Bid the Flu Adieu
It's an all-too-familiar story: You wake up feeling fine, but within hours you're overcome with muscle aches, fever, or a painful sore throat. These are just some of the telltale signs of influenza, aka the flu.
Every year in the U.S., millions of people catch the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But you don't have to be one of them. We spoke with Michele Leder, MD, an internal medicine physician in New York, and Robin Miller, MD, who is both an internist and an integrative medicine specialist in Oregon, to learn some reliable ways to prevent the flu. Here's how to stay healthy during flu's prime time.
1. Watch Your Diet
Experts agree that maintaining a healthy diet is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick from the flu. As a Cooking Light reader, you know that means getting plenty of produce, whole grains, and lean protein. Miller also stresses the importance of limiting added sugars because they contribute to inflammation. And Leder recommends avoiding alcohol. "It's an immunosuppressant," she explains, "and a lot of over-the-counter remedies may contain some amount of alcohol."
2. Skip the Cinema
Flu viruses spread when infected people cough, sneeze, or even talk, sending tiny droplets into the air that can land in your nose or mouth. But steering clear of infected people isn't so easy, as the virus may be contagious a day before symptoms develop, according to the CDC. That's why Leder recommends avoiding crowded places, such as movie theaters, and going grocery shopping during nonpeak hours.
Another way you can get the flu is by touching a surface that has the virus then touching your nose or mouth. Experts stress the importance of frequent handwashing with soap and water or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to reduce your risk.
3. Move Your Feet
Stress can be detrimental for your health. "Chronic stress causes a continuous outpouring of cortisol, which leads to inflammation in your body, which puts you at risk for infections, including the flu," Miller says. She's an advocate of walking to release stress and boost the immune system. But if you feel too time-strapped to make daily walking a priority, Miller recommends an inexpensive, pedal-only "bike" that can fit under a desk or in front of your favorite chair (search "pedal exerciser" on amazon.com for a few options). Or obtain those step goals in smaller increments—it all adds up.
4. Consider These Supplements
The doctors both agree that eating a healthy diet means getting your nutrients from foods, not pills. But Miller says there are some supplements that may help fortify your body's defenses.
Vitamin D - Miller recommends getting your level tested (it's a simple blood test) and talking to your doctor about a supplement if you're low. Foods rich in vitamin D include canned tuna, sardines, egg yolks, fortified milk, and vitamin D–enriched mushrooms (look for prepackaged varieties that indicate enhanced vitamin levels on their labels. These types are grown in sunlight to naturally boost D levels).
Probiotics - These good bacteria may promote a healthy immune system. They naturally live in your gut, but you can also get them in supplements and some foods, including yogurt. But remember, Miller says, "There's no fast track to immune health. You have to eat healthfully."
Do You Really Need a Flu Vaccine?
You've probably thought about skipping the flu vaccine. Don't. Even if it's only around 60% effective—as it was for the 2015–2016 season—it's "certainly better than zero percent," Leder says. According to the CDC, most people 6 months and older should get an annual flu vaccine. Learn more from the Center for Disease Control.