Deep freeze on the outside, dry artificial furnace air on the inside - you've got to figure you're next in line to join the kleenex brigade. The critters that cause seasonal sneezes and the flu are having a field day right now, and if you want to avoid them you're going to have to deal strategically with winter's worst features.
Eating well is more critical than ever, especially after the holiday's excesses. To keep body and spirit functioning well, try to get out under the morning sun most days. Dry air can dehydrate the tissues in your nose, mouth and bronchial passages, making you more susceptible to viral invasion. Keep your water intake up, and get humidifiers installed at work and home. Getting too cold or too hot is stressful, so dress in layers and take things on or off as needed .
If you're in one of the high-risk categories of folks who could suffer severe complications from flu - that includes seniors and those with chronic illness and their caretakers, you might want to consider the flu shot. If you're otherwise healthy, holistic practitioners advise thinking twice before messing with your body's normal immune processes and introducing mercury (used as a flu vaccine preservative) into your system.
From an alt-health point of view, the flu spray (form of the vaccine) may be a better preventive, since it more closely mimics natural routes of infection.
If you do get sick, your basic recovery plan is lots of rest and water, herbal teas and clear veggie soups. Avoid proteins and fats if you've got a fever, and allow your body to sweat. Studies are unclear about whether echinacea is of any use at all once you're in the grip of a cold or flu. And goldenseal is more effective for bacterial than viral infections, and can inhibit flu recovery if you use too much at the outset of your illness.
Your best bets among natural remedies include homeopathics; Sambucol, a patented elderberry extract that has been shown to shorten the flu's duration in at least three studies; and beta-glucan , an immune-stimulant supplement. Adults can take 50 mg twice daily of the beta.
Finally, if you develop complications such as an ear or lower lung infection (yellow or green mucus), you need medical attention pronto.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"A very good product is Oscillococcinum. It's anti-viral. Take it twice a day at the first signs of a cold or flu, and it will help the symptoms go away. It's very effective and safe for kids, pregnant women and elderly people. There is a homeopathic product named Influenzinum that people can take with Oscillococcinum. It's a combination of the latest flu viruses, a good replacement for the flu shot. Coryzalia helps a runny nose. Another product, Roxalia, is good for a sore throat; usually one tablet is enough, taken up to six times a day. Everyone should try Stodal and Drosetux, cough syrups made of plants and homeopathics, before going to the chemicals. They will not cause drowsiness or drug interactions."
CRISTINA BERBECEL, homeopath, Toronto
"Even the stress of overindulgence this time of year can reduce immune function. If you get the flu, rest and fluids are paramount. After you're feeling well again, stay on your regimen for a few days. Otherwise, you might relapse. For fluid intake, water is best. You could use elderflower and berry, linden flower, camomile flower and peppermint teas. I work with my patients to teach them not to be afraid of fever (it can help raise immune response) and how to monitor it."
DANIEL NICHOLL, naturopath, Toronto
"Average healthy people can fight off influenza on their own. The main thing is not to infect others. People with influenza-like symptoms, stay home ! Cover your cough, wash your hands frequently and avoid contact with high-risk individuals: the elderly, people with any chronic disease, very young infants, people with cancer or asthma. Usually three to five days after onset most people are no longer contagious, but if you feel symptomatic you could still be contagious. We don't have any evidence that the thimerosol (contains mercury) in the flu vaccine has caused any detrimental effects. On the other hand, for people with underlying conditions, influenza can lead to pneumonia, even death. It's a matter of risks and balances."
ANNA BANERJI, MD, associate medical officer, Toronto public health, infectious disease specialist
"Lavender essential oil (pure, not synthetic) is a flu preventative. The best way to use it is in massage. The oil goes into the bloodstream and stays about 24 hours. Use 10 drops of lavender in 20 ml of carrier oil. Pregnant women and children should use 1 or 2 drops. Have an Epsom salts bath after aromatherapy massage. The massage stimulates the lymph nodes, and the bath helps carry toxins away. Lavender can be used every day. Ginger tea is exceptional for upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and body warming, so it's good for chills and muscle aches and pains. Eucalyptus reduces temperature and is a good preventative as well. (If the flu is going around) put a couple of drops in a pot of hot water, put a towel over your head and the pot, and inhale. It's contraindicated for pregnant women. For kids older than two, it can be diluted for use in a bath."
WENDY BURGESS, aromatherapist, Nature's Accolade, Uxbridge