Cold and Flu: A Pound of Prevention

Our best bet is to layer multiple preventive strategies. If one is less than effective, others can fill the breach.

Every year, cold and flu viruses strike with a vengeance. Children stay home from school, colleagues drop like dominoes, pain and misery ensues. While flu shots are available, they don’t always target the precise strain of the virus that’s being transmitted. And with colds, we’re pretty much on our own.

To make matters worse, we aren’t very good at gauging our own health, often thinking we’re on the mend when we actually need more rest. This is complicated by the constant need to feel productive. The viral misery is compounded by mental images of work piling up in our absence, requiring urgent attention. We endure the fatigue and discomfort and drag ourselves to work. As a result, we don’t heal properly and risk spreading the virus to friends and co-workers.

Does it have to be this way? While no prevention strategy is perfect, there are many measures we can take to boost our immunity and stop, or at least minimize, cold and flu. It just takes a little planning.

Flu Shot?
One common preventive strategy is the flu vaccine, which can be helpful in some cases but also has a number of shortcomings. Remember, vaccines work by priming our acquired immunity to immediately recognize a specific virus and kill it. But, as noted, sometimes researchers guess wrong and create a vaccine for a less prevalent strain, limiting its effectiveness. Also, vaccines are predicated on a healthy immune system. For those who are elderly, very young, or may have a condition that compromises their immunity, the shot's effectiveness may be dramatically reduced. Furthermore, some studies in children have suggested that, while flu shots can boost immunity against a specific strain of flu virus, they can weaken immune responses to other viruses, making children more susceptible to other illnesses.

Other flu shot considerations include side effects, such as fatigue and sore muscles, and the presence of mercury, sometimes used as preservative. If you do choose to get a flu shot, be sure to confirm with your doctor that it's a mercury-free vaccine.

Ultimately, each individual has to make his or her own decision. But the most important thing to remember is that the flu shot is not fail-safe. Our best bet is to layer multiple preventive strategies. If one is less than effective, others can fill the breach.

Risk Awareness
Often we don't think about getting a cold or flu until we're actually sick. One of the primary steps in preventing disease is being mindful of the risks. The first rule is to follow common-sense precautions. Frequent hand washing is a must, denying viruses a foothold. If someone in your office has shown poor judgment—and we've all done it at some point—and come back to work before he'd ready, do your best to keep your distance. You may even gently encourage him to spend a little more time in bed, and he may thank you for giving him the free pass.

With or without a flu shot, it's always important to be aware of our immune system. Fortunately, it's relatively easy to enhance immunity. For example, drinking plenty of fresh water helps in a number of ways – flushing out viruses and bacteria, boosting immune circulation, and increasing communication between immune cells. Regular exercise also has been shown to enhance immunity. We also can build immunity by simply doing something we love: Enjoying time with our family and friends or doing a cherished activity. Happiness and laughter are specifically shown to offer a significant boost. Conversely, stress can dramatically weaken the immune system and is a risk factor for long-term illness, as shown in numerous published studies. Find healthy ways to reduce stress, such as exercise, deep breathing, meditation, and doing things that bring you happiness and satisfaction.

As always, eating healthy foods is a must for health, but especially for a strong immune system. Again, our busy lifestyles can make it difficult to prepare nutritious meals, but a little planning can go a long way. An unprocessed food diet rich in lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will provide an abundance of phytonutrients and antioxidants, and it can do much to support the immune system. In particular, cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, are metabolized by the body into a compound called DIM, which provides powerful immune and overall health support.

Perhaps the most important preventive step is to get enough sleep. More than 60 million Americans have some type of sleep problem, which can lead to a number of chronic illnesses, not to mention fatigue. Quite simply, the body needs its rest. Without it, things break down -- and the immune system is very near the top of that list.

Supplementing Immunity
There are many natural supplements that boost immunity while providing other health benefits, as well. A popular example is vitamin C, an immunity booster as well as an antioxidant. Another good supplement is vitamin D, which also supports the immune system and has been shown to have antiviral properties, among other benefits.

