From Green Right Now Reports

Now that the flu is rampant among us, present in every state of the US and widespread in 42 states, we’ve gathered together  some time-honored and scientifically proven ways to reduce your chances of catching the flu or a nasty cold. All of these tactics may also reduce its severity if you do succumb, though none are offered as a replacement for the flu vaccination, which is another way to build your antibodies to the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control strongly recommends getting the flu shot, which could even be considered a “natural” solution because it uses the flu virus itself to trigger the body to build its defenses. But a discussion of the pros and cons of the vaccination is a topic for another article. Here we’re looking at other ways to gird for battle when the flu, colds and unidentified crud winter illnesses are all around.

1 — Take Vitamin C

This vitamin, above all others, helps strengthen your immune system. Get it from citrus fruits and juices,  fortified juices, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and, you may not know this one, baked potatoes.

There’s no problem with taking Vitamin C supplements, but your body can only absorb so much in a given day. So those mega-dose C-packs may be  money down the drain. Stick with 500 mg. tablets.

Unless… you’re already coming down with a cold or the flu. In that case, mega doses of Vitamin C may provide some relief or mitigation of symptoms, as some studies, like this one,  have shown.

How it works: Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a natural  antioxidant that  that helps protect cells from being damaged by “free radicals”, which are compounds produced by our body after being exposed to toxics and air pollution. So think of Vitamin C as a key cell helper and immune system builder. And, as with many vitamins, getting your C from food may be the best health protector. Emerging science shows that people who get a lot of Vitamin C from fruits and veggies may have a lower risk of lung, breast and colon cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.

A bonus: Vitamin C helps you absorb iron, needed for blood health, specifically the production of red blood cells and the white blood cells which rally to defend your body from viral and some bacterial intruders.

Here’s a cool video of a white blood cell chasing down a bacteria and consuming it:

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2 — Eat garlic

Garlic, known as the natural “flu fighter,” contains allicin, a natural anti-viral compound that many believe shores up disease defenses. The science debate over how much garlic helps fend off respiratory disease is not settled, but the anecdotal evidence is strong and enduring. Garlic has been used for centuries to deter flu-like infections. Gravediggers drank crushed garlic in wine to protect them from the plague in 18th Century France, according to this University of Maryland Medical Center article about garlic’s many health virtues.

You probably have heard about how garlic also can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack by thinning the blood. That’s great news, unless you’re already taking prescribed blood thinners, then, speak with your doctor.

Studies also have found that people who eat a lot of raw and cooked garlic have a significantly reduced risk of colorectal and stomach cancers. So keep that Mediterranean diet going.

Crush fresh garlic cloves to release the allicin and incorporate these into recipes, or if your taste buds agree, add raw garlic cloves to salads and other dishes. Too stout? Supplements of garlic extract or tinctures may do the trick. Many reports, however, suggest that raw garlic seems to work best as a cold and flu fighter.

3 — Wash your hands

Remember President Obama washing his hands for the media during the scary swine flu episode in 2009? Whatever your politics, that was good advice. Hand washing can help keep you flu-free even as you hang out with potentially contagious people at school and work.  Think of water and soap (please, no need for anti-bacterial soaps that create worse problems) as placing a barrier between you and the viruses and bacteria that have settled on people, door handles and elevator buttons.  Those alcohol- or herb-based hand sanitizers can work as well.

If you have a tendency to rub your eyes or chew your nails, delivering germs to the rest of your body, hand washing will be a great help (as will ceasing the habit of chewing your nails or rubbing your eyes!).

“Frequent hand washing is a must, denying viruses a foothold,” pronounces an article on preventing the flu in the Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) magazine . The piece also wisely counsels to avoid contact with anyone who’s just had the flu, because they may still be contagious. Keeping your distance and skipping the hand shake can be forgiven at this time of the year.

