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Cold and Flu Season
A Real Public Health Risk or Media Hype and Pharmaceutical Company Marketing?

 

What are Colds and Flu?
Colds and the Flu, or Influenza, are infectious illnesses typically caused by Viruses. Viruses are parasitic micro-organisms much smaller than bacteria that are incapable of reproducing on their own. After they invade the cells of a host, they must use the DNA or RNA replication capability of the host to reproduce and make their "offspring".

Viruses are spread from person to person through body fluids, mainly respiratory droplets. When another person sneezes, coughs or even talks we can inhale tiny droplets that contain the virus. These respiratory droplets can also be spread when infected individuals fail to wash their hands, and anything they touch can then become a source of infection.

Cold and Flu Symptoms
Early symptoms of colds and flu, along with many other viral illnesses, include Fever, headache, extreme fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, watery eyes and body aches. If the infectious organism is stronger than your immune system, the illness can progress to deeper levels of the body and cause active infections in the lungs, including bronchitis and pneumonia.

Epidemiology: How Serious is the Problem?
Every year in the U.S. there are several million cases of colds and flu. Up to 10% to 20% of the total U.S. population may become ill in any given year. Of these, about 100,000 of the most serious cases require hospitalization, and each year there are about 36,000 deaths from the flu.

By comparison, during the first 2 years of the SARS epidemic there were actually less than 1,000 deaths worldwide! Given all the government and media hype about SARS, either the clinical significance of SARS was vastly overstated or the importance of the common flu, despite its wide publicity, is still being understated.

Likewise, the newest viral threat to hit the world, or at least the news media, is the Asian Avian Flu, also known as the Bird Flu. So far, as of September, 2005, there have only been 60 deaths worldwide confirmed. Further details about preparedness for SARS, Bird Flu, or the less exotic run-of-the-mill common colds and flus are presented later in this article.

What is Cold and Flu Season?
While colds and flu can strike in any month of the year, most cases occur from December through March with a peak in February (see the graph at the below).


Historically, this was due to the fact that winter is the coldest time of the year. In the days before refrigeration, there was very little ability to preserve foods that would last the winter, especially fruits and vegetables which contain the highest levels of many crucial vitamins for the immune system such as Vitamin C. As a result the general state of nutrition for most people in the winter time was poor. Homes had no central heat. All these were actual, valid, physical reasons for why people got sick more often during the winter months. In most parts of the world today, however, these reasons are no longer valid!

Today we have central heat and temperature controlled environments. We have greenhouses that grow fresh produce year-round to provide valuable nutrition. We have frozen, dried and other preserved foods. We have nutritional supplements to provide all the essential nutrients of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and essential amino acids that are the foundation of health and a strong immune system. We have modern sanitation systems so we no longer use the same water for cooking and drinking that we do for our raw sewage. In theory, there should no longer be a cold or flu season!!

Modern Reasons for Winter Illness
The explanation for peaks of illnesses between December and March actually start back in September with the end-of-summer ritual called Back-to-School. Large numbers of children cram together into crowded classrooms in predominantly old, out-dated schoolbuildings whose ventilation and air conditioning systems have been idle for several months over the summer break, allowing mold and other micro-organisms to grow, a process that has been taking place for decades.

Putting this many kids back to gether by itself can trigger a spread of colds and flu, but is aggravated by another late-summer early-fall ritual, "Mandatory" Vaccination Side Effects. Childhood vaccinations are another actual cause of illnesses at the start of cold and flu season, since many of the densly-packed school children, already sharing diseases, are then pumped full of a mix of disease antigens and toxic preservatives which actually supress the immune system. A fairly large percentage will actually come down with a case of whatever illness they were vaccinated against, and, voila, instant mini epidemic. The subject of Childhood Vaccinations is a separate, involved issue. To read more about the pros and cons of childhood vaccinations, click here.

As we move into the autumn months, the next contributing modern cause for Cold and Flu Season could be referred to as Excess Sugar and Candy Season. Starting with Halloween, children and adults alike enter into a several month long period of almost daily candy, pastries and homemade goodies. Social pressures frown on declining offers of holiday treats only made once per year. Refined sugar, in doses as low as a tablespoon or two, can suppress our circulating white blood cells for several hours after consumption. If you consume sugar-containing foods several times per day for several months, you will in fact be suppressing your immune system at the time when you need it most.

Next we have the Holiday Retoxification Season, which is a nearly-continuous smorgasbord of rich, high fat foods, alcoholic drinks, and late night parties and feasting that starts during Thanksgiving week, continues with office parties, holiday block parties, family Christmas parties, football bowl game parties (which continue through the end of January) and of course, New Year's Eve parties, not to mention the nearly daily "goodies" and leftovers from these celebrations that mysteriously appear beside the coffee pot in every workplace in the country.

