Practical Tips for Flu Prevention

strong immune systemIn light of the news that this year’s flu shot is, at best, 23% effective (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/flu-vaccine-working-23-percent-effective-28249610), many people are wondering what they can do to help protect themselves and their family from the flu.  In fact, there are a lot of lifestyle changes that you can make in order to help keep your family healthy during what we have been calling ‘the sick season.’  In addition to influenza, norovirus (what most people refer to as a ‘stomach bug’ or ‘stomach flu,’ that includes vomiting, diarrhea, and fever), and rhinovirus (the common cold), all run rampant this time of year.  Many of the tactics that you can use to prevent the flu will also prevent the spread of other common contagious illnesses.

First and foremost, practice proper hand washing!  Check out this awesome poster from the World Health Organization.  You can print it out and hang it in your bathroom for your kids: http://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/How_To_HandWash_Poster.pdf. One of the best best strategies that you can implement to help prevent the spread of illness, is have everyone take off their shoes and jackets, and WASH HANDS as soon as you get home.  From anywhere!  When you get home from school, the drugstore, the mall, the grocery store, a friend’s house, your mom’s house, anywhere.  Every time you walk in the door make it a habit to wash your hands.  If you are running multiple errands, or will be in a location where soap and water is not readily available, it is a good idea to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but keep in mind this does not kill norovirus, clostridium difficile bacteria, or many strains of the flu virus.  Experts have said that hand sanitizer is more effective at preventing germ proliferation, rather than at killing it off, so it’s important to use soap and water whenever it’s available, and not to rely on hand sanitizers.

In addition to hand washing, when you are out and about, it’s important to try not to touch your face, eyes, nose, or mouth!  This is more difficult than people realize.  It’s habit to rub our eyes when we are tired, scratch our nose, or eat something with our hands.  Spend any time with children, and you will notice how often they have their hands in their mouths, and fingers in their nose!  That’s one of the best ways to spread germs, so talk to your kids about keeping their hands away from their face.  This will be almost impossible for them!  But it’s still important to try, and it’s never too late to begin instilling good hygiene habits in our children.

Typically, the influenza virus is considered a “droplet transmission” virus, which means you must come into contact with the secretions of someone who is infected.  Some strains have been known to be “airborne,” which means the microscopic droplets can stay suspended in the air for some time and you can become infected by breathing them in.  For this reason, if you are going to be in contact with someone with the flu, or if you MUST go out in public when you have the flu, it is prudent to wear a respiratory mask.  These are available at any drugstore.  While you might feel silly wearing it, it’s better than getting the flu or spreading it to someone else!  Alternatively, you could wear a Scough and pretend you are covering your face because you’re cold! http://wearascough.com

Getting regular chiropractic adjustments can help keep you and your family in optimal health.  In order for our immune systems to function appropriately, our body and brain need to be able to send effective messages to each other!  These messages are sent up and down our spinal cord (in a complex process I won’t bore you with here), and a simple adjustment can make all of the difference if some of those pathways are blocked.  Chiropractic adjustments can be especially helpful for children who have frequent sinus and ear infections as the adjustments help to keep those areas open for drainage.

Vitamin D deficiency is almost epidemic in this country, especially during the winter months when we are exposed to very little sunshine.  However, vitamin D is crucial for proper immune function and many other functions in the body. In order for our bodies to make adequate vitamin D, we need to have adequate levels of cholesterol in our bodies, and at least 15 minutes of face and arm exposure to sunlight per day.  Clearly no one one in the Northeastern United States is getting that amount of exposure during the icy cold winter months.  A high quality vitamin D supplement can help fill in the gaps until we can all lay out in the sunshine during the warmer months.  We like Bluebonnet brand, Xymogen, and Nordic Naturals, but you can ask your chiropractor or naturopath which supplement brand they recommend.  It is especially important for breastfeeding mothers to make sure that they are not vitamin D deficient.  Many pediatricians mistakenly claim that breastmilk is deficient in vitamin D and that babies need supplementation, but this is only true if the mother is deficient.  Some breastfeeding mothers need as much as 5,000-10,000 IU supplementation in order to have enough vitamin D for themselves and their nursing baby.  Your chiropractor or other health practitioner can order a blood test so that you know what your vitamin D levels are.