There is probably no more important mineral to the immune system than zinc. Whether it's the innate immunity (the first line of defense against pathogens) or the acquired immunity (the antibodies that recognize invaders and destroy them), zinc is an essential component. Zinc deficiency has been shown to depress the immune system, making us more susceptible to infection. On the other hand, supplementing with zinc has been proven to boost immunity.

Vitamins, such as C and D, and minerals, such as zinc, are commonplace and easy to find at the local grocery. However, there are other, more sophisticated approaches to immune health that can really pay off when cold and flu season rolls around. Medicinal mushrooms in particular are a remarkable resource. These helpful fungi are actually immune system coaches, "teaching" it how to better respond to harmful invaders.

Mushrooms contain an abundance of complex carbohydrate molecules that boost the activity of macrophages—the immune system’s first responders. Like all the supplements I recommend, mushrooms cause no side effects, so it's easy to establish a maintenance dose to sharpen the immune system. Then, during times of increased vulnerability, you can increase the dose to match the threat. When selecting a formula, look for mushrooms that have been grown in an herbal medium. The herbs themselves have immune-enhancing characteristics, boosting the mushrooms' own natural health benefits.

One natural ingredient that is often overlooked is Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP). For centuries, citrus peels have been known to provide health benefits. The problem has been that the molecules in the active ingredient are too big for the body to absorb them effectively. As a result, they provided only limited benefits. However, newer approaches have allowed us to break down these molecules into smaller components, allowing them to be easily absorbed into circulation. The result is the powerful therapeutic agent MCP.

MCP provides numerous health benefits. Recent studies have shown that it limits cancer invasiveness and reduces inflammation. In addition, it’s a potent detoxifying agent. But for our purposes, MCP also has been shown to dramatically boost immune function by activating and enhancing a variety of components, such as B, T, and Natural Killer cells.

If You Get Sick
Even multilayered defenses against colds and flu can come up short. Sometimes there are just too many germs too close at hand. Again, vitamin C, medicinal mushrooms, and zinc are all helpful, but you will likely need to increase the doses. For example, where you might have taken 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C, once a day, you may want to take the same dose three times a day. Zinc, vitamin D, and medicinal mushrooms will support your fight and can help you recover more rapidly.

Some botanicals that could prove helpful are garlic, which has known antiviral and antibacterial properties, and ginger, which can reduce symptoms and act as a decongestant. Echinacea and goldenseal also may help.

But perhaps the best recommendation is the one you least want to take: Stay home and rest. While it's difficult to just sit back and fall out of your busy routine, getting enough quality rest really is the fast track to recovery. If you return to work while you are still sick, not only will you be less productive and delay your recovery, but also you will also put others at risk, setting the dominoes in motion. The good news is that, by taking the right preventative measures and boosting your immunity with diet, supplements, and healthy lifestyle habits, you can largely avoid getting sick in the first place.

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Dr. Isaac Eliaz, M.D., MS, L.Ac., has been a pioneer in preventive medicine since the early 1980s. He is a researcher, clinical practitioner, author, and lecturer and is widely regarded as the leading expert in the field of Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP) research. He has been using MCP in his clinical practice for over 15 years to treat a variety of conditions. Eliaz integrates his background in Western medicine with extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, Ayervedic, Homeopathic, and complementary medical systems. With more than 25 years of clinical experience and research, he offers a unique holistic approach to the relationship between health and disease, immune enhancement, detoxification, and cancer prevention and treatment. Through collaboration with leading integrative health authorities, major research institutes and government agencies, he continually studies, integrates, and applies the best health practices from Western medicine and complementary approaches. Eliaz is also the director of the Amitabha Medical Clinic & Healing Center (www.amitabhaclinic.com) in Sebastopol, Calif., where he and his team of integrative practitioners treat cancer and other chronically ill patients using a wide range of cutting-edge and traditional therapies drawn from diverse medical systems. For more information about his work, visit www.DrEliaz.org.

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