There's no need to panic when you hear alarming news reports about the latest flu strain. Nature offers plenty of ways to stay well during winter months. Here are some simple but effective strategies.
Vitamin C and Honey
A combination of vitamin C and 1 teaspoon of honey in the morning and evening will help to keep you healthy year-round, but is especially valuable during the winter, says Mark Moyad, MD, MPH, author of Dr. Moyad's No BS Health Advice and director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. "They have a synergistic effect," he says. If you eat a lot of citrus fruits, 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily should suffice; otherwise, take 1,000 milligrams. To avoid acidity problems, choose Ester-C.
Healthy Fats and Fiber
"A diverse intake of healthy fats and fiber will reduce inflammation," says Moyad, "allowing the immune cells to go and fight an infection." Good fat sources include cold-water fish or 1,000 milligrams daily of omega-3s from fish oil supplements. For a combination of healthful fats and fiber, include 1 to 2 tablespoons of chia or 2 to 3 tablespoons of flaxseed in your daily diet. Fiber also feeds friendly bacteria in your digestive system.
"Vitamin D switches on a gene that makes a natural antiviral and antibiotic substance in our bodies," says Moyad. It's a must for prevention and, if you do get sick, to speed recovery. Adults should get 2,000 IU daily.
Healthful or "friendly" bacteria, probiotics prevent bugs from taking up residence in the gut, which is vulnerable to invaders. "The largest number of immune cells are found in the digestive system, from the stomach to the colon," says Moyad. "Probiotics boost immune response." He recommends eating yogurt with active cultures or taking probiotic supplements with at least 5 billion colony forming units per daily serving.
Used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, astragalus is an adaptogen that strengthens your body's resistance disease. "It helps your body to adapt to changes and stresses in the environment," says Steven Rosenblatt, MD, PhD, an integrative physician in Los Angeles. Look for a standardized extract and follow product directions.
Native Americans used echinacea to cure all manner of diseases for hundreds of years, but today, the herb is mainly used to treat colds and flu.To stay healthy during winter months, Rosenblatt recommends taking a low dose of 50 to 150 milligrams daily.
Found in some grains, mushrooms, and yeasts, beta-glucan is most often taken to lower cholesterol. However, says Rosenblatt, it also protects against viral infection. Therapeutic amounts range from 3 to 15 grams daily.
When flu-like symptoms appear, try Oscillococcinum, the pleasant-tasting crystals melt in your mouth. Clinical studies have shown that Oscillo reduces the duration and intensity of flu symptoms. For a scratchy throat, Rosenblatt recommends gargling and then swallowing 10 drops of Lymphomyosot in water two or three times a day to reduce swelling, inflammation, infection, and pain in the throat.
Elderberry and Other Remedies
A centuries-old remedy for respiratory problems, elderberry has been validated by science. In particular, a proprietary extract of black elderberry (Sambucol) has been shown to speed recovery from flu. For example, in a study published in The Journal of International Medical Research, when taken within 48 hours of symptoms appearing, the extract reduced flu duration by four days. And, those taking elderberry needed less pain medication. Other ways to ward off invaders include taking garlic, andrographis, and/or spirulina. Zinc lozenges provide relief from sore throats and congestion.
The Key to Healthy Kids
"Feed your child's immune system," advises William Sears, MD, a pediatrician in San Clemente, Calif., author of The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. How? With plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, cold-water fish, kid-friendly supplements of fruit-flavored omega-3 chews or liquids, ground flaxseeds in smoothies, and vitamin D (liquid forms can be added to smoothies or other foods). Sears recommends the following daily doses for children:
- Omega-3s with a 2:1 ratio of DHA to EPA:
Birth to age 2: 300 milligrams
Ages 2 to 4: 450 milligrams
Ages 5 to adulthood: 600 milligrams
- Ground flaxseed: Ages 2 to adulthood:
1 tablespoon daily in a smoothie or other food.
