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Reducing transmission of the swine flu and the seasonal flu is an important part of flu prevention, but it is not the only way to lower rates of flu infection. Enhancing your immune system is arguably the most important way to prevent infection, and to improve your body’s own response to the flu if you do get infected, ensuring that you recover faster and suffer fewer consequences.

Some great ways to boost your body’s immunity are:

Sleep is one of the most influential forces on our immune system. Adequate sleep is integral to both flu prevention and flu treatment. A study published last year in the journal Health Psychology found that poor sleep was associated with a greater susceptibility to colds and flus. This fall and winter, make it a point to prioritize your sleep. Aim for at least eight hours.

Vitamin D, a vitamin that plays many roles in our bodies, also has an important influence on enhancing our immune system’s ability to ward off colds and flus. Research comparing individuals with adequate Vitamin D levels and those with deficient Vitamin D levels report that those with adequate levels have a lower risk of developing colds and flus, each season. Most Americans are Vitamin D deficient and require appropriate supplementation to reach adequate levels. It is important to work with your doctor to test your existing Vitamin D level to determine a safe and effective dose that will get your levels up in order to prevent this year’s flu, and help build healthy bones, improve mood, and prevent cancer and other chronic disease. Due to the risk of Vitamin D toxicity, it is not advised to supplement at doses higher than 400 IU, without a doctor’s supervision.

Dietary probiotics, otherwise known as the good bacteria that we find in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and kimchee, play an important role in the immune system, particularly the part regulated by our gut. In August, researchers at the University of Wisconsin published findings that show daily probiotic consumption was associated with fewer colds, lower fevers, a lower incidence of antibiotic prescription, and fewer missed school days due to illness in children. Probiotics can be taken in supplement form or eaten in food. A general recommendation for healthy children and adults would be to eat one fermented food a day before and during cold and flu season. If you prefer supplements, please talk to your doctor about where to find a high quality, effective probiotic.

Regular, moderate exercise
is also associated with increased immune function, reports an article published in January in the journal Frontiers in Bioscience. However, that’s not to say we should all go out and start running marathons. Intense exercise has actually been found to suppress the immune system and increase susceptibility to infection. Therefore, regular, moderate exercise that is appropriate for our body’s fitness level, should be part of a normal routine designed to optimize wellness and prevent infections.

Preventing transmission of the flu virus from person to person is also very important, and frequent hand washing  is part of preventing the spread of infection. However, using antibacterial soaps may not actually be beneficial to our body’s overall immune function. Antibacterial soaps kill close to 100 percent of the bacteria on our skin—meaning the bad bacteria and the good bacteria. Without the good bacteria keeping a healthy balance on our outer-most defense system, we are more susceptible to infection. Instead of using antibacterial soaps, use good old fashioned soap and hot water, make sure to thoroughly wash both sides of your hands, your wrists, and part of your forearms often.

When working to enhance the immune system and treat flus, it is also important to keep in mind that each individual’s system responds differently to lifestyle changes, supplements, and medications. Being patient with yourself and paying attention to the signals your body is sending you can be your best source of information with regards to how you can best optimize your health.

Dhurga Reddy is a licensed naturopathic doctor, practicing at Pacific Naturopathic in Palo Alto.