This is then followed by the annual ritual of the New Year’s Resolution Exhaustion Season where, with the best of intentions, we dramatically increase our exercise levels and physical stresses on a severely depleted immune system with our entire body in a generally poor nutritional state. Every year thousands of fitness programs succomb not to a lack of willpower, but to a simple cold or flu following three months of binging on low-quality, immune-suppressive, nutrient-deficient foods and drinks.

In essence, "Cold and Flu Season" in January or February is the direct result of the average American doing almost everything imaginable to destroy their immune system over the 3-4 months starting in September or October, a time period that totals one quarter to one third of every year and should really be thought of as the "Immune Suppression Season" .

Boosting Your Immunity: Natural Cold and Flu Prevention
If the real, modern reason for "Cold & Flu Season" is the suppression of our body's natural immune system, preventing colds and flu becomes straightforward -- simply reverse, or don't do, most or all of the immune-suppressive behaviors mentioned above.

The key to being able to survive the Immune Supression Season disease-free is Nutrition. The Naturopathic approach to eating emphasizes wholesome foods as close to their natural state as possible, and to also include high levels of all the Essential Nutrients (see list at the right). This definition of healthy food basically eliminates any food or ingredient that has been processed - a term for removing or altering food ingredients in the manufacturing process, usually to promote shelf life. Unfortunately, most of the parts removed contain the highest levels of essential nutrients, which is why a fast-food diet promotes illness; the body is basically starving for the essential nutrients it needs for cells to function properly.

The Naturopathic approach to Cold and Flu Prevention therefore includes specific Immune Boosting Foods, which tend to be high in essential nutrients, as well as avoiding Immune Suppressive Foods such as sugar.

Another aspect of boosting the Immune System is the issue of Anti-Oxidants. These are nutrients which can neutralize free radicals - highly destructive chemicals produced often as side effects of pollution. Here in Southern California with high levels of air and water pollution this can be especially important. Some of the best Anti-Oxidants are Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Illnesses in the body can also generate high levels of free-radicals, which is one reason why high doses of these vitamins during the early stages of a cold and flu may help many people "nip it in a bud" or have a far shorter, less severe case of cold/flu.

Exercise is another valuable part of the prevention process, since it helps stimulate circulation, increases the supply of oxygen and other nutrients to the cells, and pumps the lymphatic system, accelerating the clearing of metabolic wastes and toxins away from our cells. It is important to continue your regular exercise program during the fall and winter months, even though it gets darker earlier and you need to wear more clothes when exercising because it is colder.

Sleep. The holidays place a lot of extra demands on our time, and most people, at some point, will be tempted to sacrifice the number of hours they sleep each night in order to get everything done. Your health will be enhanced if you don't do this! 7-8 hours of sleep each night is what most people need in order to have optimum health. If you are run down, tired, and constantly fatigued, you are creating the perfect environment in your body to host a convention of viruses, in other words, to get sick!

Natural Treatments for Colds and Flu
So despite your valiant, or not so valiant, attempts to prevent the flu, there it is: you wake up one day with a scratchy throat, stuffy nose, itchy watery eyes, and you just know that in another day or two, you'll have a full-blown case of the flu, and possibly it could evolve into a bronchitis. What to do?

Natural Treatments for Colds and flu fall into three rather broad categories which overlap each other somewhat. 1) GENERAL IMMUNE STIMULANTS are things which stimulate the body's own defenses, can increase the white blood cell count and will fight any pathogenic organism in a non-specific way. These include specific foods (garlic for example), vitamins, minerals, herbal medicines and homeopathic remedies. 2) NATURAL ANTI-MICROBIAL AGENTS are therapies such as herbal medicines or certain homeopathic remedies which have proven action directly against specific micro-organisms, including the viruses which cause colds and flu. 3) BOOSTING THE BODY'S ENERGY RESERVES can help by giving the body more ability to fight an infection. Depletion of the body's energy reserves, in fact, through stress, overwork or lack of sleep, is one of the chief reasons that viruses are able to colonize our bodies in the first place. Natural energy boosting includes Exercise, Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga, Hydrotherapy and Adrenal Tonic Herbs.

Many of the natural treatments work best when taken at the first appearance of symptoms. Waiting a day or two in the hopes that you will "shake it off" will often be ineffective, and when the symptoms worsen, the same treatment methods that would have worked the day before may not. During the Immune Suppression Season, therefore, it is a good idea to keep some of the "early stage" remedies on hand at all times, especially if you have children.

Flu Shots?
The vaccination process involves injecting low doses of actual flu virus directly into your bloodstream. This is supposed to trigger the production of anti-bodies from your immune system so that, if you are exposed to the actual, wild flu virus, you will already be immune and therefore, won't get sick. Side effects of the flu vaccine process is common, and symptoms typically mimic the flu: in other words, the vaccine intended to protect you from the flu may in fact give you the flu. These vaccines also include a variety of other substances as carrier materials and preservatives, many of which are toxic in their own right and can cause side effects, i.e. illnesses, of their own.

