What is flu anyway? Flu is influenza, an infectious disease that spreads from person to person. Symptoms are chiils and fever, muscle pain, sore throat, headache, coughing, weakness and fatigue and general discomfort. In some children, flu may have nausea and vomiting accompanying, but most often that is not a classic symptom of influenza. Many people confuse the stomach bug, gastroenteritis, a 24 hour wipe your insides out kinda bug, which is unrelated to influenza.
Historically, one of the most horrific flu epidemics was Spanish flu of 1918. It was a particularly virulent and lethal pandemic, coming in three waves starting in 1918, 1919, ending in 1920, and it’s spread was amplified through troop movements and global transportation. Spanish flu was estimated to have killed 40 million people in Europe, with some scientists estimating 100 million globally. In the US, Spanish flu affected twenty five percent of the population, but more remarkably, in only one year the average life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by 12%.
The flu usually killed the very young and the very old, but this virus strain attacked teens and young adults with robust immune systems. Immune cells were activated by the virus, increasing the number of immune cells circulating in the blood and overwhelming the lungs with fluids. Healthy young adults essentially drowned from within. Patients would turn blue, suffocating from a lack of oxygen as their lungs filled with a frothy, bloody substance. Some patients died only a few hours after their first symptoms appeared; others died in a matter of days. Anyone watching Downton Abbey remembers the episode when the house comes down with Spanish flu.
Flu vaccine is always controversial in a complimentary medicine practice. Naturopaths believe that you can avoid taking the vaccine by supplementing your diet with the right homeopathic remedies, or herbs. But I don’t believe it is that black and white.
This past fall, the flu hit early and it hit hard, killing a number of adults and 2 children by early December. The CDC has said that early reports show 60% of those who got the flu shot stayed out of the doctor’s office.
Is it worth getting the flu vaccine then? In 2008 and 2009, I caught influenza from my unsuspecting clients, so in 2010 I decided I would get vaccinated. Since then I have managed to avoid getting influenza for the last 2 years.
For me, the biggest reason to get a flu shot is because I live with an autoimmune disease, diabetes, which means that my ability to fight off illness is impaired even before I catch something. Other “normal” people don’t have to worry as much about being infected with the flu. Dr. Katz, an integrative MD and director of Yale Prevention Research, wrote this blog on his opinion of flu vaccine. (For more on flu vaccine and seniors, go to flu.gov.)
But there is much more to staving off influenza with just a flu shot. We also need to avoid the common cold, strep and bacterial infections which bring down the immune system and make you more vulnerable to such things as influenza. So, we thought we would post some of our recommendations for consideration:
Dr. Henderson, DC:
A healthy diet is crucial for proper immune function, as are proper amounts of rest. Chronic sleep deprivation (or just several nights of not enough sleep) is a stress to the body, increasing cortisol, the main stress hormone, which lowers immune function. Alcohol in moderation.
Vitamins and supplements: Vitamins C and D are shown to improve immune function. More and more of my patients are showing up Vitamin D deficient. The increased use of sunscreens in warm weather and lack of sunlight in cold weather may play a role in Vitamin D deficiency. I, myself, take 5000i.u of D daily and my levels are right in the normal range.
Chiropractic adjustments: are scientifically proven to boost the function of the nervous system and the neuro-endocrine axis, which modulates immune function. The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), responsible for the "fight or flight" response to stress, directly innervates primary and secondary immune organs. This is another reason to keep a handle on stress, as well as keeping oneself structurally tuned-up, to maximize the positive effects of the SNS. Sedentary lifestyles, repetitive stress jobs and/or sports, less-than-ideal postural habits, and injury can lead to imbalances in structural function that can then lead to improper neural function, which can lead to impaired immune function. For more on the function of chiropractic care and your immune system, click here.
Njemile Jones, L.Ac
As a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, when my patients come in concerned about the flu, I use acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas, moxibustion, along with the manual techniques cupping and gua sha to boost their ability to prevent the flu from settling in and taking hold of their immune systems. Our first line of defense is prevention. Seasonal treatments in late summer and fall prepare you to fight off the cold pathogens that take hold in winter. Herbal formulas, created hundreds of years ago, strengthens the “defensive qi” that is often depleted by poor diet, inadequate sleep, and stress.
But if you have a busy home and work life, disease prevention may not be a top priority. You may not have time for self-care, and it's likely you’re more vulnerable to the flu virus. If you notice a headache, fever and chills and mild body aches, especially in your neck and upper back, make a call to your acupuncturist as soon as you can. We have simple, but refined systems, centuries old, that can assess what channel pathways, or levels of the body are most affected. If we have an opportunity to treat the flu at the early stages, when you first notice body aches or fever, there's a good chance acupuncture, and herbal formulas and our other modalities can help you subdue the virus, and prevent it from taking hold and going deeper into your body.
On the other hand, if you’re experiencing a full fledged attack of the flu, our herbal formulas, along with acumoxa treatments help reduce the stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, and clear up phlegm congestion, and often reduce the duration of the illness, even if you are constitutionally strong.
We can even help you in the later stages of flu. I often see patients who after days in bed, are coughing and sneezing and just don't have the energy to fight the virus off. Here acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas can boost your strength for resolving the last stages of the illness quickly.
Our treatment methods are safe and effective, and completely appropriate for adults and children, whether you’ve had the flu vaccine or not.
With or without the shot, the best advice is to be sure to take healthy precautions by bolstering your immune system! It’s good for you and good for everyone around you, too!
Addendum: to add to our conversation, 1/27/2013 CBS Sunday Morning lead story: Superbugs!