flu season is almost upon us. In fact, at any
transition between seasons, people are likely
to get sick, especially if they are prone to a
weakened immune system. But as the summer wanes
and the fall approaches, now is the time to boost
your immunity. Acupuncture and herbs are a safe
and effective means of preparing for and getting
through cold and flu season unscathed.
But this year there is the added concern of the
recent outbreak and pandemic of the A (H1N1) Influenza
Virus, aka the Swine Flu. How should you make
sense of what you hear in the media? How can you
protect yourself and your family? Should you be
Colds vs. the Flu
Colds are typically less severe and present with
respiratory symptoms like congestion, sore throat,
sneezing, a cough, headaches and chest discomfort.
They usually last 3-5 days and once in a while
are a good way for your body’s immune system
to get kick started and clean out. When a patient
comes in with a cold, I will generally support
the immune system and help lessen the symptoms
through acupuncture and herbs. Taking over-the-counter
symptom suppressing medications inhibits your
body’s ability to clean itself out which
is done through the very symptoms those drugs
are suppressing. Now is the time to call in sick
and rest for a few days. When given the chance,
your body knows exactly what it needs to do to
right the ship and get healthy. Just listen.
The flu, though, is certainly more serious to
deal with. It typically lasts 5-7 days and can
present with a fever, chills, body aches, weakness,
headaches, chest discomfort and can even lead
to further complications like pneumonia, especially
if you are immune compromised by dealing with
a pre-existing chronic illness. The “stomach
flu”, or gastro-enteritis, is actually not
the same thing. It is usually the result of eating
unclean foods and will take about 36-48 hours
to fully express itself with a few extras days
for your system to completely recover. With food
poisoning, It is of the utmost importance that
you do NOT take over-the-counter anti-diarrhea
medications like Immodium AD. Once again, your
body is very efficient in acutely expelling unwanted
toxicity; let it do so. With both types of “flu”,
I can be of great help to you in recovering.
Both the common cold and the flu are viral in
nature, so antibiotics (ie, anti-bacterial medications)
are ineffective and are not recommended unless
a bacterial infection results, like pneumonia.
Very often patients simply want their doctors
to give them something to take. Not only would
this be poor medical practice and would do no
good, but as the source of your healthy immune
system comes from the beneficial bacteria in your
gut, when you take an antibiotic, you are killing
not just the “bad” bacteria but also
the “good” bacteria, further weakening
your overall immune system.
Tamiflu and the Flu Shot
The most common flu medication administered is
called Tamiflu. Tamiflu does not prevent the flu
from occurring but rather, when administered,
inhibits the virus from replicating and spreading.
In other words, once you are sick, you’re
sick. It can only limit the course of the flu
by 1-2 days. And comes along with possible side
effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches,
dizziness, fatigue, cough, convulsions and other
neurological symptoms. The question is then: are
you willing to only shorten the duration of your
flu in exchange for possible side effects that
sound an awful lot like the symptoms you are trying
to get rid of in the first place?
As for the flu shot, with a virus that mutates
every few years, the question that lingers for
me is whether the shot you get is for the virus
that you have yet to get? In my informal inquiries
with my patients, whether or not they got vaccinated,
I hear equal accounts of those who still got sick
as those that did not get sick. As with all grey
areas of medicine and health care, my consistent
advice still holds true: get informed and consult
your prescribing physician, then make your own
The Swine Flu
The Swine flu is a virus that originally occurred
in pigs, but has since mutated into something
completely different with little resemblance to
the original virus. It is no longer contracted
by coming in contact with pigs, but rather it
is transmitted human-to-human and presents identically
with the regular flu. The CDC advises that if
your doctor suspects that you have the H1N1 flu,
to proceed with treatment without waiting for
the results from a blood test, particularly if
you fall into a high risk category for complications:
those with pre-existing chronic conditions (diabetes,
heart disease, lung disease, HIV/AIDS), infants,
elderly, healthcare workers, and pregnant or those
caring for children under 6 months. If you do
NOT fall into this category, then according to
the World Health Organization:
Worldwide, most patients infected with the pandemic
virus continue to experience typical influenza
symptoms and fully recover within a week, even
without any form of medical treatment [italics
are mine for emphasis]. Healthy patients with
uncomplicated illness need not be treated with
anti-virals. (“Recommended Use of Anti-Virals”
As for the vaccine that is being rushed to market,
doctors are being advised, due to a low supply,
to prioritize those that fall into the high-risk
categories, before doling it out to the rest of
the population. I am always wary of any drug that
is rushed to market without being tested thoroughly.
