Natural Approaches to Cold and Flu

Keep yourself and your family’s immune system strong through the winter

Full disclosure:  I am not a doctrinaire anti-vaccine guy (doctor).  My daughter has received most of the common vaccines, although in a staggered, sometimes delayed, and a la carte way, and is as healthy as can be!  Having said that, I certainly support my patients in their preferences regarding vaccination.

I want to start this piece off by referring you to a recent New York Times article which points to recent research showing the flu shot doesn’t really help prevent the flu in healthy young and middle-aged adults and not even much in those over 65:

Reassessing Flu Shots as the Season Draws Near via NY Times

This piece highlights much of the well-founded skepticism many folks have toward the flu vaccine.

Another hot topic in the research community concerns Tamiflu, which claims to shorten flu duration and lessen your risk of fatal complications such as pneumonia.  The drug’s maker is being accused of sitting on most of its research, much of which is thought to undermine its claims.  More on this on my Facebook page:

Here’s some more info about the vaccine, the flu, and how to keep your family healthy this winter:

Side effects of vaccine: many report they get sick from the flu shot!  This could be symptoms of the immune system getting ready to fight off the actual flu or something else.  Egg allergy is a possibility.

What is the vaccine: an educated guess about which forms of the flu virus (it changes every year) will hit us each year.  The various types of flu are combined and injected into a chicken egg where they multiply.  Later, the viruses are removed and killed.  The proteins from these viruses are then separated out.  However, people allergic to egg can still react to the vaccine and should be monitored for at least a half hour in the doctor’s office.

What is the flu:  Influenza is an infection caused by a virus.  Infection is normally spread from coughing, and can reach up to six feet away.  Infection can take hold as quickly as one day after exposure, but symptoms may take up to 4 days to show up, so you can be contagious and not know it.  That’s why you should always cover your mouth when you cough (listen to your mother!)

How dangerous is it:  It’s dangerous.  An average of 36,000 flu RELATED deaths occurred in the 1990’s (Centers for Disease Control).  That means many people in the US died from causes such as pneumonia that the flu may have contributed to.  If you have a weak heart or lungs, the flu can really hurt you.

How to protect yourself:

Homeopathic nosodes:  Influenzinum is a diluted form of the three most common strains of the flu (per the Pasteur Institute) diluted 100 to the 9th power (lots of zeroes).   People commonly take one dose a week for four weeks, then one a month later.  Best to get this as early in season as possible.  Does it work?  No large studies have been conducted, but as the medicine is taken under the tongue, it will enter the bloodstream just as a shot would, and is less likely to cause side-effects.

Oscillococcinum:  a homeopathic dilution of duck liver which many use to treat flu symptoms.  No solid evidence from studies to support this treatment, but I don’t see a downside to using it, other than a nominal cost.

Wash Hands: use SOAP, liquid, foam, or bar.  No need to use Purell or other antibacterials.  They destroy the healthy bacteria on skin and are really drying.  Wash before eating, every evening, and at work.

Cover mouth when cough:  (listen to your mother)

Keep windows open a little every day:  let out the stale, possibly virus-laden air and let in some fresh air.

Humidifiers: keeps our nasal passages moist to make us less susceptible to infection.  Also, a recent study suggests the flu virus survives longer in dry air.

Nasal Lavage:  whether you’re using the Neti Pot or just an over-the-counter nasal rinse, nasal lavage (rinsing) can help keep sinuses clear and help you breathe easier during the winter.  This treatment can help ease some of the symptoms of the cold and flu.

Hypoallergenic diet:  by eating foods less likely to tax our immune system, we will be better able to fight off infection.  IgA is an antibody we need to protect against foreign invaders.  Allergenic foods get in the way.  Each of us is allergic to different foods. Commonly allergenic foods are dairy, wheat, soy and eggs.  Contact the office for more information.

Exercise (moderate):  Over exercising can be as unhealthy as not exercising at all, raising levels of the hormone cortisol and suppressing our immune system.  Exercise a half hour four to five days a week.  Elliptical, treadmill, running, swimming, yoga, it’s all good!  Walking, treadmill and yoga are not very intensive so an hour is fine.

Vitamin D: have your levels checked, but I have most patients taking at least 2000 IU a day, especially in the darker months.  Vitamin D can help mood, too.

Astragalus/Larix/Polysaccharides:  Polysaccharides are a type of sugar (don’t worry: they don’t contribute to diabetes).  Many polysaccharides stimulate the white blood cells to fight off infection.  Astragalus, Larix and certain mushrooms are rich in these immune enhancing polysaccharides.  I recommend two teaspoons of larix powder a day dissolved in water during cold and flu season.

What’s the cold?  Symptoms of our immune system fighting off a common virus that, like the flu virus, is passed on by coughing.  Most people get two to three colds a year, kids 6-12.  A cold should last no longer than 10 days, and commonly clears up in a few.  Nothing you do will guarantee that you won’t catch a cold, but the immune boosting suggestions that help ward off the flu can help keep colds at bay, too.

Contact the office if you have any questions.

Best wishes for a healthy season!