February 14, 2014

Preventing Colds and Flus

Our perception of microbes is often skewed. Television commercials and magazine ads instil fear through their portrayal of viruses and bacteria as little monsters with sharp claws and pointed teeth. Should we really be afraid of these little “monsters”? Not at all!

In fact, these microbes are plain, inconspicuous little things that should really be much more frightened of us. Why? Because we have immune cells trained to identify and eradicate these microbes. They have scary names like Natural Killer Cells and Killer T-Cells because they tirelessly search, identify and kill those invaders that would otherwise make us sick.
I would definitely not want to be a microbe staring down a Natural Killer Cell.

What makes us prone to infection?
In the winter months, we come into contact with innumerable cold and flu viruses. Only about one in five people will catch the flu, while the average person will catch four or five colds over a winter. The only question is who is stronger: you or the virus?
Just like us, viruses will hang out where they are comfortable. If our bodies provide a hospitable environment for a virus, it will make itself at home, and eventually make us sick.
Of course we know that regularly washing our hands and disinfecting our environments will help reduce the spread of viruses, but sooner or later we will be exposed to something, despite our diligence.
Our immune systems offer a powerful defence, but these defences can be easily weakened. Stress, inadequate sleep, poor nutrition, antibiotic use and a lack of exercise are just a few factors that can wear us down. Addressing these will strengthen our immunity and help us feel better in numerous ways, but often we need more to boost our immune defences.

Strategies for Prevention
Natural immunity is the natural ability of our immune systems to defend. It is the innate strength our own bodies possess to effectively battle the microbes we are continually exposed to. Strengthening our natural immunity can be as simple as taking vitamin D, probiotics or herbal combinations.
Over the years, Vive’s Naturopathic Doctors have developed a proven program for cold and flu prevention, including a special in-office “Immune Booster” combined with specific products used at home to further the momentum of the Immune Booster.

Ample evidence exists for the recommendation of Vitamin D to support immunity against influenza and other viral and bacterial pathogens. One well-conducted study showed a significant preventive effect against flu viruses as well as asthma attacks. (1)

Probiotics are the focus of more and more research in a variety of fields. Specific types of probiotics have demonstrated effectiveness in preventing colds and flu primarily in children. (2)  Our experience suggests that these results can be generalized to adults as well.

At Vive Integrative Health Group, we welcome discussion about the flu vaccine. The first point we make is that while flu shots may be prudent for higher risk individuals, they only offer a very narrow scope of protection against seasonal illness. We explain that researchers developing each year’s vaccine use a system of educated guesses to predict which viruses will be most common in an upcoming flu season. This is a difficult process, and may result in only modest protection against the flu.
It is also important to also recognize that the flu shot provides no protection from cold viruses, which are much more likely to cause illness, though less likely to have serious consequences. A thorough discussion with your Naturopathic Doctor can help you decide if a flu shot is right for you.

In a healthy individual, prevention strategies that boost natural immunity give us the best chance at thwarting illness and preventing its spread to others. We can beat these bugs, and as we have seen, these microbes really are nothing to be afraid of! A healthy lifestyle will further benefit our immune systems and most importantly, make us happier and healthier individuals!

(1) Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M, et al. Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. AJCN 2010;91:1255–60.
(2) Leyer G, Li S, Mubasher M, Reifer C, et al. Probiotic Effects on Cold and Influenza-Like Symptom Incidence and Duration in Children. Pediatrics 2009;124:e172–e179.

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