6 Natural Flu-Fighting Remedies

How to beat and treat the flu with food and herbs as medicine.

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Influenza, AKA the flu, is a highly contagious viral infection in the respiratory tract. The worst part about it is that a person is contagious for about two days before symptoms appear and remains contagious for about five days after symptoms appear.

Yuri Elkaim
Yuri Elkaim
If you have ever had the flu, you understand how terrible it can be. As we move into flu season, it is important to focus on flu prevention as much as possible. Luckily, there are several natural remedies that can help prevent you from getting the flu and help you recover if you do. These natural remedies also decrease the likelihood of the flu turning into something worse such as pneumonia.

[Read: Flu vs. the Common Cold: Symptoms and Treatment.]

Below are several all-natural "flu fighters" you can use to keep yourself healthy and happy this flu season:

• Healthy Foods

When it comes to preventing the flu, what you eat plays a huge part. Your body's tissues and cells are essentially made out of the foods you consume. If you consume unhealthy foods, you will have an unhealthy body. Unhealthy bodies are not equipped to fight off illnesses like the flu.

Basically, what you need to do is stay away from processed foods. If it was made in a lab or factory, you do not want it in your body! Try to focus your diet on things that grew out of the earth. Fresh fruits and vegetables are fantastically nutrient-dense and will help fortify your body's flu-fighting defenses.

I understand that eating in this way can be a little tough around the holidays. When I say you need to eat healthy, that doesn't mean you can't indulge from time to time. If you eat health-promoting foods MOST of the time, your immune system should stay strong all flu season long.

[Read: Foods That Boost the Immune System.]

• Echinacea

Echinacea is antimicrobial, which means it fights microorganisms including viruses like the flu. Echinacea does not act directly on the virus itself but rather stimulates the immune system to fight the virus. It raises the white blood cell count and increases the body's inherent powers of resistance. Echinacea can also help to sooth and heal the mucus membranes in the nose, throat and lungs, which are often inflamed by the flu.

• Elderberry

Elderberry is high in antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Elderberry also helps to dry up mucus and bring it up from the lungs. This is particularly helpful for respiratory infections like the flu. It is also high in flavonoids, rutin and quercetin, which help to bulk up the immune response.

[Read: Bronchitis: When to Take it Seriously.]

• Goldenseal

An antiseptic, goldenseal reduces inflammation and fights microorganisms in the body. Goldenseal also has a healing affect on mucus membranes of the respiratory tract and can help to help to dry up mucus. It's also rich in alkaloids, which increase the immune response and activate macrophages, the type of immune cells that fight off viruses.

Goldenseal works well with echinacea in the treatment of respiratory tract infections. It can be used in rotation with or combined with echinacea directly. Many supplements come in this combination.

Caution: Goldenseal should not be used when pregnant, lactating or if you have high blood pressure.

[Read: Herbal Supplements May Not Be as Safe as They Sound.]

• Garlic

Garlic has been used for centuries as an antibacterial/antimicrobial agent. Once consumed, the garlic's oil is excreted through the lungs (think garlic breath!). This is the main reason it is especially effective in fighting off respiratory infections like the flu.

Garlic's characteristically strong smell is a result of sulfur compounds, which are beneficial to respiratory and circulatory systems. For the best immune support, garlic should be consumed in the diet regularly.

Garlic also acts as an expectorant, making it easier to cough up mucus and clear the sinuses.

• Oregano oil

Oil of oregano has two key ingredients, carvacarol and thymol, both of which have been shown to help fight and inhibit the growth of microorganisms. It has strong antiviral, antibacterial properties and helps to fight off infections.

Interestingly, oregano has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and four times more than blueberries!

[Read: Do You Really Need Antioxidants?]

• Zinc

The mineral zinc is involved in almost every metabolic process in the body, yet, due to improper farming practices, there is less in our fruits and vegetables than ever before. Zinc is involved in the growth, development and maintenance of body tissues. It is also needed for the synthesis of DNA, which is critical for healing.

Zinc is required for optimal immune cell function, and zinc deficiency can compromise white blood cell numbers. Many other elements of the immune system are also hindered by zinc deficiency. If you have frequent colds and infections, it could mean you have a zinc deficiency.

If you have the flu

If you have the flu, it is important to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Do not eat or drink dairy products as they increase mucus production. Finally, if you have a fever, drinking peppermint tea can help to decrease chills and increase perspiration, both of which will help to bring your fever down.

Hopefully, this list of "flu fighters" will keep you flu-free all season long.

[See: Pharmacist Recommended Vitamins and Supplements.]

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns and feedback.

Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN is a registered holistic nutritionist, fitness expert and highly sought-after high-performance health coach. He's also a former professional soccer player and served as the head strength and conditioning and nutrition coach for men's soccer at the University of Toronto for seven seasons. For more than 13 years, he's empowered more than 86,000 people to greater health with his no-nonsense approach to health, fitness, and nutrition. He's made it his mission to empower at least 10 million people to greater health and fitness by 2018. Get Yuri's free "Y-Factor" at www.yurielkaim.com.