This time of year I get asked a lot of questions about the flu virus, also known as influenza. Not surprisingly, many people ask about the flu vaccine, and I’ve written a past blog post on this topic where I have given my thoughts. Another question I commonly get asked is what options are there other than the flu shot? In other words, what can someone do naturally to prevent themselves from getting the flu, and what can be done from a natural standpoint if someone already has the flu?
Of course preventing yourself from getting the flu in the first place is preferred. So let’s go ahead and first discuss some flu prevention strategies, and then I’ll discuss some natural flu remedies for those who currently have the flu. Although this blog post was written specifically to help my patients with Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s, anyone who is looking for flu prevention strategies and/or natural flu remedies can benefit from this information.
7 Flu Prevention Strategies
1. Reduce stress and increase sleep. Chronic stress and sleep deprivation will both weaken your adrenals and immune system, thus making you more susceptible to getting the flu. Chronic stress and lack of sleep frequently go hand in hand, as many people have difficulty falling and/or staying asleep due to chronic stress, while others will have sleep problems due to other reasons (i.e. blood sugar imbalances). Either way, you want to make sure you’re getting at least 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night, and if this isn’t the case then you’ll want to do what’s necessary to get more sleep. Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing your habits, but other times you’ll need to work with a healthcare practitioner to find out what imbalances you have that are causing and/or contributing to your sleep difficulties.
As for dealing with chronic stress, I’ve spoken about this in past blog posts, and so I won’t go into detail here. But while it would be great if you were able to reduce the stressors in your life, for some people this isn’t an option. An example of this is someone who is a caretaker for a family member. And of course there are other examples where someone won’t be able to reduce their stressors, and when this is the case, you’ll want to do everything you can to improve your stress handling skills. In fact, even if you ARE able to reduce your stressors, you still should do everything you can to become an expert in managing your stress. This will greatly help to reduce your chances of getting the flu, as well as other infections.
2. Maintain optimal vitamin D levels. This is yet another topic I’ve spoken about numerous times, and fortunately many people reading this are already aware of the importance of vitamin D with regards to immune system health. Just remember that you don’t want to rely on the lab reference range, which is commonly 30 to 100 ng/mL, although it will vary depending on the lab. You want your vitamin D levels to be at least 50 ng/mL, and some will suggest that it should be between 60 and 80 ng/mL. Some healthcare practitioners even suggest it to be between 80 and 100 ng/mL. My levels are usually in the upper 50s/lower 60s.
So how can you maintain healthy vitamin D levels? Well, internal vitamin D synthesis occurs primarily through sunlight exposure, and so getting 15 minutes of sun exposure between the hours of 11am and 3pm at least two to three days per week might be sufficient to maintain healthy vitamin D levels in some people, although those with darker skin will require more time in the sun, while those with very fair skin might require less (1). However, it’s important to keep in mind that certain factors can prevent someone from getting enough vitamin D from the sun, including air pollution and/or living in a northern latitude (2) (3). Having a genetic polymorphism of the vitamin D receptor might also make it difficult for someone to get enough vitamin D from sun exposure alone. So in some cases, supplementation with vitamin D3 is necessary to maintain healthy levels.
3. Don’t overtrain. While it’s important to exercise regularly, you don’t want to overdo it, as this will also have a negative impact on your adrenals and immune system. It’s a big challenge for some people to know how much exercise is “too much”. If you’re ready to collapse right after a workout I think it’s safe to say that you’re overtraining. However, if someone already has compromised adrenals, then even moderate aerobic exercise can cause problems. For example, I’m a proponent of high intensity interval training, but I don’t think someone with compromised adrenals should be doing this type of exercise. And the only way to know for certain if you have compromised adrenals is through testing.
4. Support your gut microbiome. Most of your immune system cells are located within the gut, and so having a healthy gut is necessary in order to have a healthy immune system. But how do you optimize the health of your gut microbiome? I would definitely check out the blog post I wrote on the 5-R protocol, but I’ll give a brief summary here:
Remove: you want to remove any factor that is having a negative effect on the health of your gut microbiome. This of course includes unhealthy foods, but you also want to address any gut infections, minimize exposure to gut-disrupting drugs and chemicals, etc. We all know that antibiotics can disrupt the good bacteria in the gut, but so can other medications, including proton pump inhibitors (4). As far as environmental toxins go, many reading this are familiar with the herbicide glyphosate, and this also can disrupt the gut microbiota (5). This is yet another reason why you want to try eating as many organic foods as possible. Also, keep in mind that just because something is non-GMO verified doesn’t mean it’s free of glyphosate.
