Most Americans (along with most of the world, for that matter,) avoid the flu shot. Besides its effectiveness being questioned, the flu vaccine comes under fire from critics for a variety of reasons. So if you’re part of the majority who eschew the flu jab, what options do you have?
Don’t get the flu. Staying healthy is easier than getting healthy. The simplest way to avoid the flu is to observe the common-sense behavior that will keep the immune system in tip-top shape. It takes no Mensa medico to remind us of healthful habits that keep us healthy during flu season: adequate rest, good nutrition, address stress, support the immune system. There are also some things to do if symptoms appear.
Rest. Getting plenty of sleep is a key to avoiding the flu. There’s no set number of hours. Know your own body and make sure you are getting quality sleep. Fortunately, the winter and the cooler nights usually make for good sleeping weather. Our bodies actually do best when we enter a sort of nightly “hibernation” mode. Body temperature depresses and metabolism slows. A state of torpor is natural to some degree. Proper sleep is important for staying healthy at any time and the stakes escalate during flu season.
Eat real food. Dr. Shawn Schmidt of Natural Health Center in Omaha mentioned diet and nutrition first when asked about fighting the flu. “Avoid processed foods, refined sugars and refined foods,” Schmidt said. “And milk should be eliminated from the human diet. It’s inflammatory, full of steroids, antibiotics, triggers allergies and sets the stage for cancer. Alcohol is another immune system suppressant.”
Schmidt didn’t discern between raw milk and the commercial, industrialized product that is vastly different from the natural version. Many raw milk advocates would dispute those contentions. We’ll save that for another column.
Probiotics. “We always recommend probiotics during flu season especially,” Schmidt continued. “One or two doses weekly is a good idea, using a quality version. Two-thirds of our immune system is based in the gut. The intestinal flora is vital to health. Probiotics help do that. Keeping the gut healthy is the first line of defense, really. Food isn’t sterile. A lot of biological insults enter the body with food. Unless they are addressed in a healthy gut, the result is disease. We’re attacked by viruses and bacteria, even parasites, 24/7, 365 days a year, not just in winter. It spikes somewhat with winter because of heightened confinement, extreme temperature, wind and the like.”
Olive Leaf Extract. This nutritional supplement is gaining popularity in natural health circles. It’s strongly anti-viral and antibiotic. “Once symptoms do appear, such as scratchy throat, redness and soreness, we like to use olive leaf extract. It’s good as a topical squirted right into the oral cavity and throat and it also works globally for the immune system in general,” Schmidt noted. “It’s not something that is used continuously but works well with acute symptoms.”
Echinacea beats the flu jab; astragalus an all-star. These are two popular herbs that are both reported as immune system boosters. Research has gone back and forth about both. Conventional researchers sometimes find flaws but then often admit to using the wrong parts or wrong species. More objective reviews find both herbs are potent in fighting infections. “As with most herbals, I recommend tincture as opposed to powder or tablets. Tincture is more direct, powerful and effective,” said Schmidt. “Used sublingually, the herb gets right to the bloodstream.” Some sources suggest that Echinacea is a useful preventative and astragalus is best when symptoms have already appeared. Astragalus has been found to be strongly anti-viral, protecting the heart equally to pharmaceutical drugs in cases of viral myocarditis. A University of Maryland medical school website reports, “Studies have shown that astragalus has antiviral properties and stimulates the immune system.” About Echinacea it states, “A review of 14 clinical trials found that echinacea reduced the odds of developing a cold by 58%.” Compare that with statistics that report the 2013 flu vaccine is effective only 55% of the time for Type A influenza (NBC News story). In the elderly, there is scant evidence showing the vaccine works. Note: herbs can be powerful. Consult a professional healthcare provider.
Feel better fast. Once symptoms arise, the above still help. Dr. Schmidt suggests that our grandmother’s remedies provide relief. “We should respect some ‘old wives’ tales’,” he insists. “Onion and garlic are powerful antivirals and antibiotics. For that hacking cough, put a thin slice of onion in a shallow saucer of water. Let the aromatics fill the air. You don’t have to eat it; just breathe in the vapors as they fill the room. It will give a new respect for our ancestors’ remedies.” I’ve set a saucer like that in the bedroom at night and it works.
De-stress. Finally, maybe most importantly, learn meditation, a true stress reduction technique. While exercise and relaxing activities are a good idea, meditation is still the best stress reducer we know. Don’t worry about the flu. Just don’t get it.
Heartland Healing is a New Age polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Visit HeartlandHealing.com for more information.