Preparing for the Flu Season

Hayrides, Halloween, and a harvest moon…all are welcome October visitors in my book. Unfortunately, in addition to those trick-or-treaters, this month also brings an unwanted visitor to your doorstep too — October is the official start of the flu season in the US. Over the next several weeks, you’ll probably see people lining up to get their flu vaccines as the CDC is warning that we could see a fairly active influenza season.

Flu shots have become a hot-button issue…and we’re not going to push that button here today,  Instead, I want to have a discussion about natural ways to improve your immunity and the steps you can take to help keep the flu from having it’s way with you this year.  

First, It is important to realize that any infection is a relationship between an organism (like a virus) and a host (like you). It’s equally important to understand that the outcome of that relationship is determined by factors that are related to both the aggressiveness of the organism and the defense system of the host.  

When it comes to managing infections, mainstream medicine tends to focus much more on trying to eradicate the organism…often at the expense of the host. This “anti-organism” approach ignores a fundamental reality of infectious disease and immunology:  A healthy host can defend itself against many of the most common organisms. In fact, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that a competent immune system can ward off even the most dangerous organisms.  

Improving host immunity can have a huge impact on the frequency, severity, and duration of any infectious episode. With that in mind, here are some practical steps and all-natural remedies that can help you steer clear of the flu and other infections this year.

Lifestyle Tips for Flu Prevention

  • Frequent handwashing (especially if you are around kids).
  • Have a balanced sleep routine. Not getting a good night’s rest can really undermine the immune system.
  • Too much stress impairs your defenses. When your “fight or flight” response is continually activated — and your system is constantly flooded with hormones like cortisol — the immunity you need to fight off infection and disease gets put on the back burner.
  • Eating a whole food, plant-based diet will keep your immune system functioning optimally.
  • Avoid excess sugar. A high glycemic diet can weaken the immune system and increase the risk .

Botanical Remedies

  • Elderberry. Several studies have demonstrated the immune enhancing and antiviral effect of elderberry extract. One of the most popular over-the-counter elderberry products is Sambucol, which can shorten the severity and duration of colds and flu.  
  • Echinacea. Native American used the echinacea plant to treat a variety of ailments and more modern research has verified that at it is safe and effective in both influenza prevention and treatment.
  • Medicinal mushrooms.  Medicinal mushrooms are the next big thing in herbal medicine…especially when it comes to immune support. Studies have shown that both Reishi and Cordyceps mushrooms can combat viral infections and fight off the flu.
  • Larch. An extract called “arabinogalactan” derived from the Larch tree has shown promise as an antiviral and immune-enhancing medicine. A number of studies have found that Larch Arabinogalactan has immune-boosting properties that can help people fight off colds and infections.

Nutritional Supplements

  • Vitamin C is so safe…and such an important nutrient in human biochemistry that I recommend it frequently. Research has shown that it may help prevent and shorten the course of colds and the flu, in some studies by as much as 85 percent. The late, great Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist, was famous for touting the benefits of Vitamin C and he was definitely onto something. L-ascorbic acid (the scientific name for the vitamin) is a powerful antioxidant that is essential to cellular growth and repair throughout the body. Because the body cannot manufacture Vitamin C on its own, and it is not stored in the body, it is critical to eat a variety of Vitamin C-rich foods like organic broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, tomatoes, oranges, grapefruits, and strawberries every day to keep your immune system functioning at its best. 1-3 grams per day is a reasonable dose for most people.
  • Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that boosts your white blood cells (leukocytes) and their ability to fight infection. These leukocytes are the linchpin of your body’s immune system, which helps you recognize viral or bacterial invaders and fight them off. Vitamin A is widely distributed in healthy foods like: dark leafy green vegetables, carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and apricots as great sources of Vitamin A. I prefer my patients to find their Vitamin A in foods, because Vitamin A taken as a supplement in large doses can cause liver problems.
  • Zinc deficiencies are known to cause immune system dysfunction. Today, commercial farming practices have led to mineral-depleted soil. That means many people are not getting enough zinc, which is critical for enzymatic reactions that keep your white blood cell count high and your immune system strong. I recommend sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, unsweetened chocolate, oysters, and nuts like almonds, cashews, and peanuts as excellent ways of getting this vital nutrient. Typical doses are in the range of 15-30mg daily with food.  More than that can cause nausea.   
  • NAC is an abbreviation for N-Acetyl-Cysteine which is an amino acid and one of my all-time favorite nutritional supplements. It has been shown to improve antibody function and decrease the risk of getting sick from influenza.  It also helps to think out respiratory mucus which can help people with any type of upper or lower respiratory infections. And it is a powerful detoxifying agent which can help the liver get rid of unwanted toxins…an increasingly important issue in today’s toxic world. Typical doses are in the range 1200-1800 mg per day, usually taken in divided doses like 600mg three times per day or 900 mg twice per day.  (Note/Warning: NAC contains sulfur so it smells a bit like rotten eggs when you open the bottle.)

 A holistic approach looks at relationships, not just the parts in isolation from one another. In my view, focusing exclusively on a viral agent — in this case the flu — misses the other side of the equation… treating the host.

An encounter with the influenza virus is something you’ll want to avoid.  

Stay strong…and take good care,

Dr. Joshua Levitt


PS: Here’s a  love letter that I hope you do not get this year…enjoy  😉

I will seek and find you

I shall take you to bed and have my way with you.

I will make you ache, shake & sweat until you moan & groan.

I will make you beg for mercy, beg for me to stop.

I will exhaust you to the point that you will be relieved when I’m

finished with you.

And, when I am finished, you will be weak for days.

All my love,

*The Flu*