Keeping healthy during the cold and flu season

Every fall season, the Canadian public is asked to visit their medical doctor or a health care clinic to receive their annual “flu shot”, which they believe is the best attempt in preventing infection of the influenza virus. However, conventional medical doctors try to predict which strain of the influenza virus will most likely infect the public this year, and therefore the flu vaccine is merely a “guess”. Every year the influenza virus mutates, and it is impossible to make a vaccine that contains all these mutations.

Naturopathic doctors instead focus on improving the body environment that the viruses (and bacteria and other germs) try to invade throughout the year. The point is to make the body strong and healthy so that it is resistant to infections, and can adapt to different seasons and environments without losing its immunity. If you have noticed that you have gotten sick often during the year, or even once or twice throughout the year, it’s time to take charge of your health and prevent infection.

The first step is looking at your daily habits. Adequate sleep is the most fundamental weapon against a decreased immunity. The stress hormones (such as cortisol) are secreted in greater quantity when you lose sleep, and take away from your body’s ability to fight off germs, especially viruses. Make sure you are frequently washing your hands to make the most of your barrier techniques. Try to avoid simple sugars as found in foods such as juices, cakes, cookies, cereals, and packaged and baked goods because even 1 tablespoon of sugar has been found to halt an important step in our immune system for 4-6 hours. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to keep your body well hydrated for optimal cellular activity. Let fruits and vegetables be the cornerstone of your meals, especially ginger and garlic because of their antioxidant and antimicrobial activities (as well as numerous other good activities). Make sure you are getting enough protein in your diet as well. Remain active during the fall and winter months to enhance immunity and reduce stress.

The second step is looking at optimizing your nutrition, based on what your body specifically needs. Everyone is an individual with different health backgrounds and health goals, so visiting a naturopathic doctor is ideal to get the specific attention you need. However, there are a few easy things that can be initiated to cover the foundations: take a high-potency multivitamin everyday which has doses that far exceed the Canadian RDAs for specific nutrients. RDA levels are too low for today’s high-stress and fast-paced lifestyle, and are not specific to each individual’s needs. Supplementing with more vitamin C than what is in the multivitamin is a good idea since it is an excellent immune agent that increases the activity of the immune system. Ask your naturopathic doctor what level is most beneficial for you, and to rule out certain contraindications to high doses of vitamin C, such as having a history of gout, of kidney failure, or hemochromatosis (an iron accumulation disease where vitamin C should be taken away from meals as it increases iron absorption). Kidney stones are not worsened by the high supplementation of vitamin C; earlier studies with such results were a result of poor laboratory processing of the urine samples.

For botanical medicine support of the immune system, astragalus, ginger, pau d’arco, Siberian ginseng and Korean ginseng are good choices. Consult with your naturopathic doctor on how to take these herbal preparations. Again, if you have a history of a chronic illness or autoimmune condition, please consult your naturopathic doctor first.

Years of a poor diet, inadequate nutrients, continual stress, negative emotions, a lack of exercise and environmental pollutants have all contributed to the inability of our immune system to properly defend us. Fortunately, the body is wonderfully regenerative and our internal army of immune cells can be enhanced in a matter of weeks by simply improving our nutrition, reducing stress, adding immune-specific nutrients, exercising and seeking emotional well-being.

-Camille Nghiem-Phu, BSc, ND, 2008-
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