How to prep to survive flu season

It’s that time of year…

The CDC recommends anyone getting a flu vaccine should do it by the end of October.

But it’s important to know, as they state on their site, that the protection provided by a flu vaccine varies from season to season. Some of the variables include the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine and the similarity or “match” between the viruses in the vaccine and those in circulation.

In other words, it’s not going to make you 100 percent less likely to get the flu. They say it should fall between 40 to 60 percent, but for the last five years of available data, it didn’t breach 40 percent.

In fact, last year’s (2021-2022) was estimated to be 36 percent effective, with the highest effectiveness seen in individuals 6 months to 8 years of age (43%) and the lowest effectiveness observed in individuals aged 50 years or older (10%), per Pharmacy Times.

The good news is, they have higher hopes this year — estimating a 54 percent effective rate. But the last time we saw effectiveness rates near that level was in 2011.

Now don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I don’t place any value in a seasonal flu shot. I just want you to know that trying to stay well during flu season may be best approached from multiple angles.

What’s the old saying — never put all your eggs in one basket, right? So, I’d like to share with you additional precautions you can take to reduce your risk of infection this flu season…

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Immune-boosting vitamins and minerals

Vitamin and mineral nutrients are vital to a healthy body and for an effective immune system. I used to believe that the best sources of these nutrients were whole foods.

However, truly nutritious whole food can be troublesome to find these days. I could go on and on about the problems associated with genetically modified foods, pesticide-ridden produce, meat that increases your risk of antibiotic resistance and how over-farming has depleted soil to a point that there are fewer vitamins, minerals and micronutrients for plants to uptake as they grow… but I won’t today.

I will suggest that you do your best to eat a well-balanced diet, full of fruits and vegetables (preferably organic) and grass-fed beef and farm-raised chicken, if possible. Don’t forget fatty fish at least twice a week (your heart will thank you).

But I think it’s very important to supplement just get even basic nutrient levels. Just follow the manufacturer’s guidelines about recommended servings.

However, there are very few vitamins that most of us can get too much of, especially if eating the standard American diet.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Vitamin A deficiency is associated with impaired immunity and increased risk of infectious disease. Vitamin A supports and maintains your mucosal surfaces, like the lining in your sinuses, where pathogens can be trapped and attacked by your body’s “killer” T-cells — your body’s first line of defense. Food sources include mango, sweet potato, carrots, squash, tuna fish, cashews and peanuts.

Vitamin C has been the “go-to” nutrient to strengthen the immune system for as long as I can remember. Studies also support its immune-enhancing properties. During infection and stress on the body, vitamin C concentrations decline. But supplementation has been found to improve components of the immune system such as antimicrobial and natural killer cell activities.

Excess amounts of vitamin C leave the body through urine, so don’t be afraid of getting too much. If you get diarrhea and know it’s not because you’re sick, that’s a sign of too much vitamin C. Food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruit, green and red bell peppers, kale, broccoli, and strawberries. 

Vitamin D is extremely valuable to the immune system. In fact it’s considered “the lost cure.” But in the U.S. alone, 42% of adults are deficient. Studies have shown that vitamin D, which is produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight, signals an antimicrobial response.

Get as much as you can safely from the sun, but supplement, too. Food sources include salmon, fortified milk, fortified cereal, pork, eggs, and mushrooms. When supplementing choose vitamin D3, not D2, and here’s why…

Research at the University of Surrey concluded that both types of vitamin D do not have the same effect. They found evidence that vitamin D3 had a “modifying effect” on the immune system that could fortify the body against viral and bacterial diseases.

They stated, “We have shown that vitamin D3 appears to stimulate the type I interferon signaling system in the body — a key part of the immune system that provides a first line of defense against bacteria and viruses. Thus, a healthy vitamin D3 status may help prevent viruses and bacteria from gaining a foothold in the body.”

Zinc is an immune-booster on its own, but it is mighty in combination with vitamin C. Most Americans get enough zinc through their diet, but research has shown the value of a “zinc burst” to activate the immune system. Vitamin C and zinc can together reduce the risk, severity, and duration of infectious disease. Food sources include beef, cooked oysters, spinach, cashews, and wheat germ.

Quality matters when supplementing

Let me say a thing or two about the kind of supplements you might use, and I’m not referring to brand…

Most vitamins come in the form of rock-hard horse pills. These vitamins are very hard to digest. Most of it will probably exit your body barely digested. If you’ve been taking those kinds of vitamins, no wonder you might be skeptical about their benefits.

Luckily, vitamins come in different forms. I enjoy my little round B12 tablets, flavored like cherry, that melt in my mouth and enter my bloodstream quickly. You can also find time-release forms that stay with you longer, not just for B12 but for others as well.

Liposomal vitamin C is a form that is generally better absorbed and can raise blood levels of vitamin C more efficiently. A study in 2020 found it almost twice as bioavailable as other forms of the vitamin.

Vitamins A and D are fat soluble. That means with a little fat, as in your diet, they are better absorbed and used by your body. A higher-quality supplement will include a bit of fat in the formulation, often safflower oil. Compared to vitamin D2, D3 was shown to raise blood levels faster and maintain them better.

Quality matters for supplements. That doesn’t mean they have to cost an arm and a leg — but if you’re looking for cheap ones, you may get cheated of the results you’re expecting. Just take time and choose wisely.

For more dos and don’ts about supplementing, check out these tips.

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The healing power of garlic

Your flu season survival plan is not incomplete without garlic.

Garlic contains a powerful compound known as allicin that is likely responsible for its long-standing reputation as a traditional cure-all. It’s even been reported to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In studies, allicin has demonstrated antiviral, antifungal and antibiotic effects. Odorless garlic capsules are available in stores, but I think you get more of garlic’s medicinal benefits when you cook with it. Most dishes could benefit from a couple of cloves of garlic without being overpowering.

Below is a recipe for garlic broth that could be made ahead of time to store in the fridge to sip on daily or use as a base in soups or other recipes. Mashed potatoes are especially good made with broth instead of milk.

Ingredients for Garlic Broth:

  • 8 cups organic vegetable stock
  • 1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 whole head of garlic, cloves peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • A pinch of dried sage
  • Shitake mushrooms (see why below)
  • Salt to taste

Bring to a boil then simmer for about half an hour.

Now, mushrooms have been part of the human diet and used medicinally for about 3,000 years. And many immune-boosting formulas of Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) include mushrooms, particularly Maitake, Shitake, and Reishi.

The shitake mushroom is especially recommended by practitioners of TCM for enhancing immunity. It contains lentinan, an antiviral substance that possesses strong immune-stimulating activity. They also contain something called beta-glucans which has been extensively studied as an immune-booster. Shitake mushrooms can be added to recipes or you can consume shitake tea or soup. I would visit a good natural health food store for tea and dried soup mixes. You can also find mushroom powder online.

Good luck! I hope you make it through this flu season unscathed.

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Margaret Cantwell

By Margaret Cantwell

Margaret Cantwell began her paleo diet in 2010 in an effort to lose weight. Since then, the diet has been instrumental in helping her overcome a number of other health problems. Thanks to the benefits she has enjoyed from her paleo diet and lifestyle, she dedicates her time as Editor of Easy Health Digest™, researching and writing about a broad range of health and wellness topics, including diet, exercise, nutrition and supplementation, so that readers can also be empowered to experience their best health possible.