It’s early fall. The air turns cool; we start to enjoy changing leaves and apple cider. And we hope to God we don’t get the flu this year. Winter is known as flu season because it is, without a doubt, the time of year this viral illness is most common.
We start hearing a lot of calls for vaccination, and people begin heading to their nearest Quick Care in droves. But could conventional medicine be missing an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to flu prevention? Let’s take it back, way back, to a guy named Louis Pasteur who kind of started our whole germ obsession.
Ancient Guys and Their Theories
You’re probably familiar with Louis Pastuer, the man famous for developing the idea of germ theory: the seemingly common-sense idea that disease is caused by the microbes we’re exposed to. This idea led to a lot of important work, like the creation of vaccines and antibiotics that were able to prevent and cure the prevalent and deadly diseases of the time. This was a big deal, and our life expectancies shot way up.
Of course, we know that the tenets of this theory are accurate. Bacteria and viruses can cause disease. But it’s only part of the story.
Take it back to Pasteur’s day, and there was another guy who gets talked about a whole lot less. Claude Bernard proposed terrain theory, the idea that the state of the body plays a huge role in determining whether or not we get ill. It offers us the essential flip-side that Pasteur overlooked and that modern medicine misses today.
It explains why two people can both be exposed to the same germs (think hanging out with the same friend who coughs flu virus your way) and one can get sick, while the other never does.
This second piece of the puzzle is way too important to ignore. A focus on germs alone causes us to villainize microbes, which we’re learning are essential for life and health. The majority of microbes are actually beneficial or harmless to us. But most importantly, a strategy that ignores the body’s role in preventing illness won’t be as effective as one that places it front and center.
Boosting the Terrain to Prevent Flu
The primary idea we can take from terrain theory for flu-prevention purposes is that the way we take care of our body can either strengthen or weaken the body’s ability to defend itself. Some lifestyle choices strengthen our immunity, while others suppress it. Winter doesn’t have to be a time of constant sickness, and you’ll find that the better you take care of yourself, the less amount of time you’ll tend to spend sick.
Let’s jump into the top factors that can impact your body’s immunity, and outline a practical strategy for preventing the flu naturally. This strategy includes easily-accessible lifestyle interventions and my top recommended supplements for boosting immunity during the winter months.
Your Natural Flu-Prevention Rx
So often I see recommendations by my natural health idols including a list of 15 supplements and herbs that are great for doing this or that. But they don’t explicitly tell me if I need to take them all, or which ones I really need to take, or how much, and it’s all very confusing.
Because, let’s face it, I can’t afford to go buy 15 supplements and can’t even imagining getting that many down in a single morning. I imagine you feel very much the same way, which is why I’m breaking it down to those supplements I think are most important for supporting your body’s innate immunity, and giving you specific dosage instructions. And because the quality of the supplement is crucial, I’ve provided my top product picks.
It can be difficult to get all the vitamins and minerals we need from our diet, making it important to take a quality, food-based supplement to fill in the gaps. This is a good first step even if you’re diet is absolutely on point because modern commercial farming practices deplete our soil, leaving the produce that grows in it with smaller amounts of nutrients than they would have had several decades ago. A multivitamin, along with your diet, lays the foundation of your health, providing the fuel for all your body’s essential functions.
Dosage: One daily
Product Pick: Rainbow Light, Women’s One Multivitamin
- Vitamin C
The importance of Vitamin C supplementation was suggested decades ago by two-time nobel-winning chemist Linus Pauling. His insistence on the protection this vitamin could give led to him being rejected by the scientific community that had previously lauded him as a great scientific thinker. Pauling isn’t around to see it, but modern research is confirming what he found, that supplementing vitamin C does provide better protection against colds and flu by improving your immune system’s ability to respond.
Dosage: 500 mg (2 gummies) per day
Product pick: Rainbow Light Gummy Vitamin C Slices, 250 mg
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an incredibly common deficiency in developed countries like the US. One study found that 57 percent of adults are deficient in this vitamin that’s critical for immunity, mood, and so much more. Sunshine triggers our bodies to make this substance, so the winter months are especially problematic, and not too many foods contain large amounts of the vitamin, making supplementing important for your health.
Dosage: Start with 2000 IU (2 gummies) per day
This is one of the few vitamins we require that are fat-soluble, meaning any excess isn’t flushed as easily out of our bodies with water, but is stored in our body’s fat. This means we can experience symptoms of overdose if we get too much, making it ideal to have blood tests periodically to ensure that your blood levels of vitamin D are between 50-70 ng/mL. The amount of IU you need to take to achieve this blood volume varies by individual, but 2000 is considered a good starting-point.
Product pick: Rainbow Light Vitamin D3, 1000 IU Sunny Gummy
- Elderberry & Echinacea Syrup
Elderberry and Echinacea are two of the most popular herbs for immune support, with good reason. Both have research supporting their effectiveness at improving immune function and protecting the body in the face of the cold and flu. Add these herbs to your daily routine in the winter months to give your immune system an extra boost. They can be found in a variety of forms, but I like this syrup by Immune Zoom.
Dosage: Take 1 tsp twice per day
Product pick: Immune Zoom with Echinacea & Elderberry, 8.4 fl oz
- Immune Tonic
Urban Moonshine’s Immune Tonic extract blends red reishi mushroom, astragulus, ginger root, licorice root, codnopsis root, maitake, eleuthero root, and schisandra berry. These herbs provide both a boost to your immune system and help your body adapt more readily to the many stresses you’re facing, both physical and emotional. Feel free to choose either the elderberry/echinacea blend above or this one, or take both daily for extra strength.
Dosage: Take ½ tsp once or twice per day.
- Cut back on sugar and alcohol.
Sugar consumption has been found to decrease the responsiveness of neutrophils, white blood cells vital to our immune response. This is likely because sugar causes an inflammatory response in the body, leaving those neutrophils a little preoccupied cleaning up the mess they’ve already got on their hands when an invader comes along. As for alcohol, heavy drinking has been found to impair the functioning of both dendritic cells and T-cells, two big players in your immune system. Have a drink now and then, but practice moderation.
- Think veggies.
Focusing on nutrient density is super important when trying to build up the strength of the body’s functioning. This is where the body gets the fundamental building blocks that fuel everything going on inside. Nutrient deficiencies that come from a diet high in processed foods and low in whole grains and veggies weakens our overall health, including our immune functioning. Get a variety of nutrients in by including a rainbow of veggies in your diet, from slurping green smoothies to throwing some veggies in with your breakfast eggs.
We hear it all the time, to the point where I think we sometimes think it’s just a trite saying. But sleep is huge for health in general and avoiding illnesses like the flu in particular. Studies find that those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to become ill when exposed to viruses and bacteria. Cytokines, proteins needed to prevent infection, are produced when we sleep at night, and less sleep equals less infection-fighting potential. Aim for at least 8 hours a night, and make getting it a priority.
We know that “flu season” doesn’t make being sick all winter inevitable. It’s a time to check in and make sure we’re taking care of our bodies the way we need to be all year long. It’s a time to make sure our terrain is at its optimal best, strong and ready to take on any intruders. Put your focus on improving the health of your body and strengthening its immunity, and you’ll find yourself spending less time sick this winter and more time doing all the things you love.
Have a favorite natural flu-prevention strategy? Let us know below!