I have developed a flu-prevention protocol that I believe can lower your risk of contracting the HINI flu and other flu strains this winter. It also can reduce the severity of your illness if you do get sick.

First question: When my patients ask me if they should get either flu vaccine, I tell them that my family and I, and many of my patients, are not planning to get them. And I don't recommend that other healthy people get them either. I have several concerns about flu vaccines-namely, that we don't know the long-term impact of using them...many contain a mercury-based preservative (mercury is known to suppress the immune system).. and some people develop a flulike illness after receiving the vaccine. The truth is that the vaccines' effectiveness is, at best, hit or miss. However, the regular seasonal flu vaccine (mercury-free is best) should be considered for those who are over age 65...suffer from chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular disease...are nursing home residents...have a weakened immune system from chronic disease, such as cancer...or are pregnant. I don't recommend the H1N1 vaccine for anyone, because far too little is known about it and its long-term side effects.

What everyone needs when combating the flu is a strong immune system. The natural therapies I recommend can enhance and fine-tune your immune system. People who take these supplements, eat a healthful diet, get some exercise and sleep for at least seven hours a night have more protection against the flu than they would get from the flu vaccine.

My Flu-Protection Protocol

My protocol results in a tremendous boost for the immune system. Begin this protection protocol in October-and continue it through April.

  • Influenzinum. At the heart of my special flu-protection program is Influenzinum, a homeopathic remedy that is a safe alternative to conventional flu shots. I have recommended it to my patients for 15 years-with good results. Influenzinum has been prescribed by homeopathic physicians for the last 150 years and is reported to have protected people against the Spanish flu of 1918. It contains a homeopathic preparation of the flu virus that is made each year based on the predicted flu strains. In 1998, the French Society of Homeopathy concluded a 10-year survey of 23 homeopathic doctors and their use of Influenzinum for flu prevention in 453 patients.

Result: Only 10% of those patients developed the flu.

Action plan: Follow label instructions. Adults and children (age six and older) should take one dose (at least two pellets or a small vial of several pellets) of a 9C potency once a week for four weeks...wait a month...and then take a fifth dose. (For infants starting as young as one day old, crush one pellet and place on the tongue.) Many health food stores carry Influenzinum. One good brand is made by Homeopathic Educational Services (510-649-0294, www.homeopathic.com).

  • Vitamin D. Studies show that vitamin D protects against upper respiratory infections and can enhance the body's production of cathelicidin, a germ-killing compound.

Action plan: Adults and teenagers take 2,000 international units (10) of vitamin D-3 daily and children (as young as one day old and up to 12 years old) 1,000 IU. Increase this amount to 5,000 IU daily for adults and 2,000 IU for children during peak flu season (January through March).

  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC). Italian researchers found that seniors who took this antioxidant had virtually no flu symptoms, even though testing showed that they were infected, whereas people taking placebos in the same study suffered the brunt of flu symptoms. Research supports NAC's pulmonary benefits.

Action plan: Adults and teenagers take 1,000 milligrams (mg) of NAC daily and children (age six to 12 years old) take 500 mg daily. At the first sign of symptoms, immediately increase the amount to 4,000 mg daily (1,500 mg daily for children) and continue until symptoms are gone.

If You Do Get The Flu

To treat the flu, use the remedies just described and add the ones below to your regimen. Take them for as long as symptoms last, unless otherwise indicated. These supplements are safe, in these amounts, for everyone.

Take for the first two days only...

  • Oscillococcinum. This homeopathic remedy is made from animal organ-derived ingredients that provide natural immunity to the flu virus. It can ease flu symptoms if taken within 48 hours after they start.

Action plan: Follow label directions for use, beginning on the first day of a cold or flu.

Take for as long as symptoms last…

  • Lomatium. This herbal remedy (Lomatium dissectum) was used by Native Americans to treat respiratory infections. It has well-documented antimicrobial properties.

Action plan: Look for an alcohol- or glycerin-based tincture of lomatium. Follow label directions for use.

Note: Lomatium may amplify the effect of blood-thinning medications, so check with your doctor first if you are taking warfarin or any other blood-thinning medication. If you develop a rash or nausea, stop taking it.

  • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L) was also used medicinally by Native Americans. Studies show that it significantly improves flu symptoms within two to four days.

Action plan: My favorite elderberry product is Sambucol syrup, available at drugstores (www. sambucolusa.com for a store locator). Follow label directions.

Cold and Flu Season Etiquette

If you are worried about shaking hands, shrug your shoulders with one palm up and say "Flu" or "Swine flu," to show that you are concerned about health. If you would rather not hug someone who is about to hug you, put your hands on the top or sides of his shoulders instead of wrapping them around his back. Carry tissues when flying. If a seatmate sounds ill, offer a tissue to hint that you want to avoid his/her germs. Also bring hand sanitizer and use it often.

New Tool Available for Flu Self-Diagnosis

If you are feeling ill, go to www.flu.gov/evaluation. There you can answer a few questions, and the site will tell you if you should seek medical help or if bed rest and plenty of fluids are best.

Important: If you are unsure, talk to your doctor. The site also features a flu vaccination locator and information about HINI flu and seasonal flu.

Ahhh! Hot Drinks Ease Cold Symptoms

Thirty people with cold symptoms rated their symptoms before and after drinking an apple and black currant drink, either hot or at room temperature.

Finding: Both beverage temperatures relieved sneezing, runny nose and cough, but only the hot drinks improved sore throat, fatigue and chills. The researchers speculate that any hot fruit drink would be effective.

Theory: Hot, flavorful liquids promote salivation and mucous secretions, which lubricate and soothe the throat and nose.

Signs that the Flu Is Getting Worse

Take note of these symptoms: trouble breathing, severe coughing, drinking much less than usual, less frequent urination and extreme irritability are all signs that your flu is getting worse. See your doctor if these symptoms develop. If a child gets the flu, seems to recover and symptoms reappear, that could indicate complications, such as bacterial pneumonia—contact your pediatrician.

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