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Beating the Flu: A Holistic Approach

apples+oranges

With children back in school, we are gearing up for the cold and flu season. There are many more concerns this season because of the H1N1 (swine) flu and fears of a pandemic. All the more reason to keep ourselves healthy and our immune systems strong.

The prevailing mythology is that we get a cold or flu because we’ve been “exposed”. Of course it’s true that exposure to a virus is necessary but that’s not the whole story.

In order to get sick three things must occur at the same time:

  • A run-down immune system
  • Stress
  • Exposure to the offending organism

This is why only a small percentage of those exposed to a virus actually get sick. It is very possible to go years without a cold or flu infection. Yes, years. We seem to have a cultural belief that it’s normal to get sick a few times each year. Not so!

There are even more concerns this year because most people have not been exposed to the H1N1 virus, so we have little natural immunity to it. There is some evidence that people over 50, having been exposed to a similar virus in the 1950s, may have some immunity to it. The highest risk population is pregnant women and young children through young adults.

So much of what we read in the media about prevention is really about avoiding exposure to the offending organisms: “Wash your hands regularly, stay away from those coughing, cover your mouth and get flu shots.” All good advice for sure. Also very important (and not talked about enough) is stopping the exposure before it happens. Yes, I mean keeping sick children out of school. And everyone should stay away from work and social gatherings if you are sick. I am amazed how often and freely people are willing to expose others to their cold and flu viruses. It takes a village to prevent a flu pandemic. Let’s help keep each other as healthy as possible this year!

OK, so avoiding exposure is important. But what about supporting and boosting our own immune system to fight off infection when exposed? After all, isn’t that the job of our immune system? I’d like to give you 7 tips for healthy immunity to do just that:

  1. Get enough sleep, every night. At least 7 hours, yes, every night. This is when our bodies regenerate, heal and detoxify.
  2. Continue following that good anti-inflammatory diet you’ve been working on all year with loads of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  3. Avoid excessive sugar – in the form of sweets, sodas, alcohol, and refined grains. Remember that one serving of sugar reduces your immunity for up to 8 hours.
  4. Continue getting a healthy level of aerobic exercise every day. Aerobic exercise keeps our cells “oxygenated”. Most bacteria and viruses (and some cancers) cannot thrive in a high oxygen environment. Create an environment that makes it difficult for them to thrive. Remember though that excessive exercise may actually weaken your immunity. Make exercise a non-negotiable part of your day.
  5. Take a good multivitamin and mineral formula daily that provides a healthy amount of vitamin C, minerals and B vitamins. Remember, vitamins provide an insurance policy only in conjunction with a healthy diet. They do not replace healthy eating. Low Vitamin D levels are associated with more susceptibility to infections. I can help you with immune-boosting supplements if needed.
  6. Maintain healthy digestion. 70% of our immune system is in our digestive system. If you have signs and symptoms of poor digestion, you likely have poor immunity. Gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, cramping, pain, acid reflux are all signs that you have weakened digestion. It’s worth saying more about this because our immunity definitely starts here. Healthy digestion begins with eating healthfully. Remember that processed food, sugar, chemicals in food, food allergens exposure, overcooked food, overeating, and stress, all destroy the natural bacterial flora in our GI tract. Moreover, we need a variety of nutrients and high fiber foods to feed these beneficial bacteria and help them thrive. It may be hard to believe that a healthy gut harbors over 100 trillion bacteria, but it is true. The good news is poor digestion can be healed with a healthy diet and perhaps some supplements. And, we can start that right away.
  7. Manage stress. Stress hormones affect our immunity in many ways. They suppress healthy digestion, lead to “stress” eating, which usually means too much sugar and alcohol, and interfere with sleep, to name just a few.

As fall and colder weather approach this is the ideal time to make a personal assessment about how many of these areas you have under control. Perhaps some guidance, coaching or specific supplements can be of help. Working with your unique situation, I can help you create a food and supplement plan to boost your immunity and keep you healthy throughout the season.