Avoid the Flu With These Easy Tips

Cold & Flu | | November 23, 2011 at 3:00 am

Cold and flu season is upon us. This time of year, everyone wants to know what they can do to protect themselves from the inevitable germ onslaught. As a holistic practitioner, I’m often asked to create “immune-boosting” or “anti-viral” blends of herbs. These mixtures certainly have their place and are great to have on hand at the right time. However, they should not be your first line of defense against germs.

What happens when you are exposed to a germ, whether bacterial or viral? When the body recognizes foreign and possibly harmful material, the immune system communicates the information with the use of chemicals called cytokines. These are the same chemicals that cause many typical initial cold symptoms— sleepiness, fever, and mucus. It’s a great sign that the body is doing its job in fighting illness.

There can be too much of a good thing, as anyone who has gone through a box of tissue in an hour can tell you. You don’t want a hyper-reactive response to every germ. If your body pumps out a ton of cytokines for every passing germ, then you will feel like you’re are always fighting something.

Actually, you are always fighting something, but if your immune system is in balance you won’t notice 95% of it. What can we take to maintain balance and ward off those germs? Here’s what I recommend to my own patients:

  • Cod Liver Oil. There’s a reason our grandparents took this stuff. At just a teaspoon a day, it provides a substantial dose of omega fatty acids. Most modern diets don’t contain enough omegas. These fatty acids are imperative for proper immune function and keeping inflammation low, countering some of the negative effects of those cytokines.
  • Probiotics. Having the correct bacteria in your gut is a must for proper immune function. The “good bugs” are necessary for digestion and assimilation of food. Without them, the body begins to misinterpret food as a foreign invader. [The immune system, the majority of which is in the gut, starts working overtime, pumping out cytokines and increasing overall inflammation.] I recommend taking a minimum of 5 billion CFUs daily.
  • Vitamin D. There’s been a lot of research on vitamin D in the last few years, much of it confusing and conflicting. Regardless, it is a fact that adequate vitamin D stores are required for proper immune function. A mid-range dose of 2000IU/day is a good starting point to maintain proper immune function.
  • Adequate sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can raise stress hormones. This decreases immune function while increasing inflammation.
  • Moderate cardiovascular exercise. This means 20 minutes, three times a week. [This] should be a routine that increases circulation and creates a sweat. Exercise allows your immune cells to reach the farthest nooks and crannies of your body to wipe out any lingering viruses or bacteria. It also brings fresh oxygen and nutrients to the cells.

Do not forget the importance of a whole foods diet for maintaining a balanced immune system. While chocolate is an antioxidant, eating your weight in it is probably not the best choice. This also includes avoiding fast food and choosing nice whole grains and lots of bright veggies instead. Thriving during the cold and flu season is not about increasing your immune function. Once you are acutely ill, that’s when all the wonderful herbs really need to pack their punch. But as with life in general, the key to staving off those nasty symptoms is balance.

JuniperDr. Juniper Martin has history as a biologist, an actress, a chemist, and a waitress. She is a mother of three children- two boys and a girl. She has helped nurse a parent through cancer and has trained as a midwife. She’s been blessed with having experienced both great joy and deep grief. Her passion is the human condition: why are we here, what is our purpose, what brings us, as individuals meaning? Her goal is to help her patients and their families live at their highest potential. Dr. Martin practices as a family primary care physician. She uses an integrated approach, combining her study of complementary treatments such as herbal medicine, homeopathy, and nutrition with her training in western diagnostics, pharmacology, and laboratory interpretation. Follow Dr. Martin on Twitter and Facebook.

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