How Can You Prevents Colds and Flus?

by Dr. Jessica Nagelkirk

Each winter, the influenza virus wreaks havoc on our ability to work, learn, and play.  Common symptoms of flu include fever, sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, runny nose, and cough.  The conventional approach to flu prevention includes vaccination, but there are many natural ways to boost your immune system this flu season that can be done in addition to, or instead of the flu vaccination.


The influenza virus is remarkable for its high rate of mutation, so your body never really gets a chance to build immunity to the virus.  Scientists use their best guess as to which new variants will appear and include them in the vaccine each flu season. The effectiveness of the vaccine therefore depends on the scientists’ ability to match the virus.  Some years it’s very effective, and some years less so.

More than ninety percent of influenza-related deaths occur among people over sixty years of age.   A new study shows that influenza vaccination in older patients is associated with a reduced risk for hospitalization and almost fifty percent reduction in fatality.  Flu vaccination is recommended in adults over age 65, persons with chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, kidney, or liver disease, diabetes, intellectual disability, neurologic disorders, immunosuppression, women who are pregnant or up to two weeks post-partum, and residents of nursing homes.   Both healthy individuals who opt out of a flu vaccine and those at risk who do receive a vaccine can increase their chances of making it through the flu season unscathed using some natural therapies to enhance the immune system.

Nutritional Supplements

Vitamin C has been shown to inactivate the influenza virus and can aid in the prevention of influenza as well as shorten the duration and severity of infections already contracted.  Vitamin C can cause diarrhea and is usually dosed in acute situations “to bowel tolerance.”  Dosage can be repeated every few hours. You might test out 500 mg. at a time to start.

Zinc plays an important role in maintaining healthy blood cell function.  Taken at 30 mg doses for short periods may help white blood cells fight infections.  Taking zinc for longer periods, such as more than one month, leads to depletion of other important minerals so please see your physician if you need to take zinc long-term.

Vitamin A is associated with white blood cell function and maintains the integrity of mucus membranes – the front line of our defense against microscopic invaders.  Do not take vitamin A supplements if you are pregnant as high doses can cause birth defects.

Sambucol is a proprietary preparation of black elderberries and raspberries that has been shown to inhibit replication of influenza virus.  These berries contain vitamin A, vitamin C, and many flavonoids, all of which boost immune function.

Eupatorium perfoliatum, commonly called Boneset, contains immune polysaccharides that show significant immune-stimulating effects on white blood cells.  The homeopathic preparation is the recommended form unless given by a physician.

Steam inhalations with essential oils can also be helpful, especially when the upper respiratory system or sinuses are affected.  Oregano and thyme top the list for anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal steam inhalations.  Use 2-3 drops only, a little goes a long way in this case.


Sleep is essential for keeping the immune system functioning optimally.  Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night to rejuvenate for the next day.  Interestingly, the timing of going to sleep is just as important as the duration.  Aim for going to bed between 9pm and 11pm for the best sleep.

Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and quality protein are the foundation for healthy immune systems.  Avoidance of sugary or processed foods is also important for avoiding the flu and other infections.  During times of acute infections, eating simple is best.  Try the recipe for Bieler broth in the previous post.

Stress is a part of everyday life, but excessive stress can decrease our immune system’s function.  Make a point to incorporate stress management techniques into daily life, especially during flu season.  Try meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.  There are plenty of local or free online resources out there, use them!

Most over-the-counter (OTC) flu medications only treat the symptoms of the virus and don’t strengthen your immune system.  If you do take OTC medications, make sure you are also supporting your body’s natural defenses.  Talk to your doctor about the best choices for you this flu season.

*For additional tips and tricks such as the warming socks treatment and homeopathic options, check out the Health & Happiness U.P Magazine website, or Dr. Jessica’s blog, Modern Naturopath.

Dr. Jessica Nagelkirk graduated this past spring from the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon as a Naturopathic Physician (ND) and is part of its 2012 – 2013 faculty.

*Learn more about Dr. Jessica Nagelkirk on our Writers page.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Winter 2012 – 2013 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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