Cough, cold and flu prevention and treatment
Tips and tricks from Toronto naturopath Timothy Swift on how to stay healthy this winter
Hand washing: Hand washing is the first line of defense against the cold and flu season. Watch the video below to see how it is done correctly.
Coughing/sneezing into your sleeve: This technique does a few things: It keeps your hands from absorbing all the germs and it reduces your spray circle significantly. Sneezes can be propelled at between 20 and 100 mph (150km/hr). What this means is that when someone sneezes, people within 30 feet of them will be showered with the germs projected from a sneeze. So sneeze in your sleeve, away from people if you are able.
Avoid touching your face before washing hands after riding public transportation, touching door knobs at work or school. Be hyper-vigilant this time of year. The new greeting this time of year is the fist bump, verse the handshake. Less germ transmission. Am I proposing that we all become germ-a-phobes? No, just work to prevent the spread of CCF’s (coughs, colds and the flu).
Humidify to keep mucus membranes moist. This can be achieved in several ways. First have a bedroom humidifier. It brings moisture into the room, keeping dust and pathogens at the floor level. The water droplets make the virus and bacteria heavy so they end up on the floor verses in the air. Using a full home humidifier on your furnace or air blowing system will humidify the whole house. Increases in humidity require less heating to feel the same warmth. Dual benefits: save energy and remain healthier.
Moisturize - keep hands and feet from cracking. Your skin is the largest organ of the body and your first line of defense against invading pathogens (virus and bacteria). You want to pay close attention to hydration of all your externally exposed membranes (skin, eyes, nasal cavities, lips, mouth). Any chaffing or chapping can present an entry point for an invader.
Hydration: During the fall and winter we tend to be in drier environments - indoors, heated, dry places. Keeping yourself hydrated with water is very important in the fall and winter. You may not feel as thirsty, since you do not appear to be sweating like in the summer, but people often get dehydrated more so in the winter. So drink that minimum of 2 liters of water a day. Avoid excessive caffeine, as it will dehydrate you.
Supplements for cough cold and flu season
Fish oil - great for immune system, skin softness, cholesterol reduction.
Probiotics - keep gut in good shape, necessity for any post anti-biotic use to restore gut bacterial balance.
Vitamin D - prevention and support of immune system. Helps to improve mood during the times of year with less sun exposure.
Oregano Oil - great for bacterial and viral infections. Topically or orally.
Garlic tablets - great for immune support and prevention.
Flu prevention options
Homeopathics - tablets, drops.
There are several alternative or adjunctive supports for flu prevention. Homeopathic influenza in a variety of strengths is a great option to a flu shot. There are also several complex homeopathics, in liquid form, that can be used safety by adults and children as a preventative to the flu. Check with your friendly Naturopathic Doctor (aka Dr. Tim).
Do I need a flu shot?
The answer to this questions is, it depends. (Editor's note: my doictor, a well-known HIV specilaist, would no doubt argue with Timothy here.) When I think about the flu and flu shot and understand the epidemiology of the flu, I tend to think I don’t need another shot as an adult. Here’s why. Each year the flu virus mutates and recombines to form a new strain. This new strain tends to have 2-3 parts of the previous year's virus attached (I am making this simplistic, it is a bit more complIcated then this). This pattern of recombination occurs each year. So if I were to get the flu, like I did last year, my immune system already recognizes some aspects of this years flu virus and can mount a quick and appropriate response to this virus and I will not get sick. Next year, the virus will still have 1 or 2 aspects of the flu from 2 years pervious (when I got sick), so once again I will be immune to the flu. The likelihood of you having the flu 2 consecutive years in a row is minimal with a healthy immune system.
Those who have immune compromised systems may benefit from having a flu shot if their systems were unable to mount a defense against flu without outside pharmaceutical intervention. But with the 1.5 of 100 effectiveness of the vaccine, I would suggest adding other flu prevention protocols, like those mentioned above. The more the merrier.
Efficacy (effectiveness of a flu shot):
Studies that I was able to access online indicate the following:
“Influenza vaccines are less effective among people with chronic medical conditions and among people age 65 and older, as compared to healthy young adults and older children.”
A new scientific study published in The Lancet reveals that influenza vaccines only prevent influenza in 1.5 out of every 100 adults who are injected with the flu vaccine. Further reading of the analysis is disturbing. The positive points within this article point to Vitamin D being 8 times more effective then then flu shot.
Children under the age of 7 tend to have the greatest benefit from the flu shot, though on first inoculation, the vaccine makers recommend a double flu shot. When continuing to extrapolate this authors study information, he states that of the 1.5 of 100 who gain benefit from the flu shot, 7.5 of 100 have adverse “neurological side effects".
My suggestion: get educated before making a choice and then chose the level you are comfortable, for yourself and your family. And always remember to report any perceived side-effects or reactions to your doctor and the local health department. The flu shot should not make you sick.
What do I do if I get sick
Rest, water, garlic - ginger tea (recipe at end). Add red pepper or cayenne pepper to garlic ginger tea - if you want to sweat away a fever.
What to avoid
I have four things that I tell my patients to stop immediately when they feel a cold or flu starting. Stop any Milk products (I generally want patients off these anyway), Caffeine (coffee, soda, chocolate), Wheat and gluten (bread, pasta, sauces, baked goods) and Sugar (sugar, soda pop, fruit juices).
What do I do with a fever?
Fevers are the bodies natural process to fight off invading pathogens. Most bacterial (slow onset) and viruses (fast onset of symptoms) do not survive at temperatures above 103 F. Your body will “turn up the thermostat” to kill off the bugs with heat. It may take a few days. Your immune system has some ability to fight off the first wave of the bugs, but can take 7-10 days to create the backup troops. This is why some bugs seem to hang on so long.
“Feed a cold, starve a fever” still applies. When you have a fever, eaten food will likely just aggravate your digestion and therefore your immune system. The immune system is mainly in the gut, so we want to have our gut working at its best when we are sick. This is why we avoid wheat, gluten, sugar, diary and caffeine. They tend to make our digestion work harder when we want it to be helping to fight the invading bugs.
Take a body temperature shower to cool down. Children can be placed in a body temperature bath to help cool them as well. They will scream; the water will feel ice cold to them. They will settle down as they cool down. It is a good, natural way to help reduce a fever.
Drink lots of water and herbal teas.
When you do start to worry about temperature? 104F or 40.0C are the top temperatures that most doctors are comfortable with. If the cooling bath and cool compresses to the head have not worked, this is when you would consider a trip to the doctor or emergency room.
It is important to allow your immune system the chance to develop antibodies to the invading pathogen. This can take from 3 to 7 days, hence the length of time of most cold and flus. Suppressing the bodies natural immune response does not give you system or your loved ones' immunity time to develop. Resist the desire to suppress a fever. It will break after a few days and with immune support and rest.
If you have a fever for more then 3 days you will likely be dehydrated. Consider an IV treatment for rehydration and a vitamin and mineral infusion at the same time. This can be obtained at a Naturopathic Doctor’s office who is certified by their board to perform this procedure. Again, check with your friendly Naturopathic Doctor (aka Dr. Tim).
Garlic Ginger Tea
Slice 5 cloves of garlic into a 1 quart (1 litre pot)
Slice two inches of ginger root into same pot
Fill pot half full of water bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes
Add the juice of 1/2 lemon
Add a Tablespoon of local honey- preferably unprocessed
Strain into cup and sip
Add more water to pot and continue to simmer.
Add garlic and ginger daily
Variations: Add a dash of cayenne pepper or hot red peppers- helps break a sweat with a flu
Can add tincture of echinacea root for immune support