7 Natural Ways to Beat Flu Season

7 Natural Ways to Beat Flu Season

Written by Alex Reid
Posted January 23, 2013

Along with the colder weather and the shorter days of winter comes the too familiar sound of coughing and sneezing that remind us it's also cold and flu season. Maybe you haven't gotten sick yourself but you've probably been exposed to someone who has, and as winter continues to approach that risk is only increasing. The best way to ward off illness this season is to keep your immune system in tip-top shape, and there are many products out there promising to do just that. Stick to these proven nutrients and you'll increase your likelihood of staying healthy during the most wonderful time of the year.

Vitamin C – This is the most important vitamin for supporting your immune system. Vitamin C increases the production of white blood cells which are essential to fighting infection. It also increases levels of interferon, an antibody that prevents the entry of viruses. A diet high in vitamin C has been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease as well as colon, prostate, and breast cancer.

Luckily, vitamin C can be found naturally in many different fruits and vegetables including oranges (and other citrus fruits like clementines), strawberries, kiwi, chili and bell peppers, broccoli, and more. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is between 75-90 mg/day for the average adult. However, this number increases when risk of illness is higher, and in people with less healthy lifestyles like those who smoke, consume high amounts of alcohol, or don't exercise. Some doctors recommend 200 mg/day of vitamin C.

Vitamin E – Vitamin E may not be as popular as vitamin C when it comes to advertising, but is just as important to a healthy immune system. Vitamin E stimulates the production of cells that kill germs and cancer cells. It also works to produce B-cells which create bacteria-destroying antibodies and is a general antioxidant. Vitamin E has also been shown to drastically reduce risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack, with one study at Harvard School of Public Health showing a fifty percent reduction in heart attack risk.

The RDA for vitamin E is only 30 mg/day but individuals should aim for between 100 and 400 mg/day. The less healthy your lifestyle, the closer you should be to 400. Many foods are high in vitamin E like sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts. Small amounts of it can also be found in spinach, broccoli, mango and tomato.

Vitamin A – Rounding out the “big 3” along with vitamins C and E is the immune-boosting vitamin A. Vitamin A is an antioxidant which helps maintain healthy skin, teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, and can help slow the aging process. Vitamin A has also been linked to increasing the number of infection-fighting cells in the body and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. However, too much vitamin A from a supplement can be harmful.

Beta carotene is a carotenoid which is converted into vitamin A by the body. It is ideal to obtain vitamin A by consuming foods containing beta carotene like cantaloupe, pink grapefruit, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, broccoli, and most dark green, leafy vegetables. In general, any fruits and vegetables intense in color (like orange, red, or green) have a higher content of beta carotene. Obtaining vitamin A naturally in this way prevents overdosing on the vitamin because the body automatically stops producing it when it has enough.

Zinc – An essential trace mineral, zinc increases the production of white blood cells and helps them become more effective and aggressive against infection. Studies have shown zinc supplements slow the growth of cancer.

As with the other vitamins, the best way to get zinc is naturally through your diet. The recommended dose is between 15 and 25 mg/day. Hearty foods like meat, nuts, and seeds are some of the highest zinc sources. These include oysters, roast beef, roasted seeds (pumpkin, squash, or watermelon), dark chocolate, crab, almonds, baked beans, and chicken. Some fortified foods like cereal can also be a good source of zinc but amounts vary depending on brand.

Garlic – This potent food has shown many promising immune-boosting effects in lab studies. It has proven effective against bacteria, viruses, and fungi and also supports the multiplication of infection-fighting cells. Theseeffects are thought to be due to the sulfur-containing compounds found in garlic. Garlic is also a heart-healthy food that prevents platelets from clogging blood vessels. Garlic can be ingested by eating it with other foods, or taken in supplement form. Many people prefer to take garlic supplements before going to bed to prevent having bad breath throughout the day.

Selenium – Selenium is necessary for the immune system because it increases white blood cells and mobilizes cancer-fighting cells. Studies have suggested that selenium can reduce risk for bladder, breast, colon, rectum, lung, and prostate cancers. Selenium can be found in foods like shrimp, lobster, tuna, whole grains, brown rice, egg yolks, cottage cheese, and chicken.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – These fatty acids help the immune system by increasing the activity of a specific kind of white blood cell known as phagocytes, which eat up bacteria. One study showed that children taking half a teaspoon of flax oil a day experienced fewer and less sever respiratory infections than their peers. Other foods that contain omega-3 acids include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Flax oil can be made more palatable by mixing it into a fruit and yogurt smoothie.

As stated, the best way to maximize the benefits of these nutrients is to obtain them through the foods you eat. A balanced, natural diet is the best way to maintain your health, and lose weight. However, there are a multitude of vitamins and supplements commercially available, some of which are better than others. While you should always consult your personal physician about starting a vitamin regiment, the scientits at VitaLab have ranked 101 of the vitamins out there based on their composition, bioavailability, synergistic effect, and potency. The study placed Total Balance by Xtend-Life, Ultra Preventive X by Douglas Laboratories, and Essentials by USANA Health Sciences as the top three choices. GNC's Mega Men Sport came in at 19th with Centrum Silver at 54th, and One A Day Essential at 57. See the complete list here.

Remember to pay attention to vitamin D as well when choosing a multivitamin for the winter months, as natural production of the essential vitamin can be difficult without the prolonged exposure to the sun that's available during the summer.

Keep these vitamins and minerals in mind and you'll be on your way to staying healthy all year long.


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