- Vitamin D: Infants and children:
400 IU daily
- Fruit and vegetable extracts in powder form:
Add to foods and beverages.
Honey Beats Cough Syrup
Buckwheat honey worked better than cough syrup in relieving coughs and improving restful sleep in a study of 105 children ages 2 to 18. Thirty minutes before bedtime, children were given the following:
Ages 2-5: ½ tsp. honey
Age 6-11: 1 tsp. honey
Age 12-18: 2 tsp. honey
Source: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine
Winter Beauty Treats
What better way to take care of yourself than a luxious bath, nourishing hair mask, silky body lotion, or homemade facial and body scrub (great for dry, dull skin!)? These kitchen-inspired concoctions also make great gifts!
Rose geranium bath Oil Combine 1 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup rose water, and 10 drops rose geranium oil. Add to warm water, and luxuriate 20 minutes. Gently pat skin dry, or use your hands to wipe excess water from your body, leaving skin slightly damp. Slather on vanilla-almond body moisturizer before dressing.
Sandlewood-patchouli bath salts Add 10 drops sandalwood oil and 5 drops patchouli oil to 1/2 cup finely ground sea salt. Mix thoroughly with fingers until oil is evenly dispersed through salt. Stir in 1 cup Epsom salts, and mix well to blend. Add 1/4 cup to bath water, swirl to mix, and soak 15 minutes.
Avocado-carrot antioxidant hair mask Mash 1 avocado. Beat in 1/2 cup carrot juice until creamy and smooth. Poke hole into vitamin E capsule, and squeeze contents into mixture. Repeat with vitamin A capsule. Apply to clean, damp hair. Pile hair onto top of head, wrap in towel, and let sit 15 minutes.
Rinse hair well, and let air dry.
Vanilla-almond and rose body moisturizer Melt 1/4 cup shaved beeswax, 1/3 cup coconut oil,
and 1/3 cup rose water over low heat, let cool. Whisk in 1/3 cup almond oil, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup aloe vera gel. Beat until creamy, and slather on skin after bathing.
Face & Body Scrubs
Honey-oatmeal facial scrub Combine 2 tablespoons yogurt, 2 tablespoons finely ground oats
(use a clean coffee grinder), and 1 tablespoon honey. Smooth mixture onto damp face. Let sit 5 minutes. Gently scrub, and rinse off.
Grapefruit and rosemary body scrub Add 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 5 drops grapefruit oil, and 3 drops rosemary oil to 1/2 cup sugar. Use in shower: wet skin thoroughly, scrub gently, and rinse well.
Quantum Health Super Lysine+ Immune System combines lysine and herbal immunity boosters to super-charge immune function and speed recovery. Specially formulated to protect from cold sore and herpes breakouts.
Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup is made from organic elderberries, with no high-fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors. Plus, it's formulated with an extra boost of C to fend off coughs and bolster immunity.
Boiron Children's Chestal Honey combines homeopathic cough relievers with honey in one soothing formula. Especially beneficial for coughs that worsen at night or are triggered by cold air.
Hyland's Cold Relief with Zinc 4 Kids is a homeopathic cold remedy with the added power of zinc. It's a safe and natural way to ease sneezing, runny noses, and sore throats in children ages 2 and older.
American Health Probiotic CD Each capsule is coated with a protective shield to prevent probiotics from stomach acid damage and deliver them intact to the intestines. Free of gluten, wheat, yeast, corn, and soy.
North American Herb & Spice Heavenly Hyssop Tea There's nothing like a comforting cup of tea for winter colds. Hyssop flower works as a natural expectorant for coughs.
Rainbow Light Deep Defense works with your body to strengthen natural defenses. The herbal tonic combines astragalus, echinacea, shiitake mushroom, and other proven immunity enhancers made from whole-plant extracts.
Bija Sleep Well Tea is a perfect addition to your bedtime ritual. This caffeine-free tea includes relaxing chamomile, passionflower, and skullcap to help promote a good night's sleep, especially important when you're fighting a cold or flu.