Saturday, November 23, 2013

Colds, Flu and other Seasonal Infections

Greetings on a chilly day! 

What follow are some important        
strategies to help you smoothly sail
through cold and flu season.  
Some are universal precautions. 
Others are pure Chinese medicine,
a gift that helps avoid the snags
of antibiotics and anti-viral

Strategies for Prevention:

  • Cleanse your hands often.  If you wash your hands, do so for 15-20 seconds (the length of time to sing the Happy Birthday song).   Scrub all contours of the surface – not just the palms.  Rinse well and dry hands with air or disposable paper towels.
  • Keep your fingers away from your nose and mouth unless you’ve just cleaned your fingers.  Many forms of colds and viruses live up to two hours on surfaces such as tabletops, doorknobs and telephone receivers.  If you’ve touched a surface with a live "bug", all that is needed to become infected is to touch your eyes, nose or mouth before you’ve properly cleansed your hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or coughDisposable tissue use is best.  Throw it away right away and wash your hands.  If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into the upper part of your sleeve near your shoulder.  Other people are far less likely to have contact with your upper sleeve than with your hands.  In fact, sneezing or coughing into your hands is one of the worst options since they touch more surfaces in the environment than any other part of our bodies.  Hands will spread germs almost as readily as sneezing or coughing without covering your mouth.
  • Teach others in your home to observe germ-prevention habits.  Most of the details can be understood by children as young as two years old with proper instruction, repetition and supervision.
  • Drink plenty of water.  Stay away from iced water because it unnecessarily taxes digestive energy.
  • Minimize dairy products.  They clog the respiratory system and create phlegm.
  • Avoid simple sugars and alcohol.  They depress the immune system and also create phlegm.  Get your sweets from a serving of fruit.  If you react to modern wheat’s high gluten content, avoid this source of congestion.  This includes whole wheat.
  • Eat plenty of fresh vegetables.
  • If you eat meat or eggs, choose organic.  A second-best choice is free-range.  Animals raised in feed lots or other confinement facilities are shot full of antibiotics and other chemicals.  The residual is in their meat or eggs.  This affects your immune system.
  • Get plenty of rest and minimize stress – often easier said than done, but important.
  • Stay physically activeQigong is one of my favorites; it’s also a great way to deal with stress.
  • Use Chinese herbs and acupuncture to keep your immune system strong and prevent infection.  People who receive regular acupuncture treatment and/or use Chinese herbs get sick less often.  The medicine balances and strengthens your immune system.
  • Address your allergies.  There are wonderful Chinese herbal formulas that can be tailored to your specific situation.  The herbs work synergistically to deal with root causes of allergies and to strengthen your body.  The best time to use them is before your allergy season but they can also be a huge help when it’s full-blown allergy season.

Uh-oh.  I’ve got a bug and am starting to feel sick:

  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco and phlegm-producing foods such as sweets and dairy products.
  • Drink plenty of water and rest.
  • If you’re taking an herbal formula that strengthens your body constitution, stop using it.  It also strengthens the pathogen. 
  • Consult with your practitioner for an herbal formula that is tailored to you and the specific phase of your illness.
There are many Chinese herbal formulas to clear infections more quickly and thoroughly.  At the same time, they actually help your immune system.   A formula can be targeted to specific parts of your body:  head, sinuses, throat, neck, upper lung, deeper lung, stomach, etc.  There are no yucky side effects that cause other disorders. 
For over two thousand years, Chinese herbal medicine has been very effective against viral infections, even new strains.  For example, during the huge and frightening SARS outbreak a decade ago, infected patients in China were successfully treated with Chinese herbs.  Herbs also protected the health care professionals from contracting the virus.  
  • If you have sinus congestion and/or infection, try these measures:
    • Remove congested substances with a saline (salt water) rinse.  A neti-pot is great for this.  Alternatively, use a sinus spray filled with saline.
    • Put hot compresses on your head several times a day to help ease the pain.
    • Bring a pot of water to simmer.  Put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil into the water, place your head over the pot, drape a towel around your head, and inhale the vapor.
    • Consider eating horseradish or wasabi to loosen and help expel phlegm.  For those who tolerate nightshades, salsa is another option.
  • For help getting rid of nausea or stomach ache, brew a tea made from a few quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger.

What about pharmaceutical anti-viral medications?

They can diminish heat signs and sometimes slow down the progression of a viral disease.  The virus isn’t killed, just less active.  More often than not, however, they wind up prolonging the illness.  Complete recovery can take an extra two or three weeks if an anti-viral medication is given at a full-blown stage of influenza.

What about antibiotics?

  • They don’t treat viral infections. 
  • They destroy beneficial bacteria in your digestive system, making you more vulnerable to future infections.  The destroyed gut flora also puts you at risk for a host of other disorders like leaky gut syndrome and auto-immune disorders.
  • They leave you more at risk for future antibiotic resistance. 

What about the flu vaccine?

The track record is about 40% for flu vaccine manufacturers guessing which strains will be active.  There are over 200 viruses that can cause the common cold.  Influenza viruses mutate one to two times a year.   Therefore, there’s a good chance a vaccine won’t prevent a cold or flu.  Furthermore, there are many documented cases of serious illnesses following a flu vaccination.  This includes neurological disorders, auto-immune diseases, and exacerbation or onset of respiratory disorders like asthma.   Significantly, there is a fairly high percentage of doctors and nurses who skip yearly flu shots.

Janet Lee Cook
Licensed Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Prescriptions