The news on colds and flu this year is not good—and we are smack dab in the middle of the season. This year’s flu is widespread—it’s hit people in 46 of our 50 states. The strain that appears to be the most prevalent this year is called H3N2, and it comes with more severe no-fun symptoms (see below). Compared to H1N1, the other commonly contracted flu, H3N2 is more lethal to the very young and very old. Plus, I find that the flu vaccine offers minimal protection against this strain.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to prevent getting sick this season, and/or strategies to recover quickly and safely if you are already sick. Let’s take a look at what you need to know:
What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
Both colds and flu are respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Generally speaking, flu symptoms are more intense than those of the common cold.
What are the symptoms of cold and flu.
Colds and flu have a lot in common, so it can be difficult to tell the difference. Flu symptoms include fever, headache, chills, and body aches—and the flu comes on quickly (within a few hours), while colds typically take a couple days. People with colds are more likely to have nasal congestion and/or a runny nose—but you can have a stuffy or runny nose with the flu as well. A cold and the flu can be accompanied by a sore throat or a cough. However, if you have severe swelling and pain in your throat and it doesn’t go away (and it’s often paired with a fever, headache, and body aches), see your doctor because it could be strep. Strep is a bacterial disease that should be treated with antibiotics.
What can you do to steer clear of colds and flu?
Your best strategy—besides washing your hands and wiping everything down is to boost your immunity. Use the following strategies:
All the following foods are also kid-friendly.
- Eat yogurt with live, active cultures: Probiotics can help strengthen your immune system by maintaining healthy flora in your body. A study actually showed that probiotics can help reduce the number of sick days you take in a year.
- Make soup with garlic: Garlic contains allicin which fights infections and bacteria. Use any chicken vegetable recipe that uses a homemade stock or bone broth, shredded chicken, vegetables of your choice, minced garlic (it’s got antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic, and antiviral properties—wow!) and, while you’re at it, add some sliced ginger to the broth for its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Lower sugar intake: Sugar thwarts immune system cells that fight colds, flu, and other bacterial illnesses. Cut back on the sweets (hopefully an easier task now that the holidays are over) to give your immune system an edge.
- Have mushrooms on your pizza: Especially shiitake, maitake, and reishi. They increase production and activity of white blood cells. They’re also easy to add to your diet. Cook them into eggs, chicken noodle soup, or toss them on a frozen pizza before it goes in the oven.
- Boost antioxidant-rich foods: Butternut and kabocha squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots … we could go on and on. These perfectly-timed seasonal veggies are both nourishing and detoxifying, with loads of antioxidants, carotenoids and a heavy dose of vitamin C.
- Drink black or green tea: Both types contain L-theanine which boosts production of virus-fighting interferon in the body. Have several cups throughout the day.
- Try immune boosting tonics: I love to make a drink I call Golden Milk because it’s full of the natural immunity boosters turmeric, ginger, and cloves. Turmeric and ginger are anti-inflammatory, ginger also aids digestion, and all three are anti-bacterial, and anti-viral. This is also safe for children.
- Do an ACV shot: An apple cider vinegar shot (ACV shot) is a great way to keep your gut’s microbiome balanced, which aids digestion and also gives your immune system a boost. Just mix 1 tablespoon organic raw apple cider vinegar with 3 tablespoons water.
- Try Turkey Tail mushrooms: This little fungus has been shown to be a powerful immunity booster thanks to two powerful polysaccharides. These are best in capsule form, available at health food stores, or online. Aim to take 300-500 mg per day.
- Vitamin D: Studies show that vitamin D helps prevent and heal respiratory tract infections (colds and flu). Take 5000 IU per day, and double up if you get sick to 10,000 IU per day. Children can take 1000 IU a day.
- Vitamin C: This powerful antioxidant helps your body’s immune system stay strong. Take 75 mg per day. If you are sick you can take 3 to 5 grams a day as long as you have no history of kidney stones. Children can take 1 gram a day.
- Astragalus: This adaptogenic herb boosts immunity and is known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties. Take 1 gram daily, and take this dose three times a day when sick.
- Wipe down surfaces: Desks, phones, and counter tops are germ havens. Wipe these surfaces down such as desks, phones, and counter tops with a mixture of vinegar (a natural disinfectant) and water.
- Frequently wash your hands: Plain old soap and water as hot as you can stand it will do. Make sure you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, and dry your hands with a paper towel, or dedicate a separate towel to each person.
- Don’t shortchange your slumber: Make sure to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Lack of adequate rest taps your immune system, making you vulnerable to illnesses.
- Stay home if you are sick: You’ll need the extra rest, and your co-workers and friends will thank you.
When to see your doctor: If you experience an extremely high fever, 101 or higher, if you find that you are feeling sick even after your fever goes down, or if you have a rapid heart rate that won’t settle, call your doctor.