How to Build Up Your Immune System to Fight The Flu

Ugh. The dreaded flu. Influenza (the scientific name for the flu) is an upper respiratory infection that can result in symptoms like a dry cough, sore throat, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. And because it's spread by airborne virus cells, it's highly contagious.

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Although bed rest and fluids are typically recommended for treating the flu, wouldn't you much rather prevent yourself from getting the flu altogether? Boosting your immune system may help your body ward off the influenza virus, preventing you from contracting influenza (hallelujah!). And if you already have the flu, most of these tips can help you start to feel better quickly.

1. Cook with garlic.

As if you need another excuse to add garlic to your cooking, it may also help keep you healthy. Adding fresh, chopped or diced garlic to entrees, soups and side dishes may help boost your immune system, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. It also contains a chemical compound called allicin that may offer antiviral benefits, helping your body ward off the influenza virus.

Better yet, put it in some chicken noodle soup if you're already sick. A 2000 study published in the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, found the combination of ingredients in chicken soup (including garlic) have a mild anti-inflammatory effect on the body that reduces swelling in the upper respiratory system.

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2. Try a little traditional Chinese medicine.

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Try taking a supplement containing astragalus. This herb, native to eastern and northern China, may help boost immune system function to help your body destroy influenza virus cells, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. It may also prevent toxic damage to your liver, allowing this organ to effectively remove immunity-weakening wastes from your bloodstream. But make sure you talk to your doctor before taking astragalus supplements, as it may counteract immune-suppressing drugs.

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3. Get plenty of vitamin C.

You've probably heard this advice before, but that's because it works. Consuming foods rich in vitamin C (like kiwi, grapefruit, watercress, alfalfa, strawberries, oranges and pineapple) may improve immune system function and protect your body against the flu. "At the first sign of illness, take 500 to 1,000 mg of vitamin C every waking hour," says David Williams, M.D. "To avoid possible gastrointestinal upset, build up gradually by taking 500 mg every two hours on the first day and moving up to the higher dose on the second day."

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4. Take Ginkgo biloba.

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You can also try supplements containing Ginkgo biloba to help ward off the flu (or to help ease symptoms if you already have it). A 2013 study published in the Journal of Natural Medicine found that Ginkgo biloba leaf extracts contains an anti-influenza virus substances. This herb, native to China, may also enhance blood flow through your circulatory system, aiding in the delivery of vitamins and minerals necessary for immune system support.

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5. Schedule an annual flu shot.

Seems like a bummer to have to get a shot once a year, but isn't that better than getting the flu? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months should get the flu vaccine every season. That recommendation goes double for the very young and the very old, who are the most vulnerable to the flu's more dangerous side effects, which can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death.

Read more: If You're Sick, How Long Are You Contagious?

What Do YOU Think?

Have you ever had the flu? What did you do to treat it? Have you ever actively tried to prevent yourself from getting the flu? What did you do? Did you try any of the things on this list? Do you think you'll try any of them during the next flu season? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments section below!

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