Category Archives: colds and flu

Boosting Immunity in the Time of Coronavirus

What can we do to boost our personal immunity in addition to following all public health guidelines? I interviewed Dr. Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. to find out how to strengthen our immune systems against pathogens in general, not only the coronavirus. But no matter your health condition, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider about the following suggestions. You should ask about possible contraindications with respect to medication, and also about activities or herbs that might compromise cardiovascular problems or joint and muscle pain.

Trained and board-certified in the US in internal medicine, and European Natural Medicine in Germany, Dr. Fleckenstein is the author of several books on health and healing. Here are her six recommendations for boosting immunity.

1-Slim down. This pandemic has shown that extra weight puts you at higher risk for COVID-19. The risk comes from triple inflammation: Excess weight causes inflammation in your body, the Coronavirus causes more inflammation, and the immune system, as it gears up to fight COVID-19, adds still more inflammation. This can end in the so-called cytokine storm– the over-the- top reaction of the immune system that is thought to have killed millions of people during the 1919 Spanish Flu. “Inflammation in your body damages healthy cells, tissues, and organs which can lead to DNA damage, tissue death, internal scarring, and the development of many diseases. In normal times, our biggest concern is cancer. But now it is COVID-19,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. “We used to think that chubbiness was just a beauty problem. In reality, it is an inflammatory disease of the whole body.” A body-mass index of higher than 25 is considered overweight, higher 30 is obese, and over 35 is called morbidly obese. Dr. Fleckenstein advises not losing more than two pounds per month, as keeping your lower weight is more important than rapid weight loss.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: CHECK WITH YOUR HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL BEFORE TRYING ANY OF THE FOLLOWING SUGGESTIONS TO MAKE SURE THEY WILL NOT INTERFERE WITH YOUR MEDICATIONS OR HEALTH CONDITION.

2-Try a daily 20-second cold shower after your warm /hot one. Research supports that cold water on the skin primes the immune system into normal function– avoiding overreaction as well as underperformance. Contraindications are: uncontrolled high blood [pressure, acute infection, arterial disease, and frailty. Dr. Fleckenstein’s book, Health2 0, shows you how to use cold showers, which not only boost your mood and your immune system, but do so much more for your health. Recent research, reported in the US National Library of Medicine, supports the benefits of regular cold water on the skin:

“Notably, cold water immersion had significant and positive effects on metabolic and catabolic processes, neurotransmitters and hormones, immune parameters [my emphasis] as well as on more global markers of health, such as sick-leave and quality of life. Also, cold showers have been proposed to be of use in the treatment of depression and there are anecdotal and uncontrolled reports as well as news coverage on taking cold showers – usually in contrast to warm or hot water – showing positive effects for skin and hair. For example, cold water tightens and constricts the blood flow which gives the skin and hair a healthier glow and decreases transepidermal water loss contributing to better skin hydration, while hot showers can lead to dried out skin. Noteworthy, none of these studies reported negative events related to cold water treatment as well as no negative long-term effects.” [Source: 2019 study reported by the US National Library of Medicine, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04130126]

(Note that it takes a few weeks to build up your immunity and reap these health benefits, so if your healthcare provider approves, why not start immediately?)

3-Get enough sleep. “Spend less time at the screen and go to bed before midnight, “says Dr. Fleckenstein. “The earlier the better.” Sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, mood, learning, and other vital functions.”

 

4-Nutrition. Drawing on her experience and training in European Natural Medicine, Dr. Fleckenstein focuses on the true powerhouses of health: vegetables. Especially beneficial are roots such as turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, carrots, radishes; squashes, including winter squash; and leafy and bitter greens such as kale, chard, collard greens, mustard greens, and cabbages. Dr. Fleckenstein’s book, The Diabetes Cure, puts these ideas to work to overcome diabetes, but they work for other health problems too.

Dr. Fleckenstein cautions us, however, avoid “nightshade” vegetables (tomatoes, colored peppers, eggplants), and alsoavoid dairy, sugar, and simple (white) carbohydrates, and to a lesser extent, potatoes. Nightshades produce “lectins” especially in their fruit, which make them hard to digest and contribute to inflammation. Not what we need when fighting a pandemic. Potatoes, which also belong in the nightshade family are tubers, not fruit, and therefore safer; they contain far fewer lectins. As important as veggies are, we are omnivores, says Dr. Fleckenstein, and also need a bit of high-quality meats, fish and eggs. To fight infections, chicken soup has been shown to have wonderful antiviral properties, just as Grandma said! And for fun, great taste and even better immunity, you can add black seeds (Nigella sativa) to beans, stews, or muesli (unless you have an allergy).

