by guest blogger Deirdre Imus, author and environmental health advocate
With the holiday spirit come and gone and 2013 already entering its third week, there's only one winter milestone left to hit before we plod our way into spring: flu season.
Chances are many of you have already been feeling the flu's nasty effects. And experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the country's early flu season has not yet reached its peak.
Whether you've received your flu shot or not, there are some natural steps we can all take to ward off influenza and to protect our loved ones from the fever, cough, achiness, and general unpleasantness associated with this nasty bug.
1. Wash your hands
One of the most effective and easiest methods of flu prevention is something we should all do several times a day--simply because it's good manners. Do it after you use the restroom, of course, but also after you've shaken someone's hand, kissed hello, been on public transportation, attended a party, gone to the gym, and many other situations. You can never be too careful, especially this time of year.
2. Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is important in every season, but it is particularly useful in the winter. It's easy to forget to drink enough water in the cold weather, as we're not sweating as much as we do when it's warmer outside. Steadily drinking six to eight glasses of water a day can boost your immune system, keeping your body strong and ready to fight off illnesses all year round.
Like water, exercise has immune-boosting effects. It also enhances circulation, reduces stress, and offers another mode of eliminating toxins through perspiration, according to naturopathic doctor Amy Rothenberg. Of course, take care not to overdo it. If you're really sick, get plenty of rest and consult a medical professional before engaging in any physical activities.
4. Eat an organic, plant-based diet
Increase the amount of organic fruits and vegetables in your diet, particularly those high in vitamin C, such as papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and kale. To be safe, you can also take a vitamin C supplement. I recommend camu camu, a plant-derived antioxidant vitamin that is considered a top source of vitamin C.
5. Take a vitamin D supplement
Have your vitamin D levels checked with a simple blood test from your physician. If they're low, consider taking a vitamin D supplement to help prevent not only the flu, but also a host of other health conditions--like cancer and cardiovascular disease--that have been linked to vitamin D deficiency.
6. Enlist probiotics
As discussed in my Green Your Tummy blog, these so-called "good bacteria" in your gut have been shown to help fend off colds and the flu and can rebalance the bacteria we need in our bodies that can be destroyed by antibiotics. Probiotics come in pill form, and a typical dosage is in the billions of CF units, but you can also introduce probiotics into your diet through yogurt, miso, tempeh, kimchi, coconut kefir, and sauerkraut.
7. Try elderberry
Elderberry syrup is not only packed with vitamins A, B, and C, but it also stimulates the immune system, has been shown to prevent colds and the flu, and tastes delicious. At The Imus Ranch, we make elderberry syrup from scratch, but you can find a bottle at your local natural foods market. If you feel a tickle in your throat, soothe it with some elderberry tea.
8. Use essential oils
Essential oils are restorative, curative, and natural antibacterial agents. They also happen to smell pretty great. Diffuse grade-A essential oils throughout your home, or apply them topically to your skin. Apply some oregano oil to your back, chest, and the bottoms of your feet. Aside from being a natural antibiotic, it also has bacteria-fighting properties and is a powerful antihistamine.
9. Get your omega-3s
Rather than turn to fish oil for your health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, consider going right to the source and using marine phytoplankton instead. It's where fish get their omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids, as well as their vitamin A. You can enjoy the benefits by simply adding 10 to 15 drops into your water or juice.
If you find yourself getting sick every winter, it's important to change your habits, and not continue doing what you've always done.
The best defense is a good offense, right? This year, take control of your health and start warding off the flu before it rears its ugly head. Beef up your immune system, be kind to yourself, and protect the littlest and most fragile members of your family.
Deirdre Imus, founder of the site devoted to environmental health, dienviro.org, is president and founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center at Hackensack University Medical Center and cofounder/co-director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to FoxNewsHealth.com and Fox Business Channel.
This post originally appeared on foxnews.com
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com