In the 1976 Swine Flu scare, this occurred with
100’s suffering from side effects and 25
people dying (Time Magazine April 27, 2009). Add
to this the toxic preservative metals like mercury
that are often in these drugs, which come with
their own risks of side effects. And given the
WHO stance as cited above, it does not seem to
be worth the risk.
What then should I do
Swine flu or no swine flu, here are the good
old-fashioned recommendations that are always
good to follow for overall healthy living and
1. Avoid sugar and processed foods, alcohol,
fast food and dairy: these all are difficult on
the body to process and can weaken your immune
function. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies
as they are loaded with vitamins, minerals and
anti-oxidants. Drink plenty of water with lemon.
2. Get good sleep and rest enough: Fall is the
time to begin quieting down from the highly active
summer. The days are getting shorter and the nights
longer. We are beginning to store up for winter.
Adjust your weekly and daily schedules accordingly.
3. It is never too late to better your stress
coping skills. Long-term chronic stress can weaken
our immune system very effectively.
4. Exercise: Exercising promotes blood circulation
which allows our immune bodies to flow to all
parts of our bodies, improving our chances to
combat any unwanted invaders.
5. Wash your hands for 10-20 seconds frequently
through out the day. Also, keep handy bottles
of an alcohol-based sanitizing gel to be used
when washing your hands is inconvenient, especially
if you are around high concentrations of people
like in mass transit, as a teacher with kids,
or working in direct contact with patients.
6. In public, take care to not touch your face/eyes/mouth/nose
with your hands. Some germs can live on surfaces
for up to 48 hours and enter our bodies through
contact with mucous membranes. If you have to
sneeze or cough, do so into a tissue and wash
your hands thoroughly afterwards.
7. For good preventive measure, take a high-quality
multi-vitamin and mineral.
8. If you suspect that you are getting sick, you
can take zinc as directed on the bottle and 1000mg
3x/day of Vitamin C. One of the worst ways to
get Vitamin C is through orange juice. Not only
are you getting an excessive amount of sugar,
but the acidity is very difficult on your stomach.
Besides, how many oranges does it take to make
an 8oz glass of juice? Can you really eat that
many oranges in one sitting? Then why have that
9. If flu symptoms appear you can take 50,000
units/day of vitamin D, but stop after 3 days.
10. Other good western herbs that are anti-bacterial
and anti-viral are garlic and echinacea. Olive
leaf extract, oregano oil and elderberry are anti-viral
with the elderberry being the best choice for
In general, our immune system works exceptionally
well as on a daily basis it is constantly fighting
off bacteria and viruses. And when given the opportunity
to do so, it keeps us healthy and vital. It is
only when we do not heed the advice above that
our immune system weakens and we get sick.
If you are in good health in general, and know
that at this time of the year, you are prone to
getting sick, come in for acupuncture and let
me give you an immune boost and better advise
you on an individualized program for healthy immunity.
If you do get sick, I can also help you recover
without the use of symptom suppressing drugs.
If you fall into the at-risk categories, then
consult your family physician about whether they
feel you may benefit from a flu shot or the H1N1
vaccine. But I urge you to do your homework, ask
the right questions and make an informed decision.
Some excellent on-line resources for more information
1. The Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov
2. The World Health Organization:
one of the most popular health resource websites
If you have any further questions on this or
any other health-related topic, please do not
hesitate to contact me.