Knowing how to prevent and treat the flu is especially important for keeping your family healthy. Fill your medicine cabinet with natural immune boosters to ward off the flu and other viral infections, says Dr. Susanne Bennett, contributing holistic health editor for Natural Child World Magazine. Give some of these natural immune boosting foods and herbs a try this season.
- Olive Leaf Extract: This extract prevents and eliminates viral infections. It's great for mild fungal and bacterial overgrowth. Olive leaf extract's antioxidant capacity is double that of green tea extract and four times that of vitamin C. "For children, look for olive leaf extract in liquid form," Dr. Bennett says. "It is easy to drop into applesauce or almond milk."
- Vitamin C: This common vitamin stimulates immune cells "that gobble up cold viruses and protects against free radical damage caused by infections," according to Dr. Bennett. It comes in chewable and liquid forms for kids. Be wary of high dosages, though, as vitamin C can cause loose stool and bowel irritation. Some great natural sources of vitamin C include oranges, guava, sweet red bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe and Brussels sprouts.
- Quercetin: Both an antioxidant and antihistamine, quercitin is naturally found in dark red and purple fruits like red grapes, blueberries and cherries. It's also found in broccoli, onions and green leafy vegetables. It reduces histamine release and inflammation, decreasing nasal congestion and post-nasal drip. It's also great for those with allergies and asthma who may be at more risk from the respiratory effects of the flu. It can be found as a chewable and in children's formulas.
- Garlic Extract: A well-known immune booster, garlic also helps fight off infections. Non-odor supplement formulas are available. You should take garlic extract when mild symptoms start, such as sore throat and nasal congestion, suggests Dr. Bennett.
- Andrographis: Well-known in traditional Asian medicine, andrographis is an immune system booster that fights viral infections. It's also known as Indian echinacea. It is not widely available, however, in pediatric doses. In adult dosages, it's available in capsule or tincture form at most health food stores. Andrographis, along with Siberian ginseng, is also a primary ingredient of the popular Scandinavian herbal cold remedy, Kan Jang.
- Zinc gluconate lozenges: These lozenges reduce the duration of symptoms of the common cold. A 2011 Cochrane Collaboration study found zinc administered within 24 hours of cold onset could reduce severity and duration of the cold or flu. It can also be preventative, with at least five months of supplements leading to reduced incidences of sickness. "Children's dosages come in lollipop form," Dr. Bennett says, and, "Avoid lozenges with sugar and food coloring."
- Elderberry extract: Elderberry extract (also known as “Sambucus Nigra") enhances the body’s immune system and works as an anti-viral and bacterial agent. "It can reduce mucous membrane swelling and nasal congestion," according to Dr. Bennett. It comes in liquid and pill form. Choose organic when possible.
[Editor's Note: Always consult with your primary care physician before adding herbs or supplements to your diet, particularly if you are already taking any prescription medicines.]
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