But hand washing is not a panacea. Some scientists have warned that flu viruses, which spread by airborne particles, are not necessarily outwitted by hand washing.  A face mask would provide better protection, they say, and even that may prove insufficient in the midst of a large flu outbreak.

Our take? If you’re flying in a plane or spending a long time in another confined space with a variety of people, risk ridicule before you risk your health, use the face mask.

4 — Stay fit

It might seem like a no-brainer, be healthy, stay healthy. But this is another truism, good health can help stave off bad health.

First, maintain an exercise plan that’s calibrated to keep you active, but don’t over-reach. Plunging into a rigorous routine that’s outside your comfort zone, may actually increase your risk of coming down sick by turning you into a stressed-out virus magnet.

5 — Eat healthful “DIM” foods

Next, eat healthfully, obviously, and specifically, keep cruciferous foods on the table.

Kale, broccoli and cauliflower are helpful to immune systems because of a compound they contain known as DIM. This compound, created by the phytonutrients and anti-oxidants in these particular veggies, nourishes your body’s ability to defend itself against viruses and bacteria. Yes that’s another acronym to remember — and watch out, the Internet is ablaze with buzz about DIM and the supplements containing it. We’re thinking: Just eat these winter vegetables. And isn’t it interesting that these are winter garden offerings? Trust Mother Nature.

6 — Drink water

Drink plenty of water, which washes out viruses and bacteria and helps keep all systems operating optimally. You already know to do this when you’re sick. Practice it when you’re healthy to stay above the fray.

7 — Get Vitamin D

This is a relative newcomer to the immunity arsenal. We know we need Vitamin D for energy, now scientists are saying it helps support the immune system and offers anti-viral assistance. We also know that many of us come up short on this one, especially in the winter, and when we’re over 65.

The rule of thumb of sitting in the sun for 20 minutes on a sunny day is hard to follow-through with in the deep of January. But you can get Vitamin D from your diet. It’s in mushrooms, white fish, salmon, sardines and tofu. Milk is another source.

Vitamin D supplements can help, but the consensus is that foods and sunshine, in small doses, works best.

8– Get Vitamin A

The best sources are orange foods, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, which are rich in beta carotene, which contains Vitamin A. Like Vitamin C, A is a key antioxidant that helps keep your cells in fighting shape.

9 — Get Zinc

We see zinc products lining pharmacy shelves. Does zinc work? Studies say yes, zinc  can help thwart or lessen flu symptoms. It’s an important soldier in the body’s army of defenses against bacteria and viruses, and because we don’t store it up well, taking a zinc lozenge can help provide the body something it needs when it’s vulnerable.

How to get zinc: Eat lean red meat or poultry, and/or oysters — the champions of zinc, oysters contain more zinc per serving than anything else. Vegetarian sources of zinc include cashews, almonds, pinto beans, kidney beans and fortified cereals.

Here’s a video with Dr. Lindsey Duncan, a naturopathic doctor, who’s also a certified nutritionist, discussing zinc and other natural flu fighting compounds in foods:

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10 — Get enough rest

Your parents harped about this when you were in high school or college, and you came to believe it was an apocryphal piece of advice. But copious research on sleep supports the idea that adequate rest supports the body’s immune system.  Conversely, sleep deprivation leads to a suppression of the body’s immune responses. So if you’re under-slept you’re putting yourself at greater risk of getting a cold or flu.

WebMD turned to Dr. John Park, a pulmonologist who specializes in sleep medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to explain.

“We know that our immune response is suppressed when we are sleep deprived and that we develop less [he means fewer] antibodies to certain vaccines if we are sleep-deprived,” Park says. “It takes longer for our body to respond to immunizations, so if we are exposed to a flu virus, we may be more likely to get sick than if we are well rested when vaccinated.”

You’ll notice that Park also advocates getting vaccinated. Your decision. But shot or not, you’ll do well, and possibly stay well, if you get plenty of rest, eat foods rich in Vitamins A, D and C,  get zinc in some form and wash your hands often. Now go munch on some garlic.