Get one step ahead of the flu virus
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
Scientists and doctors worldwide seem to agree that the H1N1 influenza (flu) virus may cause more illness or more severe illness than usual.
This upcoming flu season may be the worse in many years, but should we be scared of the H1N1 flu virus? Is there a way to get our body and immune system ready before flu season? What preventative steps can one take?
In this column, I will attempt to answer these and more questions.
Fear is rarely helpful. In fact, emotional distress can deplete the body and make us more susceptible to illness. Instead, take actions that provide a sense of control and that leave you feeling healthier and stronger. September is the ideal time to start as the flu season generally starts in October and lasts until April or May. Naturopathic medicine offers a large medicine kit to prevent and fight infections.
The way our body responds against a flu virus is based on our immune system's ability to fight the infection. It would make sense therefore, to focus our efforts solely on boosting our immune system.
Is it as simple as using natural remedies such as Echinacea or Vitamin C that are commonly used for this purpose? Although these remedies can be helpful, for a more robust and long-term immune support that we're looking for to prevent H1N1 flu virus infections let's look at a whole-body approach.
Remember that a healthy immune system is best obtained through a healthy body. Whether it's hormone imbalances, poor digestion or inflammation in the body, the key to preventing a flu infection is to understand and address your medical predispositions to a lowered immunity.
In previous articles, I used the bucket analogy to explain various health topics. This same concept is also very useful to help us understand a whole-body approach to optimizing our immune system.
Let me review this analogy again. Let's think of our body as a bucket (click here to view diagram). Generally we are born in a state of health -- our bucket is empty. As we go through life, a number of factors can interfere with our health. Perhaps it's a lack of exercise, a stressful job or poor dietary choices that can contribute to increasing the level in our bucket. The level in our bucket represents our health status. Declining health comes with rising levels.
We are also exposed to a great number of toxins during the course of our lifetime. Our lung, kidneys, digestive tract, and liver can normally remove most toxins on a daily basis, but sometimes these detox mechanisms become inefficient or overwhelmed. In addition, key systems in the body (such as the immune system) can become imbalanced (or deficient) which can put the 'squeeze' on the bucket thereby significantly contributing to raising the level in the bucket.
Eventually, our bucket can overfill, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, skin reactions, muscle aches and pains, unexplained weight gain, insomnia and changes in our mood. In addition, mucous membranes (the cells that line our respiratory system in our body) become irritated. This can lead to runny noses, sinus infections, or coughs and may makes us more prone to flu infections.
So what can one do to address an overfilled bucket? We don't want to put a lid on the bucket by suppressing symptoms. Such quick fixes or band-aid solutions rarely work for the long-term and do not enhance overall health status. Rather, the most long-lasted way to prevent recurrent infections is to address all aspects that are causing our bucket to overfill.
Step 1: Address lifestyle factors
Address the cause by improving our nutrition, exercise, and sleep, while reducing our exposure to toxins. Avoid over-exercising as it can release stress hormones that may hinder your immune system. Personal hygiene can't be understated. Washing your hands, and covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough is essential.
Step 2: Optimize organ function
We can further improve our body's immunity by optimizing the function of the lungs, kidneys, digestive tract and liver. Through breathing, urination and bowel movements, these organ systems are consistently repairing and renovating our body.
A little known fact is that 70 per cent of the immune system is actually located in the gut. This makes sense since the body aims to protect foreign invaders that may enter the body via the foods that we ingest. Regular bowel movements and a castor oil pack to the abdomen can greatly enhance our immune response. Since staying indoors increases our contact with others who are infected, aim to get outside and get lots of fresh air.
Our mothers were right about staying warm as the weather turns cold. Moncton is especially prone to cold winds. Chinese medicine discusses the importance of keeping the 'wind gates' (which are located at the back of your neck) closed. Wear jackets, sweaters, or scarves that cover your neck every day.
Also, drink purified water, reduce coffee intake (drink organic if possible), find a balance in alcohol intake and address any health conditions such as diabetes which can weaken your kidney function.
Step 3: Adopt a flu prevention plan
Whether or not to be vaccinated is a complicated topic, one that I do not have enough room here to discuss. Therefore, ask your medical doctor or naturopathic doctor about its efficacy and role in your overall health plan.
As always, a combination of naturopathic approaches tailored to each individual provide the best clinical results. I would encourage that you visit my website for the complete information about the Immune Health Program.
On patient-by-patient basis, additional recommendations can include hydrotherapy, herbal support, vitamin therapy, and probiotics.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Wednesday September 16th, 2009 in Times & Transcript.
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