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Over 25 million Americans will get the flu this fall and winter. More than 150,000 of them will be hospitalized before they get better. So what’s the smart choice: a flu shot or a combination of natural prevention strategies? Read more


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Fight the Flu and Win!

January and February are typically the worst months for flu, when the highest volume of cases gets reported. In recent years, however, a growing number of us (particularly in big cities) have started reporting flu symptoms as early as October.


So it’s not too soon to learn what experts are predicting for 2010-11; and to decide how you want to protect yourself. Is a flu shot the smartest choice? Or can you truly rely on natural prevention strategies?


Regular flu? H1N1? What’s the difference? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): “The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.” The infamous H1N1 virus (commonly called “swine flu”) is a fairly new virus strain. The first case in the U.S. wasn’t detected until early 2009. Despite initial fears of a global “pandemic,” most people who caught the virus ultimately experienced it as a bad (but not terrifying) flu. Public health officials expect it to strike again this season, along with several other viral strains. They are most concerned about H3N2, a particularly virulent flu that is most dangerous to those 65 and older.


Is a flu shot the best answer?  Federal agencies as well as community-focused health institutions like the Mayo Clinic are recommending a flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age. This year’s flu shot is designed to protect against several kinds of flu, including H1N1 and H3N2. Still, vaccines notoriously fall short of guaranteed protection. Of those flu shots developed over the last 20 years, 4 of them failed to protect people from the most common viruses. And of the 16 so-called “adequate” vaccines, effectiveness averaged 70-90% percent among healthy adults. Put another way, the CDC reports a 10-30% failure rate, even in the best case scenarios. 


Does getting vaccinated protect those around me? The CDC maintains that when healthy people get vaccinated, there’s less virus circulating in the community. As a result, the especially vulnerable (older Americans, babies, pregnant women and those with chronic medical problems) are less likely to become ill. So if you’re frequently in contact with high-risk groups, you may want to take their health into consideration. And if you take an antiviral medication within 48 hours of the flu’s onset, the drug is thought to protect people around you. It will also provide you symptomatic relief and shorten the time you’re sick. 


Are there reliable natural alternatives? If you’re under 65 and quite healthy, you may decide to skip the vaccine. It will leave you at higher risk for catching the flu. Some would argue, though, that it can actually be good for you to have the virus, provided you’re in excellent health. Scientists have known for decades that following an infection, your body gains lifelong immunity to it. In addition, a successful "battle" against infection will strengthen your body’s overall immunity. You can also boost your body's flu-fighting ability by keeping these tips in mind:

■ Cleanliness: Without a doubt, cleanliness is the most powerful defense against all unwanted bacteria and viral infection. Wash your hands frequently, for example after touching doorknobs and telephones. Wash your bed linen weekly, in hot water, with detergent and bleach. Wash kitchen utensils in hot water because the flu cannot survive above 167º F.


■ Sleep: Sleep deprivation is a sure way to compromise your immune system, making it easier for any virus to enter your body. A number of research studies have confirmed the power of sleep and found that adults who regularly sleep less than 7 hours a night are 3 times more likely to catch the flu. By sleeping a little extra, especially between now and New Year’s, you may be able to boost your natural immunity enough to make the crucial difference.


■ Echinacea Tea: Throughout the fall and winter cold/flu season, try regular doses of this powerful and natural preventative (1 cup, at least 3 times per week). Echinacea increases your level of properdin, also known as Factor P, which activates the part of your immune system that specifically defends against viral attacks. In fact, since Echinacea is such a useful immune booster, you might decide to drink it year-round. 


■ Lemon Balm Tea: If you find yourself achy and fear that you’re coming down with the flu, jumpstart your immune system’s effort to break the fever by drinking lemon balm tea. It promotes sweating, which allows your body to effectively expel toxins. In addition, it’s great for burning through high body temperature, should you come down with fever due to cold or flu.

Amazing-Health Tip: (1) Flu shots are covered by Medicare for senior citizens and are generally covered by insurance for people in other high-risk groups. Otherwise,they cost $10-$50. (2) It can take up to 14 days for the vaccine to become effective; and it protects you for less than a year. So don’t rely on last year’s vaccine to prevent this year’s flu! (3) If you opt to have a flu shot, check here for scheduled availability near you (http://www.flu.gov/individualfamily/vaccination/locator.html).


The Recipe Box
Zucchini Bread Recipe

Zucchini Bread

  • 1 cup shredded raw zucchini

  • ½ cup peeled and grated raw apple
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ cup safflower or canola oil
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9x5 loaf pan.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon & nutmeg.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together oil, sugar, eggs & vanilla. Then add grated zucchini & apple and mix well.
  4. Add flour mixture and mix just until blended. Fold in coconut.
  5. Pour into loaf pan and bake in middle oven rack 50-60 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean).

Makes one loaf. (For holiday flair, add 1 cup fresh cranberries.) Loaded with Vitamin C, zucchini naturally promotes good immune function.

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