Food as Medicine Can Help Get You Through This Rough Flu Season

By Jeffrey Field
February 2, 2018

Shitake mushrooms can help boost your immune systemThis year's flu season is already among the worst in recent memory, with widespread flu activity reported throughout the continental United States for the first time in 13 years.

Influenza is a viral infection of your respiratory tract that causes serious health problems and even death. It can spread through the air when someone who has it coughs, sneezes or speaks. You can also contract flu from touching an infected surface and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

Flu viruses evolve every year and seasonal flu strains are classified by the genes in their surface proteins. This year's dominant flu strain, H3N2, hits humans harder and isn't as easy to prevent.

Dr. Dan Jernigan, the influenza director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in seasons where H3N2 is the dominant strain, there are typically more cases, more doctor visits, more hospitalizations and more deaths, especially among older segments of the population.

This year's flu is also hitting the young especially hard, with 53 pediatric flu-related deaths reported nationwide as of this afternoon.

Jernigan said the CDC believes we're only halfway through the current flu season, which began in October.

Preventive measures, including hand washing, cleaning contaminated surfaces, avoiding contact with sick people and getting a flu vaccine, can all help keep you from getting sick in the first place. Sleep, hydration and good nutrition can also give your body the strength and energy it needs to help fend off viruses.

Nutrient-rich plant-based foods, bone broths and soups can all help the immune system. You'll also want to be sure you're getting good protein from such sources as lean chicken, turkey, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds.

Some foods also have additional medicinal qualities, says Dr. Yoon "John" Kim of Integrative Medicine at The University of Kansas Health System. Raw garlic, for example, has been shown to help fight germs, bacterial and fungi, and can also help clear up congestion related to colds and flu. Eating two garlic cloves a day can give your body an immune boost.

Scientists are also beginning to explore the immune modulating and immune-enhancing properties of medicinal mushrooms, which have long played an important role in Chinese medicine. Mushrooms can be prepared in a number of ways, but are most commonly stir-fried or used in soups, Kim said.

Shittake mushrooms, a large, earthy variety that's available fresh in health food grocery stores and dried in Asian grocery stores, have been shown to have anti-viral effects. Researchers are also looking into whether they can help prevent cancer.

Enoki and Maitake mushrooms can also help enhance the immune system. Kim said Enoki mushrooms can be found in most Asian grocery stores and Maitake mushrooms may be available in select or upscale grocery stores.

While better consumed as a food item, mushrooms are also available in powders and extracts. Cordyceps, for example, has been used as a tonic to help patients recovering from illness regain their strength.

Reishi mushrooms have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and beneficial for the immune system, Kim says.

Integrative medicine at The University of Kansas Health System can help you find the nutritional approach that's right for you. Call 913-588-6208 to make an appointment with a member of our team.

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