NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- First off, to answer two questions: Yes, there is a flu going around, and no, you're not totally screwed if you didn't get a flu shot.
Inoculations or not, chances are you or someone close to you will get sick this flu season, so the more weapons you have in your arsenal to fight it, the better. But you don't need to trudge to a pharmacy or get a shot from your doctor to protect yourself.
It's flu season, but you don't need to trudge to a pharmacy or get a shot from your doctor to protect yourself.
In many cases a simple trip to the local grocery store or a look into the crisper section of your fridge is enough to get you what you need to beef up your immune system in preparation for a viral invader.
We spoke with some nutrition and alternative medicine experts to get an idea of what germ-fighting solutions from normal household supplies can be used to
keep you happy and productive
as the temperature drops outside.
1. Spice it up
Sometimes when your body is feeling sick all you want is bland food, but Eric Grey, a Chinese medicine practitioner in Portland, Ore., and manager of
, says sometimes a bit of spice is just what the doctor (should have) ordered.
He recommends very strong ginger or licorice tea, which can be bought at most bulk food stores. And don't scrimp on your brew: It should be "strong enough to be quite spicy," Grey recommends.
And before you go crazy with any super-strong ginseng tea that your Facebook friend recommended, Grey says to be careful with self-medication.
"While there are fantastic over-the-counter Chinese herb remedies, they are not for everyone, and not for every cold and flu," he says. "Most practitioners would be happy to chat with you about it, usually for a relatively low cost, if not free."
2. Soup it up
It may sound cliche, but chicken soup, Grey says, is actually a fantastic remedy for a variety of reasons that may have nothing to do with chicken. For vegetarians, he says the equivalent effect can come from a hearty miso soup with some extra vegetables thrown in for good measure.
"Make a big pot and eat it as you can throughout -- chunkier if your appetite is good, thin broth if your appetite is bad," Grey says, explaining that "the fluids, as well as the easily available and assimilable nutrients, can help shorten your recovery."
3. Get salty
The best thing about salt, other than its simple tastiness, is that it's not a foreign substance that will shock your body in unexpected ways. Dr. Scot Andrews, a practitioner in New York, says it's the only thing he recommends to patients suffering from cold and flu symptoms.
"Gargle with salt water several times a day," he says, "and use a saline spray in your nose to clear out all the mucus. It's the best thing you can do for yourself."
There's a reason why you will find a number of
, as they've been proven as an effective way to clear out the sinuses and Eustachian tubes that result in clogged ears.
4. Get saltier
While the right soup can get that satisfying saltiness inside your stomach and saline solutions can clean out your passages, Epsom salt works on your cold from the outside when added to a nice hot bath. Known for stimulating the circulatory system and relieving the sore muscles that often come with illness and fever, Grey recommends them as a relaxing and therapeutic way to attack a flu from a different angle.
Available in health and beauty stores, a multiple-bath supply can be had for around $25 on
5. Extend the olive branch
It may be a symbol of peace, but many nutritionists swear by the medicinal properties of olive leaf extract, which has been studied in clinical settings
, a magazine about holistic medicine,
olive leaf extract as a miracle cure for a number of symptoms related to colds and flus, which has led to its reputation as "nature's antibiotic."
The extract usually
and is recommended in dosages of four pills a day, but as with any medication, be sure to consult with a health practitioner before taking any.
6. Feeling the healing
One misperception that Grey points to is many sufferers' belief that the only way to fight illness is to consume something. While it's important to monitor a high fever with your doctor, "don't just pop a pill at the first sign of fever-related discomfort," Grey says.
Instead, he recommends attacking the problem from the outside, by getting a massage from a friend or partner or doing "gentle joint mobilization exercises, even in bed," which will get blood moving and will ease body aches.
If you are able to go to a qualified Chinese medicine professional before you get sick, Grey adds, you can get an appointment for some acupuncture or even learn some acupressure techniques you can perform on yourself at home.
"I've seen dramatically shortened colds and flus when people get in right away
at the onset of the problem and I've also seen fewer secondary complications" such as coughs and sinus infections, he says.
7. Control the moisture
With the amount of dripping the average flu sufferer has to endure, it may seem counterintuitive that extra moisture is what you need, but plenty of doctors recommend steamy water vapor as one of the best ways to fight the problem.
Contributing doctors to
mention the soothing effect on a sore throat, as well as the benefit of keeping airways open when mucus and buildup tries to close them up. Whether it means letting the shower run on hot while you sit nearby, using a humidifier in your home or apartment or simply boiling a pot of water and draping a towel over your head to create a little steam tent for your head, there are a number of ways to
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