The Flu and You

Originally published in the Inverness Oran and the Port Hawkesbury Reporter Winter 2015

It’s easy to feel vulnerable and powerless to the influenza virus that is known to cause severe illness and even death in the small population of highly vulnerable.  It is a virulent (strong) infection.  No one wants to get it.  Vaccination provides protection but is never a sure bet you won’t get the flu.  This is unfortunately especially true this year with a very low match between the vaccine and the active variants of the flu virus people are getting sick with.  

There are things you can do to protect yourself and decrease the severity of a bout of influenza should be unfortunate and get an active case of it.  Like any infection - colds, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, stomach flus - there are factors that affect each person’s risk. They include how strong the bug is, how much of the bug your immune system comes into contact with, how strong your immune system is, and how well nourished you are.  Many of us can control two or three of these 4 factors.  

So what can you do about the flu?  

Your first and most important ally to keeping the flu at bay is the mucus membranes of your upper respiratory tract.  Your respiratory tract is in fact continuous with your gastrointestinal tract so what you eat matters - a lot.  Hand washing, avoiding touching your face, eyes and nose when out in public is crucial to decreasing how much virus your immune system has to deal with.  You can add nasal rinses or use the netty pot to decrease any colonization of the virus in your body’s first line of defence - your nasal and upper throat mucosal tissues.  Strengthening your immune system can be achieved through the same lifestyle habits that keep us healthy generally.  They include daily exercise, avoiding processed food, being well hydrated, eating 8 servings of vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruit daily and getting fresh air (no matter how cold it is!). 

In addition, these points are very important: 

  1. Absolutely NO refined sugar during times of flu exposure and if you really want to avoid it then no refined sugar period and have approximately 3 servings of fruit daily. 
  2. Keep nice and warm all the time especially keeping the back of the neck and kidney area protected and warm(wrap up your kidneys with a scarf or heat them with a hot water bottle and it will give you a great boost of heat). 
  3. Have a hot epsom salt bath if you have even the slightest feeling of getting sick, and as often as you like to keep your body temperature up (without over heating) which really helps fight infection.  
  4. Avoid dairy which clogs up mucus membranes, often making them inflamed and weakened.
  5. Avoid any foods which you know aggravate your digestion and elimination - weakened digestion equals weakened immunity.  
  6. Ensure lots of protein rich warm foods like chicken soup or beef stew - your immune system runs on protein so you’d better have lots of it to keep the flu at bay.   
  7. Eat lots and lots and lots of Vitamin A rich foods - squash, canned pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, swiss chard, kale, collards for examples.  Cook them well and enjoy.  
  8. Make ginger (one of my favorite medicines), garlic and onions a part of your day, everyday.  Try and eat 2 cloves of garlic a day and 1 onion a day if you know you’re susceptible to getting sick.
  9. Don’t let your nose and mouth get dried out with all the heat that is on during the winter.  Have a humidifier on and drink lots of water.  
  10. Get lots of sleep - winter is meant for extra sleep so take advantage of the long nights to rest up.  
  11. Stress decreases your immunity by elevating cortisol and taking energy away from your front lines. Practice 10 (or many more!) deep breaths 3 times per day to relax your nervous system and strengthen your immune system.  
  12. Talk to your health care provider about safe and effective supplementation for vitamin D which shows promise in research to decrease the incidence of the flu especially in some populations. 
  13. Avoid the use of NSAIDS like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, ASA, (tylenol, Advil, aspirin) as they increase the spread of influenza and suppress fever which, after your mucus membranes, is your greatest tool to fight infection.  Always check with your health care provider if you are unsure how to manage or have questions about fever.  
  14. Always go to the hospital if you are sick and are having trouble breathing.  

There’s a lot you can do to take control of risk factors for getting sick and even though influenza is a nasty mean virus that can pack a rough punch take initiative and do what youcan to stay healthy and decrease the severity of the flu if you do get it.  Remember to stay home in bed and take good care of yourself if you do get sick.