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Easy steps to bolster flu immunity.

The immune system defends the body against diseases and other harmful invaders, including bacteria and the flu virus. The body's ability to resist these invaders is called immunity. In my opinion, building one's immunity against all invaders is a much more comprehensive approach than the singularly focused flu vaccination and can be accomplished by following five easy steps:

1. advanced hygiene

2. diet

3. supplementation

4. sleep

5. reducing stress

Step 1: Advanced Hygiene: Why Handwashing Is Not Enough

The influenza virus, as with colds, is spread from person to person. The way these "germs" are spread is not by inhaling them but by picking them up on our hands and touching our face, where they can gain entry to our body. This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends health habits to prevent the flu, such as washing our hands often and avoiding touching our eyes, nose, or mouth.

The first step of starts with a semi-soft natural soap. I instruct my patients to push their fingertips into the soap in order to address the area in and around the fingernails, an infectious "hotbed," where I believe that the overwhelming majority of germs on the hands reside.

The next step involves immersing one's face ("facial dipping") into a solution of water, sea salt, and dilute iodine. This process is designed to rid the face of germs, viruses, and bacteria. This is vital, since these pathogens gain access to our bodies not through our airways and respiratory tract, but through our eyes, nasal passages, mouth, and ears. Fingernail cleansing and facial dipping disarm the autoinoculation process--the process where we unwittingly put into our bodies (through the eyes, nose, or mouth) unwanted germs or viruses.

I believe that the best way to reduce the likelihood of contracting the flu (and a host of other illnesses) is the twice-daily practice of advanced hygiene. Advanced hygiene is designed to systematically remove germs from the five areas where they are most likely to enter the body: (1) the hands (particularly underneath the fingernails), (2) the comers of the eyes, (3) the nasal passageways, (4) the ear canals, and (5) the mouth. I believe that this regimen can support the immune system and can assist in reducing colds and flu, allergies, and sinus problems.

Step 2: Diet

A whole foods-based diet adds to overall human health and immunity. Examples of immune-enhancing foods are locally grown fruits and vegetables that are raised organically and are free of chemicals. Fresh fruits and vegetables are especially vital in this capacity. While no health official would argue with the consumption of fruits and vegetables, we can take our diets a step further if we really want to bolster our immune system!

In my practice, I have found that the maintenance of optimal blood sugar (glucose) levels will significantly reduce infection with most (if not all) pathogens. In my opinion, the best way to ensure proper blood sugar control is to avoid added sugar and highly refined starches, such as pasta, rice, potatoes, and breads. Unfortunately, these starchy foods are the backbone of the "comfort foods" that make up our diet during this time of year.

Step 3: Supplementation

In general, I recommend that my patients use supplement formulas made from whole foods that have been fermented. Because the majority of the immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract, a balance of intestinal bacteria is vital to helping our bodily defenses function properly. Key supplements to help bolster immunity include:

1. Probiotics: The probiotics improve the body's ability to fight infection and enhance the immune response.

2. Whole food mushroom blend." Mushrooms can enhance immune, competent cell activities. They have immunostimulating properties, and they can pack a "one-two punch" for increased immunity when paired with probiotics.

3. Coconut oil (minimally processed): Lauric acid, found in coconut oil, is antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal. Monolaurin (found in lauric acid) can destroy lipid-coated viruses such as influenza.

4. Whole food supplements: Herb and spice extracts such as golden-seal, elderberry, garlic, ginger, oregano, and horseradish have traditionally been used for thousands of years. Formulas that utilize a combination of herbs seem to be most effective.

5. Vitamin C supplements: Readers should consult with a knowledgeable health practitioner.

Those who do not want to take supplements might try using traditionally healing herbs and spices in their cooking and teas to give another immunological punch to the diet.

Step 4: Sleep

Consistent, adequate sleep is vitally important to overall health and paramount to a healthy and well-functioning immune system. Recent studies have shown that proper restful sleep is intimately tied to the balance of a number of hormones, most notably cortisol and melatonin. Adequate levels of these hormones are vital to a properly functioning immune system in order to prevent both acute infections and long-term illnesses such as autoimmune disorders and cancer.

More important than how long you sleep is when you sleep. To ensure proper glandular functioning it appears sleep is optimized when it is in sync with the day--night cycle. That means the optimal spring/summer bedtime is between 9 and 10 p.m. and the optimal fall/winter bedtime is between 8 and 9 p.m. It also appears that sleep cycles started before midnight are far more effective than those started after midnight--regardless of the number of hours slept.

While admittedly these guidelines are very difficult to observe given our lifestyles, if you feel that "you are coming down with something," rest and proper sleep may be one of your cheapest and most enjoyable remedies!

Step 5: Reducing Stress

Stress is linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide--and too much stress also hinders the immune system. Constant stress may increase risks associated with a variety of conditions, such as heart, allergic, and immune diseases.

Even though most of us equate stress with psychological challenges, physiological stress also must be considered. Moderate strenuous activity and exercise can be immune-enhancing, but if we begin to cross this line, these activities can be immune-weakening. As a long-time endurance athlete, I know that there is no greater recipe for disaster than a hard workout when I am beginning to feel a little "under the weather." Learn from my mistakes: An ounce of common sense can spell the difference between a healthy versus a "sickly" cold and flu season.

Overall, if you cannot try all of the five tips for avoiding the flu, in my opinion the single best choice would be to practice advanced hygiene. However, I believe that if you are willing to try all of these five practical tips, you will feel healthier all year long--not just during flu season!

Joseph Brasco, M.D., is Vice President of Medical Affairs, Garden of Life, Inc.
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Author:Brasco, Joseph
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jun 22, 2004
Words:1139
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