Build up your immune system, and youíre less likely to get the flu
By JOHN DARLING for the Mail Tribune
and BETH COONEY The Stamford Advocate
Hereís a strategy for avoiding the flu that doesnít involve standing in long lines or begging for an injection you might not need.
The approach begins with consistent hand washing, eating lots of garlic and keeping those germy paws out of the leftover Halloween candy. Also, try cutting back on the morning java, sleeping more and stocking up on echinacea, elderberry, vitamins, zinc lozenges and hand sanitizer. Oh, and work out, meditate and keep your attitude up.
"The single best strategy you can employ is finding ways to build up your immune system so itís stronger," says Dr. Paul Epstein, a naturopathic physician in private practice in Norwalk, Conn.
Most health practitioners start at prevention, noting you can only get a cold or flu if the germs get inside you. The only way they can do that is through your eyes, nose or mouth. So, do what your mother told you to do ó wash your hands, said Dr. Sylvia Chatroux, an Ashland physician. And keep your hands away from your face.
When you sneeze, have a handkerchief handy or, lacking that, sneeze into the inside of your elbow, never your hand, said Dr. Robin Miller, a Medford physician. And carry a small antiseptic atomizer to spray your hands.
An array of supplements and herbs aid immune boosting but health practitioners strongly advise building a foundation of good food ó emphasis on lots of vegetables and fruit ó with plenty of water, exercise and sleep."Water helps hydrate mucous membranes, providing moisture to trap viruses and it also cleanses the body, eliminating toxins that burden the immune system," said Miller.
For maximum immune protection, fruits and vegetables should be locally and organically grown, said Ashland health educator, nutrition author and pharmacist Ross Pelton, because large-scale, non- organic farming depletes soil and has caused an "epidemic of trace mineral deficiency," resulting in the loss of zinc and selenium, which are anti-viral minerals.
In lieu of flu shots, Pelton urges use of vitamin C, "the backbone of the immune system," vitamin E, a betacarotene supplement, echinacea, an antioxidant supplement, a multivitamin, zinc, selenium and a high-potency vitamin-mineral supplement.
"If youíre really interested in optimal health and immunity," said Pelton, "use high dosages. The recommended daily allowance on labels was set a century ago to prevent severe nutritional deficiencies, like scurvy, beri-beri and pellagra. I call it the really dumb allowance. Except for vitamin D, I recommend people use 10 times the RDA of vitamins."
Vitamin C, he noted, has been established in many tests as critical to immune functioning through aiding the production of virus- and bacteria-fighting white blood cells. He recommends doses of 1,000 milligrams a day or more, noting that, even if you catch colds or flu, symptoms are reduced 40 percent and duration shortened. Vitamin C is naturally availablein citrus, tomatoes and many other fruits and vegetables.
Widely recommended by naturopaths and medical doctors, like Chatroux, who practice complementary medicine are immunity "depth charges" ó capsules containing an array of natural germ-fighters such as echinacea, garlic, astragalus, horehound, angelica, hawthorns berry, Oregon grape root, cayenne, mullein leaf and ginseng. The most popular such remedy is Wellness Formula by Source Natural, she said.
Some readily available foods serve double-duty as immune boosters, include garlic, ginger, cayenne, yogurt, parsley and fennel, said supplement specialist Craig Craddock of the Ashland Food Co- op, an all-organic market.
Mushrooms ó the exotic ones like matsutake and shiitake ó are another secret weapon hiding in the produce section, said Miller, and serve to boost white blood cell production. They may be taken in capsule form. Of equal strength in rebuilding white cells is the popular Chinese herb astragalus, she said, which may be taken in tincture form.
While Chatroux and many other health practitioners urge patients to drop coffee and refined sugar, Craddock pooh-poohed the idea of eschewing lifeís main pleasures. "I donít believe it myself. Everyone believes it because everyone says it."
Then there are the invisible supplements, those inside your head ó reducing stress through yoga and meditation and learning the habit of positive thinking.
Does attitude matter? Yes, said Miller.
"Studies show it significantly helps the immune system. People who have the feeling theyíre going to get the flu are likely to be more susceptible. A positive attitude goes a long way to immunizing yourself."
John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prevention doís and doníts
The Stamford Advocate asked health and nutrition experts to suggest some doís and doníts for preventing the flu. Their top recommendations:
Cut back on sugar. As a rule of thumb, they say too much sugar depletes the immune system. Of course, this means Halloween candy is not a great flu-buster. Some tell patients to avoid all kinds of sugar ó natural fruit juices, refined breads, pastas and other sugar sources. Others, including Peter McKnight, chief clinical dietitian at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut, are dubious about the sugar connection: "I donít know what impact it has on the immune system. I donít think a little will hurt."
Cut back on caffeine. "Coffee taps out the adrenals," says Dr. Paul Epstein, a naturopathic physician. "It creates stress in the body and you donít need it."
Eat yogurt. McKnight is fond of any good quality yogurt that has lots of natural bacteria and acidopholus, which is good for the immune system.
Eat garlic. Some make a tea of garlic and ginger, other eat it by the handful, raw and chopped. Add garlic to soups, salads and entrees.
Take the best multivitamin you can find.
Take zinc. But not too much. Sunflower seeds are a good natural source, and 90 milligrams a day is plenty.
Take Vitamin C. But again, not too much. Talk to your health-care professional or a nutritionist about appropriate doses.
Consider natural flu vaccines, but be an informed consumer. Not all health-care practitioners are convinced of their efficacy, but some naturopaths (and patients) swear by them.
Ingest essential fatty acids. Epstein recommends flax seed and olive oils. And serve salmon for dinner as long as itís not farm-raised.
Try natural echinacea, goldenseal and elderberry or astragalus. All are considered potential boosters to the immune system. Talk to a qualified naturopath or nutritionist about appropriate doses. Be especially careful with echinacea, which after two weeks is no longer effective.
Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and healthy proteins. "In the elderly, itís the people who subsist on tea and toast I worry about," says McKnight. "I also worry about women who subsist on muffins and Diet Coke."
Be more vigilant about hygiene. Carrying an instant hand sanitizer or wipes is probably a good idea, as is regularly cleaning your phone and carrying your own pen.
Manage stress. Epstein points to studies that note people who are HIV positive have better outcomes and immune responses when they have support and are given reason to be hopeful. "Stress management is a basic, common sense prescription for disease prevention," says Epstein. "You can do more for your health with good, regular sleep, some exercise and good nutrition than you can do with any pill or flu vaccine."