It is very important to maintain the healthiest diet possible when trying to prevent the flu and other illnesses.  By now, most of us know how damaging excess sugar can be to the immune system, so it’s especially important to keep the sugar down during outbreaks of illness!  We know how hard it is to maintain a healthy diet when fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t as available and when all you want to do is curl up with some hot comfort food.  Nourishing soups that contain a lot of garlic, onions, and ginger will help fight the flu and other illnesses.  Bone broth is a wonderful addition to everyone’s diet, see our favorite recipe here: http://wellnessmama.com/5888/how-to-make-bone-broth/ Organic oatmeal with grass-fed butter, cinnamon, and maple syrup is a delicious and nourishing way to start the day.  Pastured eggs have plenty of protein, omega-3 fats, and vitamin D.  Don’t forget to eat the yolk!  That’s where the vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats are.  Snack on organic almonds and walnuts, organic dried fruit and seeds, and grass-fed cheeses.  If you must have something sweet (as we all must sometimes), you can make your own organic low-sugar hot chocolate.  Organic, fair-trade pure cocoa powder, plus the milk or milk alternative of your choice, and just a couple teaspoons of organic cane sugar will satisfy your sweet tooth.

Remember also, that the majority of your immune system resides in your gut.  There are certain food additives and over-the-counter medications that are known to harm the beneficial bacteria inside your large intestine that protect you from infection.  NSAIDS such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can damage gut flora when taken in excess or over long periods of time.  Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal) and sucralose (Splenda) have been known to kill off beneficial bacteria. Always read labels of all over-the-counter medications as many contain sucralose or aspartame.  Pedialyte, often given to children for dehydration during illness, contains sucralose, which is almost guaranteed to make your child feel worse.  Check out this blog for an all-natural rehydration drink for kids: http://dontmesswithmama.com/homemade-citrus-electrolyte-drink/

If you or your family members do happen to come down with the flu, in the absence of other serious medical conditions, it is usually a self-limiting illness.  It is important to stay at home, preferably in bed, and to REST, when you are ill!  Our culture encourages pushing yourself to the limit, but it’s important to STAY HOME when you are sick in order to prevent passing the illness along to others.  Plenty of rest also results in a quicker recovery.  Keep hydrated and eat nourishing meals such as bone broth.  For kids without an appetite, I make a delicious, immune boosting rice dish that I have put on my birth blog here: https://birthinfullbloom.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/immune-boosting-rice-dish-for-sick-little-ones/

Stay hydrated with coconut water, electrolyte drinks, organic juices, and tea.  Organic Lemon Balm tea is both antiviral and delicious!  Even kids like it, sweetened with a little raw honey (honey is not recommended for babies under 1 year of age).  Breastfeeding babies and kids are much less likely to come down with the flu, but if they do, it is important to nurse frequently for hydration, calories, and immune boosting effects.  If you are nursing a baby and your older child comes down with the flu, pumping breast milk and giving it to your older child in a cup can help them benefit from the antibodies it contains.  We have yet to read a convincing study indicating that Tamiflu is indicated for treatment of the diagnosed flu, but this is something you must discuss with your healthcare provider.

There are many herbal remedies that are safe for treating common illnesses at home.  These include Echinacea and Elderberry, the two most common, Lomatium, Olive Leaf Extract, and others, but as herbal remedies are out of the scope of this blog post, we suggest directly contacting an herbalist or naturopath for dosing recommendations.  As always, boosting probiotics and vitamin C will help almost any illness.  Note that too much of either can cause loose stools in both adults and children.  If this does happen, remember that is normal (and often indicates you have just passed the therapeutic dose), and simply discontinue or back off the dosage.

There are so many ways that you can help protect your family from the flu this season, and not all have been listed here.  If you have any questions about the information you’ve read here, please contact us at peaandthepodchiropractic.com or 302-368-0800.