Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Apparently, the flu season is here if the following evidence is any indication: 1. Bloomberg news reporting on data from Google’s influenza tracker estimates it is the worst in six years. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-14/flu-shock-outbreak-already-ranks-as-one-of-the-worst-in-a-decade-chart-.html 2. There are increasing news reports of hospitals overflowing with flu patients. http://www.wbez.org/news/local-hospitals-are-overflowing-flu-patients-104780 or http://www.wflx.com/story/20565139/flu-widespread-in-47-states-vaccine-moderately-effective-cdc 3. The push to get the flu shot has reached almost maniacal proportions. My neighborhood drug store has not one but more than a dozen signs in every aisle reminding customers to get their shot. This, I assume, is for customers who might get distracted traveling the three feet between the toothpaste and dental floss. If the level of outbreak is any indication, I think it is safe to assume the shot is not working very well. This concern has been voiced by a number of news outlets, including the New York Times http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/reassessing-flu-shots-as-the-season-draws-near/ and consumer advocacy groups like the Alliance for Human Research Protection http://www.ahrp.org/cms/content/view/879/9/ who call the flu shot “a waste of money” but in the frenzy to do anything that might conceivably help, nobody seems to be listening. So, what can you do to prevent the flu that might actually work? You can use time-honored and research supported techniques for improving your immune function and keeping exposure down. Here are 6 steps with good evidence of effectiveness: 1. Wash your hands frequently. Frequent and proper hand washing is proven to be beneficial for illness prevention. http://ajicjournal.org/article/PIIS0196655311000071/abstract And it is easy and inexpensive. Effective hand washing requires some skills. Click here http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/ for hand washing tips from the experts. 2. Get your beauty (and immune system) sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation has long been known to negatively affect the immune response. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/ Getting at least seven hours of sleep a night should be seen as a critical tool in flu prevention. 3. Reduce your intake of added sugar. Refined sugar contains calories but no nutrients, which is why sugary foods are called ‘empty calorie’ foods. To get your immune system in top fighting shape it requires nutrient rich foods. The classic study on sugar’s effect on the immune system found that consuming 100 grams of sugar reduced white blood cell response by about 40% for up to 5 hours. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/26/11/1180.short 4. Maintain robust vitamin D levels. Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is nature’s little immune enhancer. It helps regulate T-cells, a type of white blood cell involved in fighting viruses. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21849106 Unfortunately, between winter weather, make-up with sunscreen and other environmental factors, an estimated 75% of people are deficient. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=414878 You will likely need to take vitamin D to get your blood levels to a robust 50 nmol/L but it would be worth it for a number of reasons. Your doctor can help you with this. 5. Take vitamin C. Vitamin C may not cure the common cold but it certainly seems to reduce the symptoms created by viruses. In one study cold and flu symptoms were reduced by 85% in the group taking large doses of vitamin C. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10543583 6. Fight bad bugs with good bugs. Good bacteria in the form of probiotics have long been touted for helping digestive symptoms. Emerging research is now finding they help the general immune system also. A double blind placebo controlled study found children taking probiotics through the winter used 84% less antibiotics and had 72% less fevers than the placebo group. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/124/2/e172.abstract Probiotics can be purchased at most drug or health food stores and maintain their potency best if stored in the refrigerator.