Influenza is a viral infection. There are a number of different viruses that can cause the flu, and they vary each year. The flu has the potential to become a very serious infection, and this year’s circulating strains are particularly nasty.

There are things you can do to help reduce the risk of infection and decrease the severity of the flu. Your immune system can be a powerful asset if you treat it well and give it the nutrients it requires. Read on for my top tips:

Wash your hands regularly
Washing your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap is an extremely effective method of washing away bacteria and viruses that can cause disease. Please don’t use antibacterial soap or hand liquids; they promote the development of antibiotic resistant strains of super bugs, and can contain toxic chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, which may raise the risk of cancer. It is more hygienic to dry your hands with a paper towel than an air dryer.

Try to get adequate sleep, and manage your stress
You can be doing all the right things with your diet and exercise, but if you are continually sleep deprived and stressed out, your immune system will suffer. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep each night. If you regularly do not get enough sleep, it will be much more difficult for your immune system to ward off an infection, and it will take you much longer to recover. A cold that may have lasted 3 days can linger for two weeks if you don’t receive deep, restorative sleep. Many things can stand in the way of good sleep. If you’ve been struggling for some time, you may find solutions in my book Tired of Not Sleeping? Just about everyone finds that magnesium improves their sleep quality and helps them to feel less stressed and anxious during the day. I typically recommend a teaspoon of magnesium powder with the evening meal.

Selenium reduces the ability of virus to replicate in your body
Selenium also reduces the ability of the virus to mutate into a more aggressive (virulent) form and increases the chances that the virus will stay inactive or less active and not harm you. A normally harmless (or low-pathogenic) virus can become much more destructive (virulent) in a person who is selenium deficient. Selenium-deficient mice infected with a mild strain of influenza virus developed much more severe and protracted inflammation of their lungs, compared to selenium-plentiful mice infected with the same virus. A lack of selenium causes a decrease in the production of selenium dependent proteins that keep viruses under control. This is serious and can result in worse outcomes for people infected with many types of nasty viruses including hepatitis A and B viruses, Ebola, polio, AIDS, influenza and the human papilloma virus (which causes cervical and oral cancer).

Vitamin D strengthens your immune system and reduces the risk of infections
Vitamin D has so many critical benefits in your body. You make vitamin D in your body when your skin is exposed to the sun’s UVB rays. During winter, in most parts of the world it is impossible to get enough vitamin D because the sun is too weak and it’s too cold to go outside wearing very little. Not many foods contain much vitamin D, so that’s when a supplement becomes important.

Make sure you eat plenty of vegetables
The cold weather may make a salad unappealing, but you can still get plenty of vegetables if you eat soups, stews, casseroles and curries. Vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help to strengthen your immune system. Vitamin C gets damaged by heat, so if you’re not eating a lot of raw fruits and vegetables, you would benefit from a vitamin C supplement.

Try sinus and nasal irrigation with a netti pot
This is particularly helpful for people who regularly suffer with blocked sinuses or a blocked or runny nose. You should be able to find a netti pot from a local health food store or online. Flushing your nose and sinuses with a natural saline solution helps to wash away viruses and bacteria you may have inhaled, reducing the risk of infection or helping your body to fight an infection faster.

Drinking plenty of fluid is important
In winter a lot of people simply don’t drink enough water. Keeping your fluids up is a good way of clearing mucus from your body. If your body is dehydrated, mucus will form hard clumps in your lungs, throat and sinuses. It will be harder to expel and an illness will usually last longer. If plain water doesn’t appeal, try herbal tea or hot lemon and ginger drinks.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.