Replace: Being deficient in digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, bile salts, and even dietary fiber can all have a negative effect on your gut microbiome. Of course you want to try to do as much as you can through diet, especially when it comes to getting enough fiber, although supplementing with digestive enzymes, HCL, and/or bile salts might be necessary while you correct other imbalances.
Reinoculate: Eating prebiotic and probiotic foods can greatly benefit the gut microbiome. When it comes to feeding the good bacteria in your gut, eating a wide variety of fiber-rich vegetables is important. Although I try to practice what I preach by eating a wide variety of vegetables, I also take prebiotic and probiotic supplements.
Repair: While the gut can heal on its own when you remove the factors disrupting the intestinal barrier and causing gut inflammation, you can speed up the process by consuming gut-healing foods and supplements. Many people drink bone broth for gut healing, but cabbage juice also can help heal the gut. Supplements that can help with gut healing include L-glutamine, zinc, and vitamin A.
Rebalance: This component involves getting enough sleep, doing a good job of managing your stress, exercising regularly, etc.
5. Incorporate sauna therapy: First of all, sauna therapy will help to reduce your toxic load by sweating out chemicals, which in turn will improve your immune system health. But in addition, heating up the body through sauna might also have anti-viral effects. To be honest, while this makes sense, there isn’t much research in this area, although an older study demonstrated that regular sauna therapy reduced the incidence of common colds (6). I personally do infrared sauna therapy twice per week, usually for 25 to 30 minutes.
6. Don’t overlook the impact of electronic pollution and mycotoxins. Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) can disrupt the immune system (7) (8), and thus make you more susceptible to the flu and other infections. While you probably won’t be able to eliminate your exposure to EMFs, you want to do everything you can to minimize your exposure. Start with unplugging the wifi at night, and stop using electronic devices at least one hour before going to bed, and two hours would be even better.
Mycotoxins from mold can also suppress the immune system. For those interested in learning more about the consequences of mycotoxins on human health I’d check out this journal article. I’ve also written an article entitled “Mycotoxins, CIRS, and Thyroid Health“. Exposure from mycotoxins usually comes from food and/or air. As for food sources of mold, I discuss this in my article, as mycotoxins usually get into the food in the field, or during storage. And water damage is the most common cause of the inhalation of mycotoxins in the air.
7. Supplementation. Consider some of the following supplements to support your immune system.
- Vitamin D3. Many people need to supplement with vitamin D3 in order to maintain optimal levels. The dosage will vary depending on the person. For example, I take 5,000 IU/day of vitamin D3 (along with vitamin K2), but I’m also guilty of not getting enough sun. I test my 25-OH vitamin D levels at least once per year to make sure my levels don’t get too low or too high.
- Vitamin A. This isn’t necessarily something you have to supplement with every day, and I know some people are concerned about vitamin A toxicity, and as a result, they will take beta carotene instead of active vitamin A. The problem is that many people have problems converting beta carotene into active vitamin A. I take 10,000 IU of active vitamin A two to three times per week.
- Zinc. Consider taking 15 to 20 mg of zinc per day to help prevent getting a viral infection.
- Vitamin C. If you deal with a lot of stress then it probably is a good idea to take vitamin C. There are a few different options, as if you are trying to prevent yourself from getting a viral infection then you can take a food-based vitamin C supplement. On the other hand, if you’re trying to be more aggressive (i.e. everyone in the household has the flu) and/or are already dealing with the flu, then taking 1,000 mg of liposomal vitamin C multiple times per day can help.
- Selenium. Not everyone needs to take a separate selenium supplement (or a multivitamin with selenium), as some will get enough by eating foods high in selenium, such as Brazil nuts and sardines. Of course the amount of selenium you’re getting from these and other food sources will vary depending on numerous factors, including the size of the Brazil nut, if it was grown in organic soil, etc.
- Probiotics. While eating fermented foods is a good idea, I also think it’s wise to take a probiotic supplement consisting of a wide variety of strains and a potency of at least 30 billion CFU. This will help to modulate the immune system. One study showed that supplementing with probiotics significantly reduced the incidence of upper respiratory infections and flu-like symptoms when compared to the placebo group (9). And while I can’t say that I’m a big fan of the flu vaccine (which is why I’ve written this post), a few studies have shown that taking probiotics can increase the effectiveness of the flu vaccine (10) (11). So even if you choose to get the flu vaccine it can be beneficial to take a probiotic supplement.
