As we head into winter, many of us will experience the misery of cold and flu symptoms. The stress of the holiday season, dry indoor air, and shopping amongst crowds of people all increase our risk of getting sick.
In fact, influenza and the common cold cost the U.S. economy approximately $40 billion a year.
That’s the latest estimate from a recent Archives of Internal Medicine report submitted by Dr. Mark Fendrick with the Consortium for Health Outcomes, Innovation, and Cost Effectiveness Studies at the University of Michigan.
“Many people choose to get a flu shot while others prefer to review the data to see if that is the best decision for them,” Dr. Ellen Kamhi, Ph.D., R.N., author of the “Natural Medicine Chest.”
She notes that the flu vaccine does not offer guaranteed protection against influenza. In a typical year it is only about 63 percent effective in preventing influenza. In a bad year — such as the 2014-15 flu season, when the vaccine was not a good match for the viral strains that were most common — it is even less protective.
“[An] article that appeared in The Lancet reviewed 31 studies of people who received flu vaccines and concluded that evidence for protection in adults aged 65 and older is lacking,” she says. “A major report by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] concluded that the flu shot used in the 2014-2015 season was only 23 percent effective.”
Kamhi says that whether or not your decide that the flu vaccine is right for you, there are natural ways to help build your own immunity to reduce the chance of getting sick and make cold and flu illnesses less severe.
“Everyone gets a cold or flu at some point in his or her life but our high tech medical system still has little help to offer except the use of drugs that might suppress the all too familiar symptoms — runny nose, cough, congestion and fatigue,” says Kamhi. “These drugs, however, often have side effects such as drowsiness, or could lead to more serious complications.”
Herbal treatments for colds and flu focus on supporting the immune system to resist infection, relieving congestion and coughs, soothing a sore throat and quieting an upset stomach.
Here are Kamhi’s top picks: