prevent it if possible. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends everyone over the age of six months get the influenza vaccine. But the vaccine shouldn’t be your only method of preventing winter illness. Keep reading to learn why the vaccine is only partly effective at keeping seasonal illness at bay and to discover other research-backed ways to stay healthy this winter.

The Limits of the Flu Vaccine

Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) formulates the flu vaccine to protect against the three or four influenza virus strains they predict will be circulating. This year, the trivalent flu vaccine protects against Influenza A (H1N1), Influenza A (H3N2), and an Influenza B strain. The quadrivalent flu vaccine protects against those three viruses and an additional Influenza B strain.

However, the influenza virus evolves rapidly, and the WHO does not always accurately predict which strains will be circulating. Moreover, the vaccine’s effectiveness depends on the age and health of the person getting vaccinated. The vaccine is never 100 percent effective at preventing people from being infected from the influenza virus. Some winters, such as in 2014 and 2015, it’s hardly effective at all.

How Effective is the Flu Shot - How to Beat Flu Season

Furthermore, the flu vaccine only protects against influenza viruses, which aren’t the only viruses that make you feel like you have the flu. Researchers estimate that only 7 to 50 percent of flu-like illnesses are caused by an influenza virus. More than 200 other viruses cause influenza-like illness, including respiratory syncytial virus, bocavirus, and rhinovirus. The bottom line? Whether or not you choose to get vaccinated against the influenza virus, it’s savvy to employ other research-proven methods to prevent seasonal illness. A healthy lifestyle may be the best prevention.

Adopting an Antiviral Lifestyle

Want to keep the sniffles at bay? Go to bed early. In a controlled experiment, subjects were quarantined for five days, exposed to a cold virus, and monitored with movement detection devices. People who slept five to six hours were 4.2 times more likely to get sick than those who slept seven hours or more. This finding makes sense, because lack of sleep has been shown to lower a person’s population of T cells – white blood cells that are key to the body’s immune response. Encourage healthy sleep by establishing relaxing bedtime rituals and keeping a consistent sleep schedule.

Lowering your stress levels may also help you prevent winter illness. In a study, healthy adults were quarantined, asked about their stress levels, and exposed to a cold. People who reported being stressed out were almost twice as likely to get the virus. Chronic stress makes it harder for immune cells to respond to hormonal signals that regulate inflammation, according to researchers. If you’re under stress, try taking a daily walk in nature or a park. Physical activity, spending time in nature, and meditation are known stress relievers.

Also be sure to make time for friends and family. A strong and diverse social network can help you stay well, perhaps because social support helps lower stress levels. In one study, people were exposed to a cold virus and surveyed for two weeks about their social connections. The people who received the most hugs were the least likely to become ill.

Let Food Be Thy Medicine

Not surprisingly, a healthy diet may also help support the immune system to prevent illness. In a study, older adults who increased their fruit and vegetable consumption to five servings a day for 12 weeks showed improved immune response to a pneumonia vaccine. In additional studies, a number of foods have been shown to support immune function, including:

  • Citrus and other vitamin C-rich foods: Vitamin C has been shown to accumulate in certain cells to support functions of the immune system. Citrus fruits, which are at peak availability during the winter months, are a great way to eat more of the vitamin. One orange contains nearly the entire recommended daily amount of vitamin C. The vitamin is heat-sensitive, so it may be best to eat citrus raw rather than cooking with it.
  • Squash and other vitamin A-rich foods: Vitamin A is also integral to immune function and respiratory health. The squashes, carrots, and root vegetables abundant in fall and winter are loaded with it. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, so eat these foods with fat for the best absorption.
  • Yogurt and other probiotic-rich foods: Research suggests eating yogurt can improve immune function. In one study, people who ate two cups of yogurt every day for four months had four times more gamma interferon, a protein that helps the body fight disease. In another study, women who ate a cup of yogurt a day for four weeks experienced a 30 percent increase in infection-fighting T lymphocyte cells. If naturally fermented foods aren’t your thing, try a probiotic supplement. Acidophilus supplements were shown to prevent cold and flu symptoms in children in a randomized, double-blind study.
  • Elderberry: Elderberries are a traditional remedy for a number of illnesses, and elderberry syrup has been shown to shorten flu symptoms by four days in a randomized study. Adults and kids usually love the taste. Eat it on pancakes, yogurt, etc., and take it by the spoonful as needed.

Homemade Elderberry Syrup Recipe - How to Beat Flu Season

Other foods may also help support the immune system, including oats and barley, garlic, shellfish, chicken soup, tea, mushrooms, and zinc-rich foods such as beef and oysters.

Employing Healthy Hygiene Practices

If a winter virus is already circulating in your house or workplace, you may be able to fend it off with some simple hygiene practices. In hospital studies, frequent handwashing with soap and water is associated with less virus transmission. Gargling with salt water may also help you stay well. In one study, a group randomly assigned to gargle with salt water once a day had a 40 percent decrease in upper respiratory infections compared to a control group.

The influenza virus can live for up to 48 hours on a surface, so the CDC recommends people also clean, disinfect, and sanitize to slow the spread of illness. Use soap and water as well as a disinfectant to clean doorknobs, counters, tables, and other surfaces. Hundreds of disinfectant products are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency for use on surfaces against influenza A viruses. Alternatively, you can make your own antiviral disinfectant out of hydrogen peroxide and one of several essential oils shown to kill viruses in laboratories.

DIY Antiviral Disinfectant Spray - How to Beat Flu Season

Be Well

With so many viruses and pathogens circulating in the winter, it’s the season to get plenty of rest, eat well, take care of yourself, and use simple research-proven interventions to prevent the spread of illness.

Embed the article on your site