Julian Whitaker, MD
We're only one month away from the beginning of flu season. Like any household with lots of kids running in and out, my home is not spared from cold and flu viruses. However, my family is rarely waylaid by viral infections when flu season comes around.
We're only one month away from the beginning of flu season. Like any household with lots of kids running in and out, my home is not spared from cold and flu viruses. However, my family is rarely waylaid by viral infections when flu season comes around. That's not because we've all taken the annual "shot in the arm" from a flu vaccine. No, we just practise preventive medicine by eating right, getting enough sleep, following good personal hygiene and taking immune-boosting supplements. You too can avoid falling under the weather during the coming flu season. Here's how.
Clean Up Your Diet And Your Lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle will go a long way towards enhancing your immunity and increasing your resistance to infection. Start by eating a low-fat diet with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts. Some of the best foods for boosting immunity are beta-carotene-rich carrots, sweet potatoes and leafy greens, and vitamin C-rich citrus fruits, broccoli and cantaloupe. Get adequate protein and reduce your intake of sugar, which impairs the ability of your white blood cells to destroy micro-organisms.
Sleep is the one physiological need that many people ignore. Big mistake your immune system kicks into overdrive during sleep, and studies show that one sleepless night or several nights in a row of inadequate sleep can significantly impair immune function. Make sure you get the amount of sleep that's right for you, whether that means six hours or eight.
Finally, do what you can to manage stress. Stress impairs white blood cell function and causes shrinkage of the thymus, the major gland of your immune system. Take time every day to put yourself in a relaxed state of mind, and look for opportunities to laugh. Studies show that laughter decreases levels of stress hormones and enhances immune function.
Practise Improved Hygiene
Over 150 years ago, a Hungarian obstetrician named Ignaz Semmelweis created an uproar when he physically blocked the door of the maternity ward, demanding that physicians wash their hands before assisting women in labour. He had discovered that "childbirth fever," which was killing almost a quarter of the women giving birth in hospitals, was transferred to women from the hands of the physicians. For his efforts to improve hygiene, he was harassed and ridiculed.
Today, of course, we know how important hygiene is and we know how to practise it. Or do we? Good hygiene isn't about using industrial-strength cleaning agents and antibacterial products in your home. It's actually very simple. Wash your hands often with ordinary soap and warm water, and avoid touching your eyes or nose. Change towels often, and use disposable tissues rather than handkerchiefs. Don't share towels, glasses and the like.
For extra protection, you might want to perform facial dips throughout cold and flu season. Simply immersing your face for a few seconds in a bowl of warm water will help rinse viruses from the mucous membranes of your eyes and nose.
Fortify Your Body With Immune-Boosting Nutrients
Optimal functioning of the immune system depends on an adequate daily supply of essential vitamins and minerals. Chief among these are antioxidants. Vitamin A (5,000 IU) helps maintain the surface layers of your skin, which are a primary barrier to micro-organisms, and prevents stress-induced shrinkage of the thymus gland. Beta-carotene (15,000 IU) increases the production of natural killer cells and virus-killing lymphocytes. Vitamin C (1,500 milligrams) boosts levels of interferon and natural killer cells, fortifies the mucous membranes and combats viruses. The mineral selenium (200 micrograms) functions as a component of glutathione, an important immune system protector that defends white blood cells against free radical damage.
B vitamins are also important. Vitamin B6 deficiency causes white blood cell counts to plummet, reduces the quality and quantity of antibodies and suppresses thymic hormone activity. A deficiency of folic acid or vitamin B12 causes atrophy of the thymus and lymph nodes and significantly impairs white blood cell function. I recommend taking 75 mg vitamin B6, 800 mcg folic acid, and 150 mcg vitamin B12 per day.
Finally, don't neglect the mineral zinc (30 mg). It promotes the destruction of foreign particles and micro-organisms, acts synergistically with vitamin A and even inhibits the growth of several viruses.
Your best bet is to take a daily high-potency multivitamin and mineral supplement. Consider it basic health insurance against the onslaught of viruses you'll be facing in the coming flu season.
Combat Infection With Herbal Remedies
The recommendations above will go a long way towards enhancing your immunity and overall health. But for extra protection, I recommend adding one or more of the following herbal supplements.
Echinacea is one of the most widely used herbs in the western world and one of the best-researched immune stimulants. This herb activates macrophages (cells that consume invading microbes) and natural killer cells (white blood cells that destroy cells infected with viruses) and has direct antiviral activity. It is proven to strengthen the immune system even in healthy people.
Astragalus has been used for thousands of years in China to build resistance to disease. Studies show that it stimulates virtually every component of immune function, including macrophages, natural killer cells, T cells and interferon. It is especially helpful for those with a compromised immune system.
Another potent botanical is elderberry. Its active components are proteins and bioflavonoids that prevent flu viruses from gaining access to the cell's interior. Though its claim to fame comes from a clinical trial conducted in Israel during a major flu epidemic elderberry extract cut the duration of flu symptoms in half compared with the placebo a recent study found that it activates the healthy immune system as well.
Flu Shot Facts
In my opinion, it makes sense to approach flu prevention by fortifying your defences against all manner of infectious agents. Here's why.
Four Ways to Combat the Flu
If, despite your best efforts, you succumb to a flu virus, do take it lying down rest is just what your body needs. In addition, follow these four steps to a speedy recovery.