Flu shots are usually recommended for those individuals most at risk of the flu: children and adults. Unfortunately, these same populations are also the ones most at risk for side effects of the flu vaccine. In the case of children, the reasons for this increased risk were mostly discussed above - the back-to-school, excess sugar phenomena which continually keep the immune system depressed and prevent it from functioning properly. Other reasons have to do with the early delivery of vaccines as part the "childhood vaccination" process, which can interfere with the normal development of the immune system. To read more about this one aspect of cold and flu susceptibility, click here.

For the elderly, the reasons are a little different. First there is a natural decline of the Vital Force, which in turn can weaken the immune system in general. There are a number of ways to counteract, or at least delay, this natural aging process, which are discussed below. Second, many elderly people are taking a variety of prescription medications, many of which have a side effect of supressing the immune system. Many elderly people often have poor nutrition, and a decreased ability to absorb the nutrients they do eat, all of which can suppress the immune system and all of which can be reversed for most people.

In addition to side effects from the flu shots, their effectivenes is also an issue. Part of this is the result of how the flu vaccines are made. Scientists have to "guess" 1-2 years in advance which strains of flu virus they will use in each year's flu shots. Very often, those guesses are wrong and even if you do get the shot, they won't be able to protect you, since the strains of virus circulating in the environment are different than the strains in the vaccine. And for the elderly, our most at-risk population, a CDC study has shown that flu vaccines are only 30-40% effective at preventing the flu among nursing home populations.

Summary: High-Risk Populations are at an increased risk of side-effects from the vaccination process. The flu vaccine itself is often ineffective at preventing the flu. Healthy individuals with a strong nutritional base will have a strong, natural immunity to colds and flu, and therefore won't need the vaccine; high risk populations, because of that increased risk of side effects, should probably not have them.

The Bird Flu??!!
The Bird Flu from Asia is a disease that usually only infects birds. It is extremely difficult for this virus to cross species lines and infect humans. When it does, it is then very difficult for transmission to take place from one human to another. The reason it evokes fear, however, is that it is an extremely potent disease: more than 50% of the confirmed human cases have resulted in fatality (117 cases/60 deaths) as of October 2005. These were all in Southeast Asian Countries, with Vietnam being the source of most of the cases.

So, with more than a 50% mortality rate, the potential threat of Bird Flu from Asia is very real, especially for those who do catch it. The likelihood of catching it, however, is very slim. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and governments throughout the world are all acting like the end of the world is coming. Mass vaccination programs (costing Billions of dollars) are being planned; whether or not mandatory vaccinations will be required has not yet been determined, though with the actual threat of disease transmission and the extremely low number of actually confirmed human cases it appears that any widespread vaccination program is premature and unwarranted.

Don't forget that any widespread vaccination program will have a large number of unknown risks and side effects. During the 1970s the major Asian disease scare was for the Swine Flu. Fears that it could impact the U.S. pork production industry resulted in a mandatory vaccination program among swine herds. Excessive deaths of pigs, however, prompted an early halt to the pig vaccination program. Drug companies, left with huge quantities of un-used Swine Flu vaccines began to look for ways to recoup some of their losses. A wave of media hysteria was created and even then-President Gerald Ford was recruited to make television appearances urging Americans to line up for Swine Flu Shots. The fact that these vaccines had killed large numbers of animals was never told to the general public. Predictably, several hundred people died shortly after taking the Swine Flu vaccine, and eventually the program was halted.

Examples from the past such as the Swine Flu fiasco have many people concerned that the Bird Flu may be just another case of bungling in the making, and the "cure", i.e. any potential vaccination program, may in fact be worse than the disease if it should ever spread to the U.S.

What has been woefully lacking in all of the media reports and official government pronouncements has been the issue of building the strength of the immune system as a means of combatting the Bird Flu. Proper nutrition, discussed earlier, combined with natural immune-boosting therapies will build your body's ability to fight all viruses.


 


Electron microscope photograph of cold viruses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS are specific molecules the body must have in order to be healthy, but we are incapable of making from other raw materials. Whereas our cells have the machinery and enzymes needed to make most of the things they need, such as neurotransmitters, hormones and other structural aspects of the cell, the Essential Nutrients are more fundamental. Think of them as the lowest-level building blocks the body needs in order to make everything else. Long-term deficiencies of any specific Essential Nutrient will eventually cause a chronic disease, even death. Scurvy, for example, was a serious disease caused by Vitamin C deficiencies.

Specific Essential Nutrients include:
- Vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, K)
- Minerals (more than 70 minerals considered essential)
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), also known as the omega oils, these are the "Healthy Fats"
- Essential Amino Acids (Protein Building Blocks)


 

Copyright 2004-2005 by Dr. Arlan Cage, ND, MS and South Bay Total Health. No part of this website may be reproduced by any means without the express, written permission of the website owner.

SOUTH BAY TOTAL HEALTH
NATUROPATHIC CLINIC

2204 Torrance Blvd, Suite 104B
Torrance, CA 90501

(310) 803-8803