Flu season is upon us There are many ways we can take action to prevent the cold and flu this season. The key to not getting the flu this year is keeping your immune system in check. What's the difference between the flu and a cold or upper respiratory tract infection? Flu symptoms generally start with a fever, chills, body aches and pains. A cold usually starts with sore throat, cough and/or sinus congestion. A cold is due to a virus 95 percent of the time and the flu is a virus. Antibiotics do not work for viruses. Some of the best natural defenses for preventing the flu are the following: Keep your immune system in check by taking a good multiple vitamin with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc. Wash your hands frequently with plain soap and water. Antibacterial soaps are unnecessary. In fact, antibacterial soaps make us resistant to antibiotic medications when we really need them. Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing to prevent the spread of the flu. Avoid sugar as much as possible. Sugar depletes our immune system, making us more susceptible to colds and flu. Get enough sleep. Make sure you get eight hours of sleep a day. Not enough rest will deplete your immune system. Exercise regularly to lower your stress response and build up your immune system. Eat garlic, ginger and onions regularly in your foods. These foods naturally have anti-viral and antibacterial effects. Oscillococcinum or Gripp-Heel are homeopathic remedies that can reduce the duration and severity of flu symptoms, especially if taken within the first 24 hours of the flu. Influenzinum is the homeopathic alternative to the flu shot. Other anti-viral herbs that are beneficial on the onset of the cold or flu include astragalus, echinacea, ligusticum, schizandrae and elderberry. If you do catch the flu or cold consider not going to work or school to prevent the spread of this virus. It is best to stay at home until the fever resolves. Vitamin A works on building up our immune system and zinc has anti-viral effects. If you are a person who gets the flu regularly you may be Vitamin D deficient. The founder of the Vitamin D Council, Dr. John Cannell, first introduced the hypothesis that influenza is merely a symptom of vitamin D deficiency in the paper "Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D," published in the journal "Epidemiology and Infection" two years ago, followed up with another study published in the "Virology Journal" last year. The findings were confirmed by a new study - the largest and most nationally representative of its kind to date - that involved about 19,000 Americans. It found that people with the lowest blood vitamin D levels reported having significantly more recent colds or cases of the flu. You may want to consider getting your Vitamin D blood levels checked. A study written in the August 2009 issue of Pediatrics states that probiotics, such as acidophilus and bifidobacterium, taken daily can reduce the incidence of fevers by up to 70 percent and coughs and sinusitis by 60 percent. Probiotics are a great way to prevent both colds and flu in school children and adults. Probiotics build up our immune system through our intestinal tract. Elderberry syrup has been shown to build up our immune system and prevent the flu. A sugar-free elderberry extract is recommended. At the Natural Pharmacy in Edwards, we carry many products for cold/flu prevention, anti-viral herbs for treating colds and flu, as well as teas, cough syrups and drops and immune boosters. These products are always good to have on hand during cold and flu season. Not sure if you have the flu or a cold? Stop by our flu and cold clinic and get assessed and treated quickly so you can get back to feeling better and not spread this infection to co-workers and family members. Dr. Deborah Wiancek (www.healthref.com) is a naturopathic physician who practices at the Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic & Natural Pharmacy. She is a primary care physician specializing in allergies, dermatology, gastrointestinal problems, gynecology, menopause, pediatrics and chronic disease. She can be reached at 970-926-7606 or by e-mail Wiancek@healthref.com.