10 Frugal Flu Remedies
Much as with other common illnesses, affordable flu remedies range from effective to ludicrous. Don't be duped into drinking a daily brew of chicken gizzards and vinegar simply because your grandma's miracle cure calls for it. There are plenty of legitimate flu treatments, many of which don't require a hospital visit, drugstore expenditures or gag-inducing concoctions.
Flu prevention is your best bet for staying healthy, and October into November is time to ensure your antibodies are pumped, primed and prepped to deal with whatever comes your way. Although flu season changes based on where you live, it generally hits stride in early November, peaks in January and begins to wane in late March. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides an interactive flu tracker to monitor where current hotspots are throughout the winter and spring.
Read on for 10 of the best treatments for seasonal flu, including everything from prevention ideas to natural flu remedies. Rest assured, none call for gizzards and only one includes vinegar.
Note: Aside from prevention, proper care is vital if you catch any flu strain. These suggestions aren't meant to replace a doctor's visit for any serious symptoms, so please, don't skimp when your health takes a turn for the worst.
1. Get a Flu Shot
A seasonal flu vaccine is the most cost-effective way to protect yourself. It's that simple. This year's treatment covers three strains, including H1N1. Most chain or local pharmacies offer the shot for under $30. The federal website flu.gov is a wealth of information for all things flu-related, including a database of clinics by zip code. Most accept walk-ins and insurance, including Walgreens and Safeway, so there's little reason not to stick the whole family. However, children under nine, adults over 50 and those with chronic illnesses are the most vulnerable and should be vaccinated immediately. Like, now.
If cash is an issue, try your local health department. Many offer free clinics for at-risk folks and their families. Look for most to participate in National Influenza Vaccination Week, Dec. 5 through Dec. 11.
2. Practice All-Around Hygiene
It's something mom has preached since you graduated from baby wipes to hand soap, but taking care of yourself through good, proper and frequent hygiene is indispensable. This list is infinitely expanding, but some of the most simple are regular and thorough hand-washing; coughing and sneezing into a cloth or elbow; cleaning frequently-touched surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards and phones; keeping hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth; and, if possible, avoiding close contact with sick people.
3. Soak Up Some Sun
It's a brave new vitamin world out there and perhaps one of the ultimate natural remedies, Vitamin D is one of only two naturally-occurring vitamins in humans. How can we literally produce our own well-being? Through sunlight. Vitamin D helps your blood maintain normal levels of calcium and phosphorous, which in turn is good for your immune system and overall health, all without pills or powdered drinks. Without regular sun exposure, adults miss out on the same amount of Vitamin D found in 50 glasses of milk.
Granted, sun can be hard to come across during the gloom of winter, but it only takes around 20 minutes of direct sunlight to boost Vitamin D production. For all you tan-aholics out there, the news only gets better. Any sun helps, but full-body exposure is best. Grab your bikini, brave the nippy air and bronze yourself to better health.
4. Eat Breakfast
Take a cue from Europeans and don't ditch this most important of meals, sans donuts and sugary cereals. Opt instead for well-rounded fruits like bananas, pomegranates, blueberries and raspberries (fresh if possible.) Also include a source of protein, such as cottage cheese or an extra glass of milk. One of my Mom's personal tips is to cook an egg in a bowl of oatmeal (as long as your cholesterol levels allow). It's both healthy and makes cheap oats more palatable.
Along with a regimen of well-rounded foods, multivitamins can fill in the gaps left by even the most conscientious diet.
5. Drink Enough Fluids
No, this doesn't refer to the daily glass of red wine meant to prevent heart disease. Staying hydrated, especially during the extreme weather swings typical of winter can stop the colds and coughs that often lead to the flu. Doctors recommend eight to 10 glasses of water per day, but going overboard hurts nothing more than your bladder control.
6. Use a Saline Nose Rinse
The thought of snorting saline (aka saltwater) makes many squirm, but think of it as a magic elixir in a squirt bottle. It's the safest, most reliable treatment for dry sinuses, chronic nasal infections and general stuffy nose -- all possible signs of an oncoming flu. Research from the University of Michigan shows two sniffs a day of homemade solution is more effective than an over-the-counter spray.
For your own mix, combine 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 8 ounces of warm water. You can find nasal spray bottles at most grocery stores or pharmacies.
7. Breathe Aromatic Steam
Body aches and pains separate paltry colds from the full-blown flu, making it hard to do much of anything. For temporary relief, aromatic steam can be a miracle worker. Fill your sink with hot water (enough so it steams consistently) and add a bit of fresh-chopped ginger, Vicks VapoRub or oil of eucalyptus. Drape a towel over the back of your head to capture the steam and breathe in for a few minutes, adding more hot water if needed. The various aromatics help open sinuses and relieve muscle tension.
8. Clean Home Surfaces
Keeping oft-touched surfaces germ-free during flu season is vital, especially if you have little ones. Unless you have a bald butler who looks suspiciously like Mr. Clean, chances are you're the one doing the scrubbing.
If DIY is more your thing, a simple bleach solution does the trick for most hard surfaces. Mix 10-parts water to one-part bleach in an old spray bottle and use for counter tops, toilet seats and sink basins. Be careful with this mixture, however, as it can be harsher than you expect. Use the spray sparingly on brass, faucets, telephones and the like, while keeping it away from cloth that would bleach out.
9. Use a Vinegar Regimen
The folk remedy of old, apple cider vinegar, isn't the miracle medicine some claim it to be. But just like vitamins and lifestyle choices, it can boost what your body is able to do naturally with very few side effects (aside from the fact you're drinking vinegar). Among other things, vinegar is most beneficial taken before a meal. It helps the body easily absorb minerals -- such as calcium -- that are difficult on some. It also improves blood flow by controlling blood-sugar levels.
To live out a strange "Fear Factor" fantasy, take a tablespoon of straight apple cider vinegar every day, preferably from a shot glass. For a more palate-friendly option, mix the same amount in a full glass of water and drink with your dinner.
10. Exercise and Rest
Who knew everything your mom and doc told you actually made a difference? Weird, but very true. Along with hygiene, eating right, and half the other tips on this list, adequate exercise and rest make a world of difference. The deeper stages of sleep help reboot your immune system and let your body heal metabolically. For affordable ways to maintain a bomb bod (inside and out) when the weather turns south, scour our post on "10 Frugal Fitness Tips For Winter."
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