There is a greater awareness and heightened hysteria about flu season this year due to the emergence of the swine flu. The media attention the H1N1 virus is receiving is no doubt causing some of the frenzy, but that’s its own issue. Truth is in regards to the flu, this year is like every other year. The swine flu is no more deadly than the average flu and all the madness surrounding the issue is making people afraid and perhaps vulnerable which in turn makes them perfect candidates for sometimes unnecessary medical intervention like the flu shot. This year they are proposing a double whammy: the flu shot as well as inoculation for the swine flu, each one requiring a series of two shots.
Seasonal and Swine Flu: An Overview
Like the seasonal flu, the swine flu is contagious and its symptoms can range from mild to severe and include body aches, fever and chills, coughing, fatigue, congestion and a sore throat. Sometimes the virus will also affect gastrointestinal function causing either diarrhea or constipation. Most people infected with either the seasonal or swine flu virus recover with time and need no medical assistance. And although there have been reports of severe illness and death with the swine flu, the same has always been true with the seasonal flu.
According to CNN, worldwide deaths from the swine flu since its emergence through September 2009 has been less than 5000. Although we are just entering into flu season in this country, South America has already experienced their winter since the emergence of the H1N1 virus and still the number of deaths remains low. When you compare that with the 36,000 people in the US who die every year from the seasonal flu, you may get a sense of how out of proportion this issue has become.
Certain segments of the population that are considered “high risk” are being strongly urged to get the flu shot. This includes anyone over 65, pregnant women and children under the age of 5. Also, people with compromised immune function due to illnesses such as asthma, autoimmune disease or diabetes are considered high risk and are being encouraged to get shots.
The Flu Shot
When your body recognizes a foreign pathogen like a virus or bacteria, it mobilizes antibodies that are supposed to isolate the pathogen and manage it so that it doesn’t harm you. That is what is supposed to happen. Unfortunately, because of stress, improper nutrition and other factors, this doesn’t always happen. Inoculations work by injecting a diluted amount of pathogen into your system, forcing a release of antibodies that are meant to give you coverage if you are exposed to that pathogen at a future time.
But in order for the inoculation to boost production of antibodies, they add adjuvants such as mercury (thimerosal) and aluminum that in addition to potentially compromising the average immune system, can trigger auto immune reactions and have also been implicated in the development of autism. When you consider the stringent guidelines on fish consumption during pregnancy b/c of mercury toxicity you have to wonder why anyone would recommend giving vaccines to pregnant women. And when you see the rise in autism and autistic spectrum illnesses in children linked to vaccines, you have to ask yourself if adding more mercury into their delicate system is the wisest thing to do.
Additionally and not inconsequentially, the nature of a virus is to survive and the way it does that is to mutate into a stronger and more virulent strain. In fact, the seasonal flu shot being released this year is based on last year’s strain, and last year’s was based on the year before that. So based on this, one could hypothesize that giving wide spread swine flu vaccines can in fact create more virulent and therefore harder to treat strains in the future. It is best to discuss the necessity of the swine flu and seasonal flu shot with your doctor, but I encourage you to use discretion and judgment as well about what is right for your body.
For those of you interested in managing flu season naturally, read on for some suggestions on strengthening your immune system.
First Line of Defense: Prevention!
Eliminate sugar: Sugar weakens the immune system by stripping the body of certain vitamins and minerals that help support a healthy body. Sugar also promotes inflammatory conditions and aggravates stress. Stress and inflammation have been shown to be precursors to disease. Instead of reaching for sugary snacks, go for plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are loaded in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. (Read Eliminating Sugar from your Diet for tips on how to kick your sugar habit!)
Exercise: Exercise has been shown to boost immune function and modulate stress, which can further strengthen the immune response. Shoot for 20 minutes three to four times a week.
Sleep: Inadequate sleep allows us to feel run down and weakens our defenses. When we are weak, we are prime hosts for viruses and bacteria to thrive. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep, if not eight. If sleep is an issue for you, consider taking hot baths at night with lavender oil or even massaging lavender oil into the soles of your feet. This will help you relax.
Take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement: and make sure it contains at least 400 IU of vitamin D3. This will help fill in the gaps of your nutrition and shore up your defenses to help keep you healthy.
Add flax oil or Omega 3 fish oils to your diet: Balancing your Omega 3 and Omega 6 ratio is an important part of reducing inflammation and maintaining a healthy immune system. Add one or two tablespoons of ground flax to your oatmeal in the morning or if it is easier, take two Omega 3 fish oil capsules a day.
Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum: It is important to keep your liver healthy to allow it to detox all toxins from your system that could weaken immune function. Additionally, alcohol also strips vital nutrients from your system further weakening the immune response.
Wash your hands after using public transportation or rest rooms: If you touch spaces or shake hands with someone who is infected and then inadvertently touch your nose, it will have an avenue of entry. You don’t need anti-bacterial soap. Just a good quality soap and wash for 30 seconds.
Oscillococcinum: This homeopathic remedy is a great way to keep the seasonal flu at bay. Every winter I keep tubes of it at home and in the office and at the first sign that I am feeling run down or if I have been exposed to someone who had symptoms of the flu, I take it. Homeopathy works similarly to inoculations by boosting antibody production and allowing your own body’s defenses to fight off the infection naturally. Although not designed to work on the swine flu, it is something I will be utilizing this winter as well to keep my immune system healthy and free of the flu. Oscillococcinum does not interfere with medications and has no contraindications and is available in health food stores. Visit their official website for a voucher to save $2 off your purchase and learn more about the product.
Olive Leaf Extract: This herbal supplement has been shown to help fight viral infections as well as bacterial infections. It is useful in the prevention of colds, the flu and infections such as sinus and throat infections. To help keep your immune system healthy, take 2 tablets every three days or so as a prophylactic. My favorite brand for olive leaf extract is Davinci Labs.
Implementing some or all of these suggestions will go a long way towards keeping you and your family healthy this flu season.
If you have a compromised immune function such as an autoimmune disease or feel you need a more comprehensive approach to boosting immune function and keep you healthy throughout the winter months, you might want to consider a more customized plan. For more information you can contact me at Barbara@lifestylenutrients.net.