The immune system weighs heavy on our minds in the storm of Enterovirus D68 and Ebola in recent days. While most of us will- hopefully- not experience either of these conditions, chances are high the common cold or flu will meet your household or workplace in the coming months.
There are many natural, safe and effective ways to prevent contracting or reactivating the common viruses that plague us when we retreat indoors. Here are a few highlights:
Hand Washing: No really- antimicrobial gels are not a good substitute
Avoid the pitfalls of antimicrobial gels and soaps! Like antibiotics, they lead to microbial resistance. Only the strong microbes survive. The process of friction, the vigorous rubbing of the hands under warm running water for 30 seconds sloughs off the skin cells microbes are attached to. The use of soap helps the debris to adhere to the water and flush down the drain.
Stress suppresses the immune system's ability to fight infections. Getting about 8 hours of uninterrupted hours of sleep is essential for stress management. If you have trouble sleeping, there are multiple types and causes your Naturopath can help you sort out and treat.
Vitamin D Supplementation and Testing
Cold and flu season occurs as everyone's vitamin D levels drop. That is, goodbye summer sun, goodbye naturally occurring vitamin D..! Vitamin D is also found in liver, kidney and other organ meats that are no longer typically consumed with regularity in the western diet. Please pass the pate...
Popping a Vitamin D pill sounds like a great idea, and many of my patients are taking some when they are new patients, but most people are not aware of the particulars of this vitamin. As a fat soluble vitamin, it requires the ingestion of some fat at the time it is consumed. Many of my patients take thousands of units of Vitamin D, but their blood tests still show deficiency. Issues of digestion, absorption and increased utilization are often to blame. Also, it has the potential to be organ toxic. Whereas water-soluble vitamins are excreted in the urine if you consume more than the body can be used on a given day, fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) take weeks to "flush" out. The most common issue is that people do not take enough vitamin D to promote bone health, let alone support the immune system (to prevent colds, flus, cancer), prevent diabetes, dementia, autoimmune disease and heart disease. Living in the Pacific Northwest further taxes our ability to get enough vitamin D from sun exposure. Our northern latitude means the sun's rays enter the atmosphere at an oblique angle, filtering out more of the UVB rays needed to make vitamin D in the skin than it does closer to the equator, where it passes through the atmosphere at a perpendicular angle. Testing vitamin D at a baseline, introducing a test dose and repeating the test after a defined period of time is the only way to make an appropriate Vitamin D dose recommendation for an individual and adjust the dose based on the time of year. An appropriate dose in January may not be appropriate in July for an individual.
Well, you wash your hands- So wash out your nose! Respiratory illnesses are typically transmitted via airborne particles, which get trapped in the very close quarters of the nasal airways and sinuses. A saline solution wash of the nasal airways with a device such as a Neti pot helps remove airborne particles including allergens and dust, swelling of the nasal tissues, and mucus. The cough typically developed during a cold is from mucus and fluid draining down the throat from the sinuses that the tissue lining the airways is trying to clean. Help it out! Wash it out to prevent prolonged cough, or worse, chest colds and bronchitis.
Eat A Whole Foods Diet
Whole foods are the only way to get a good balance of nutrients in their natural form with their co-nutrients. It also ensures you won't get overloaded on processed foods. Processed food means simple carbohydrates without the benefit of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, and high amounts of sodium- sugar and salt are dehydrating- and hydrogenated fats (inflammatory). Eat dark green, bright red, orange and yellow vegetables to optimize intake of beta-carotene and keep your healthy gut flora flourishing.
Get An Individualized Immune Support Plan
Your Naturopath can tailor an immune wellness plan that integrates into your general health strategy to meet your unique needs. Many of my patients have hidden infections that cause chronic fatigue and frequent illnesses or have areas of the body that are particularly susceptible to recurrent infections. Treating the underlying causes and supporting weak systems will prevent recurrent or drawn-out infections. Naturopaths have expertise in treating stealth infections.
If You Do Get Sick:
Respiratory illnesses aren't the only infections that occur in fall and winter. Gastric and intestinal infections and food poisoning are common and can occur in conjunction with or separately from colds and flus and can be treated just as easily via natural means.