If you read the newspaper or watch much TV, you will be inundated with information about antiviral drugs and vaccines and so forth and so on, but the bottom line here is you won’t catch the flu if you aren’t infected with the virus.

The two most common ways in which a virus is transmitted is by touching something that is contaminated and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes, or by breathing in viral germs that are suspended in the air after someone who is already sick coughs or sneezes.

Nothing beats old-fashioned hygiene when it comes to preventing the flu – this is very important to remember.

Aside from hand washing and covering up when you sneeze, many of the other most effective preventive measures are also among the simplest… beginning with building up your immune system.

Here are four things you must address if you want to have a healthy immune system:

  • Stress – it is no secret in the medical profession that stress compromises your immune system, primarily by causing your body to produce more of the hormone cortisol, which in turn hampers the ability of white blood cells to fight infections. You can manage stress with exercise, meditation, yoga, rearranging your schedule to get more rest, or a combination of these and other activities. All that’s really important is to find a system or a program that works for you, and then stick with it.
  • Sleep – getting the proper amount of rest on a regular basis is often easier said than done, especially for those of us with families and a hectic work schedule. Still, it is very important to make the effort. If you find that your personal situation oftentimes makes it impossible to get a good seven to eight hours of sleep each night, try making the time for a brief nap – even 15 minutes can work wonders – during the day. It’s a fact that a rested body is a healthier body.
  • Exercise – it is extremely important to get your body moving – and get it moving now – if you want to have a healthy immune system. In the first place, exercise will help you shed any excess fat you might have. Excess fat reduces respiratory function and readily stores toxins that are damaging to your immune system. Exercise will also reduce stress, which we’ve already identified as a drain on the immune system. The beauty of exercise is that it covers any number of activities, from gardening and swimming to walking. If you can do a form of exercise that gets you outside into the fresh air and sunshine, your body will benefit greatly – your brain will de-stress and your skin will make immune-strengthening vitamin D; furthermore the extra oxygen will be good for your lungs. Just do it often.
  • Water – your body’s cells require a lot of water to work properly, with the standard recommendation being that you drink approximately 2 litres each day. One of the easiest ways to do this is to drink a good-size glass of water before and after each meal. Coffee and soft drinks are not good substitutes for water, as they can rob your body of nutrients that help your immune system fight infections.

Also, don’t smoke cigarettes. If you’re a heavy smoker you are in a precarious position if the flu arrives in your neighbourhood. If at all possible, endeavour to quit as soon as possible and , if needed, get professional help for this. Light smokers and those who smoke less than five cigarettes a day, are far less vulnerable than heavy smokers; but any cigarette you inhale is doing damage to your lungs. Smoking damages your respiratory tract and lung tissue in many ways:

  • It stops the tiny microscopic hairs in the airways (trachea and bronchial tubes) from cleaning the debris and mucus from the lungs.
  • It causes inflammation in the mucous membranes of the airways and the tissues of the lungs so that any extra inflammation, such as that caused by a severe flu virus, may be intolerable for you.
  • It damages, thins and stiffens the fragile membranes in the lung tissue across which oxygen is absorbed.

Having a healthy immune system is your first line of defence against the flu and will put you in a good position to fight off or survive the virus. Unfortunately many people take their immune system for granted and are not proactive in looking after it.

What are the most important nutrients for a strong and robust immune system?

  • Selenium – this mineral boosts all aspects of immune function, particularly by reducing susceptibility to infection. There is a widespread deficiency of selenium in the soils in many parts of the world, including Australia, New Zealand and China. A normally harmless or low-pathogenic virus can become far more destructive in a person who is selenium deficient. Selenium acts on the genetic material at the centre of the virus and inhibits its ability to multiply and reduces its ability to mutate into a more aggressive form.
  • Zinc – it is well recognised that the mineral zinc is essential for a healthy and strong immune system, and that it has proven antiviral effects. Zinc protects cell membranes from cell-damaging chemicals and viruses, and it closes pores in the lung’s tiny blood vessels which can help stop the lungs from filling up with fluid when inflammation occurs. It reduces mucous production and other respiratory secretions and stimulates the production of interferon (an antiviral protein which is produced by immune cells).
  • Vitamin C – helps fight viruses by inhibiting the protein neuraminidase, which is produced by viruses and is needed for them to grow and duplicate themselves. It also increases the killing power of your body’s own immune cells and the production of immune-fighting chemicals. Vitamin C reduces the inflammatory response caused by a virus in the host’s tissues.