Updated:
Original:

Immunity Boosters: 6 Natural Ways to Help Prevent the Flu, and the Science Behind Them

Natural flu busters that can help your immune system ward off the pesky virus.

The flu season is especially severe headed into 2015, and it won’t peak yet for another month or so.

The best prevention against infection is the seasonal flu vaccine, but this year’s vaccine doesn’t protect against the predominant H3N2 influenza A, which is associated with more severe illness and mortality, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC officials still recommend vaccination to protect against other circulating strains, but that does not mean you won’t get hit.

Keep in mind that none of these tips are a panacea, and should not replace a visit to the doctor or naturopathic physician. The H1N1 influenza A proved four times deadlier to Native Americans than the general population, so it is not to be sneezed at. Contact your Indian Health Service clinic or other provider to get the CDC recommended antiviral treatment as soon as you know you’re sick. Also know that any of these vitamins and herbs can interact with one another and with prescription medications, so let your doctor know what you’re taking.

That said, here are six natural ways to help prevent the flu, and the science that backs them up.

Echinacea—Native American Medicinal Plant

Archaeologists have evidence that Native Americans may have used echinacea for more than 400 years, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Today it is one of this country’s most popular medicinal herbs.

Research suggests it is the above-ground portion of echinacea purpurea that is most effective in fighting colds and flu.

Photo: iStockphoto

Echinacea may well help reduce the brunt of colds and flu.

Vitamin D—Lack of It Can Invite Flu

Vvitamin D deficiency is common in the winter, a trigger for influenza seasons, according to a study in the journal Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D. Activated vitamin D (D3) modulates the immune system, preventing overproduction of inflammation-causing proteins by the immune system. It also boosts other immune-cell functions and promotes the production of potent antimicrobial peptides in the respiratory tract, protecting the lung from infection.

Photo: iStockphoto

These foods contain vitamin D, an essential immune-system tool.

NAC—Influenza A Fighting Machine

N-acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC) is the precursor to one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants, reduced glutathione. Research published in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology, one of several studies on the issue, found that NAC can inhibit replication of seasonal human influenza A viruses. In fact, antioxidants like NAC represent a potential additional treatment option that could be considered in the case of an influenza A virus pandemic, the study concluded.

iStockphoto

Korean Red Ginseng—Infection Fighter

Scientist Sang-Moo Kang, a research scientist at Georgia State University’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, reported the beneficial effects of ginseng in the journal Nutrients. Kang’s primary research focuses on developing effective vaccines against viral diseases such as influenza. But vaccines can’t always keep up with the rapidly mutating virus, which led Kang to research red ginseng. He found that it improves the survival of human lung cells infected with influenza, and that treatment with red ginseng extract reduced inflammation.

The flu-fighting Korean red ginseng is also known as panax ginseng. Don’t confuse it with Siberian ginseng, a different plant entirely.

iStockphoto

Elderberry—Used for Centuries

Elder, either the berry or the flowers, has been taken by mouth for centuries to treat respiratory illnesses such as cold and flu. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some evidence even suggests that chemicals in elderflower and berries may reduce swelling in mucous membranes and relieve nasal congestion.

Elder may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anticancer properties. Elderberry contains flavonoids, antioxidants that help prevent cell damage.

Photo: iStockphoto

Both elderberry and its flower are useful as remedies.

Garlic—Daily

Garlic contains antibacterial, antiviral, anti-parasitic and antifungal properties and is known to boost the immune system if you eat a raw clove daily. Beneficial to the immune system, it can reduce inflammation and lower the risk of diseases caused by inflammation. Garlic has therapeutic properties due to the sulfur-containing compound called allicin. As the allicin digests in your body it produces sulfuric acid that fights free radicals in our body better than any other known compound. To receive the beneficial properties of garlic you must crush the clove before you eat it to stimulate the release of the enzyme that creates allicin.

iStockphoto