Sick season is in full swing and severe at that. Still, a majority of adults opt out of getting the flu shot and may instead find themselves reaching for one of these natural options.
While the words "flu shot" are usually first out of the mouths of anyone advising on preventive measures, I've yet to be proven wrong in my refusal to get one (knock on wood, and then wash your hands), which only perpetuates my stance, year after flu-free year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I'm not alone, with roughly only one third of American adults being vaccinated as of November, even in this doom and gloom flu season of epidemic proportions and reported inoculation accuracy.
Those stats for shot avoiders are pretty typical, so it looks like I also won't be the only one reaching for the closest remedy should luck run out and symptoms set in. Wouldn't it be nice if that cure came in simple supplement or recognizable food form? I'd certainly prefer that to a Contagion-reminiscent trip to urgent care, as one colleague recently described it. Enter—the backup arsenal.
Whether as homemade tea, syrup or an off-the-shelf solution like Sambucol, the flu-fighting black elderberry contains vitamins A, B6 and C, calcium, iron, along with the flavonoid quercetin. Though it appears there aren't many recent studies showcasing elderberry's efficacy, the plant was the leading immunity botanical during the H1N1 pandemic, with sales up nearly 53 percent over the previous year to $7.48 million between August 2009 and August 2010.
One blog suggests that this potent natural remedy warrants caution due to the fact that it's shown to increase inflammatory cytokine production, which implicates elderberry in activating the healthy immune system but can also complicate matters where autism spectrum disorders, among other conditions, are concerned. Point being: Just because it’s something we can put in pie doesn't mean we should overlook its powerful medicinal potential and fail to tread lightly when using it as such.
Other food flu fighters
A recent call for home cold and flu remedies in Natural Foods Merchandiser elicited elixirs from the likes of a greens-filled mason jar to an alternative "cold & flu shot" containing ginger, oregano, turmeric, olive leaf, Echinacea and cayenne pepper served in a shot glass fit for a juice bar.
Some of the usual suspects—lemon, garlic, ginger and zinc—make for recurring ingredients, but color me somewhat surprised by the cayenne… I mean, we're trying to stave off the flu, not embark on the Master Cleanse here. This Health Goes Strong article reports that sprinkling dried cayenne pepper on a salad or taking 10 drops per day in liquid form can alleviate congestion and thin nasal passage mucus. The story also points to apple cider vinegar, sprouted garlic and onion, osha root and cruciferous vegetables as good intake ideas for immunity's sake.
"The strong connection between digestive and immune health is driving the creation of immune-support products based on probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes and other ingredients commonly found in gastrointestinal health products," wrote Functional Ingredients' Todd Runestad. In addition to boosting overall immunity and helping prevent upper respiratory infection, a recent clinical trial suggests that probiotics can also bolster the flu shot. Examining the effects of two probiotic strains on immune response to flu vaccination, those subjects on the probiotics had increases in vaccine-specific immune responses along with higher antibody concentrations.
"By adding probiotic bacteria to the body, we help the body's natural immune system to strengthen our response to both viruses and bacterial invasion," said Vidazorb Founder Frank Hodal, who goes on to say that regular use of a probiotic will help maintain a gastrointestinal bacterial ecology that is essential for optimal health.
In writing this, I came across a few rather interesting flu-prevention and treatment options I'm intrigued to test, like the idea that nose blowing actually interferes with the body's ability to fight germs. Runny-nose-ailed individuals are encouraged to wipe instead of blow, the latter of which can reverse mucus flow back into the sinuses where it actually slows drainage, leaving germy boogers there to do their thing.
Another writing suggests that a humidifier might be of help, as influenza is more likely to survive low-humidity conditions. Huffpost Healthy Living chimed in with a gallery of 10 natural ways to boost the immune system, offering up laugher and massage as two particularly appealing options to improve your chances.
What are your go-to ingredients or tactics to ward off the flu? Share in the comments.