- Monolaurin. This also can help to modulate the immune response and interfere with viral replication. There’s a product called Lauricidin that I like, and one scoop equals 3,000 mg of monolaurin. Designs for Health also has a good quality monolaurin supplement that I’ve taken.
- Colloidal/bioactive silver. In the past I only took silver when I started feeling a cold coming on, but since being diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in 2018 I take it regularly.. One in vitro study looked at the inhibitory effects of silver nanoparticles on H1N1 influenza A virus (12), and the study demonstrated that silver nanoparticles have anti-H1N1 influenza A virus activities. Another study showed that silver nanoparticles have beneficial effects in preventing H3N2 influenza virus infection both in vitro and in vivo, and can be used to inhibit outbreaks of influenza (13).
Natural Remedies For Those Who Currently Have The Flu
When discussing “natural flu remedies” there will be some overlap with the last “flu prevention strategy” I mentioned, as some of the same supplements that can help prevent the flu from developing can also help when someone already has the flu. Once again, I wouldn’t suggest taking everything listed below.
- Liposomal vitamin C. I discussed vitamin C earlier, as many people take vitamin C when they have a common cold or the flu. I mentioned how taking 1,000 mg of liposomal vitamin C multiple times per day can be beneficial.
- Echinacea. Echinacea is very well known for helping with the common cold and flu. However, there is controversy over using echinacea in Th1-dominant autoimmune conditions, as some healthcare practitioners are concerned about echinacea stimulating the immune system, and thus, exacerbating the autoimmune response. In 2014 I discussed this in a blog post entitled “Echinacea: Harmful for Hashimoto’s, Beneficial For Graves’ Disease?“
- Elderberry. Sambucus nigra is a member of the Caprifoliaceae or honeysuckle family (14), and numerous studies have shown that the extracts of the berries (elderberry) are used primary as antiviral agents for colds, influenza, and Herpes virus infections (15) (16) (17). As for the dosage, one study involved adults taking four tablespoons (60 mL) per day, with children taking two tablespoons.
- Zinc. If you already have the flu then consider taking 50mg of zinc for the duration of your illness. While high doses of zinc can cause an imbalance in copper, taking 50mg/day of zinc for a few days, or even a week or two, shouldn’t cause a copper deficiency.
- High dose probiotics. As I mentioned earlier, probiotics modulate the immune system, and while I mentioned how you might want to consider taking at least 30 billion CFU per day on a wellness basis, if dealing with the flu I would consider taking at least 100 billion CFU per day of probiotics.
- Colloidal/bioactive silver. This is my family’s biggest “go to” when dealing with colds, and it can also help with the flu too. Earlier I mentioned how I take silver regularly to support my immune system and keep my Lyme disease in check, and if dealing with the flu you should consider taking a teaspoon of silver every few hours for the duration of your illness. One of the concerns people have is a condition called argyria, which is caused by the excessive consumption of silver. This shouldn’t be a problem if you take silver multiple times throughout the day for a week or two while dealing with the flu. Is it a concern for someone who takes silver daily on a wellness basis? I’m not concerned about developing argyria, especially after learning more about silver at a nutritional conference I attended in 2018. But if you’re thinking about taking silver on a regular basis it probably would be wise to first consult with a healthcare practitioner.
- High dose vitamin A. When going through my masters in nutrition degree, one of my instructors was Dr. Alex Vasquez, who has a great deal of knowledge when it comes to viruses. In fact, he has written an excellent book entitled “Antiviral Nutrition”, although I need to let you know that some of the information in the book is advanced. Anyway, Dr. Vasquez commonly recommends 100,000 IU/day of active vitamin A for a period of 10 days. I realize that this is an extremely high dosage, and many will be concerned about vitamin A toxicity. I can’t say that I’ve taken this high of a dosage when dealing with the common cold, but I’ll add that I’ve heard a few other practitioners recommend very high doses of active vitamin A over a short period of time to modulate the immune system.
- Sauna. As I mentioned earlier, sauna therapy not only can help with the removal of chemicals from the body by “sweating them out”, but it might also reduce the chances of developing a viral infection, including the flu. As for whether sauna can help with your recovery if you already have the flu, I’m honestly not sure, but it’s something I’ve tried when dealing with the common cold, and I do think it was beneficial.
What’s Your Experience With The Flu?
Have you taken any natural remedies either for flu prevention, or to support your immune system while already dealing with the flu? If so, please feel free to share your comments below, as not only would I love to see what you did, but sharing your experience may also benefit others looking to prevent the flu, or reduce the severity of their symptoms if their already dealing with the flu. Thank you for sharing your experience with everyone!