5-Movement. Dr. Fleckenstein recommends any kind of daily movement to strengthen the immune system (plus your bones). Walking is the easiest and cheapest. Aim for 5,000 steps per day; ideal is 10,000. If you can’t leave the house during the pandemic, devise a course of your own with Jumping Jacks, squatting, Burpees (a type of exercise you can find on the Internet), and so on. Or find tai chi, chi gong, Yoga, and aerobic workout online classes to do at home. They are often free now. “But if you can, get outside,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. Moving in green nature gives an added layer of health, and emotional stress reduction and peace.” Swimming or floating in – preferably natural – water are also therapeutic.

photo of assorted herbs

Photo by alleksana on Pexels.com

6-Herbs: Nature’s pharmacy. Our bodies evolved for millions of years in concert with the herbs and plants of our planet. Natural, plant-derived medicines therefore provide ancient healing mechanisms that our bodies “know” how to use. As one herbal expert said, “If you take a vitamin A pill, your body keeps looking all day for the rest of the carrot.” So, of course, take whatever pharmaceuticals you are prescribed, but also consult with your healthcare practitioner about adding some healthy, immune-boosting herbs as well, as long as they don’t interfere with your other medications (such as anticoagulants) or your health condition.

For every day health-nudging benefits drink green or herbal teas: The old staples such as peppermint and chamomile are a good way to start the relaxing habit of drinking wholesome teas. Gymnema and holy basil have long histories of healing behind them, in their respective countries of origin, China and India. Stinging nettle is the plant most highly praised in European Natural Medicine. Sarsaparilla, licorice root, ginger, hops make good teas, too. In reality, it does not matter which herbal tea you are drinking – they all have healing qualities. Just don’t drink the same-old-same-old tea all the time. Rotate and explore! Every plant offers something different. These are all not specific teas against Coronavirus, just teas to improve your overall health.

For cooking, spice up your meals, along with your immune system, with turmeric and/or cinnamon, and preferably fresh herbs like rosemary, basil, sage, lemon balm, garlic, onions, chives, ginger, oregano, mints, and parsley. The “five defender” mushrooms (reishi, shitake, maitake, chaga, and turkey tail) help your immunity too. In addition to herbs, consider adding zinc, vitamin D, and low-dose vitamin C and to your regimen.

If you have an autoimmune disease, however, use caution with immune boosters and always consult your healthcare practitioner about their use.

Before you go: consider one more thing: For years, I have been participating in Laughter Yoga classes, which have now switched to be online, so you can do them wherever you are. When you laugh with others, laughter is contagious –in a good way. It relaxes the whole body. It triggers the release of endorphins, promoting an overall sense of well-being. When combined with yogic breathing, laughter truly becomes the best medicine, providing extensive health benefits. https://laughteryoga.org

 

 

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July 10, 2020 · 2:29 pm

H1N1 Protection: Simple Ways With Water

Here are some “water ways” to protect yourself from H1N1 and other forms of flu.  (As always, check with your doctor before doing anything that affects your body.)

First, the source: Dr Vinay Goyal MBBS, MD, DM 
is Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology
Neurosciences Centre at All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Continue reading

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H1N1 Pandemic: Boost Your Immunity

The World Health Organization has determined the H1N1 outbreak is a pandemic.  That in itself is not a measure of the severity of the so-called “swine flu” – just of its dispersion now into Australia, too. I asked Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., to comment about ways to protect oneself. Here is her advice—which should, of course, never replace a consultation with  your doctor or health care professional. Always check before taking any over-the-counter or herbal supplements to make sure they are right for you. In addition, there are several ways  to use water, including saltwater rinses, to protect yourself from viruses, explained here.

So far, the swine flu has been mild – lethality does not even reach that of “normal” flu outbreaks which kill more than 30,000 people every year. The unfortunate people, who die, usually have underlying diseases which compromise their immune systems. The fear is that this flu might mutate like the 1918/19 flu did, and come down on us the second time around with a vengeance. Normally, mutations are such that the virus dies out–and it would be an extremely rare event that it would mutate into a much stronger strain. Nevertheless, that is the thinking behind taking the swine flu seriously now–mostly to observe it evolve (or perish).
Advice From Dr. Alexa (but always check with your doctor first)
Meanwhile, get enough sleep, take your herbs, eat plenty of vegetables, drink warm water and/or herbal teas. And it is never too late to start challenging your immune system with daily cold showers – unless you are already coming down with something.
Another anti-viral concoction I want to share with you is the Chinese Jian Qiao Jie Du Pian or Isatis 6, also called Honeysuckle-Forsythia Detoxifier. It might be a good idea to have some of those pills at hand when you get sick (get them from a reputable source). During the next H1N1 outbreak – or any seasonal viral disease that might come along.

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FDA and the Cold Shower Remedy

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has written that “It’s not chicken soup. Believe it or not, a much more unorthodox therapy of warm-and-cold showers has recently been proposed–though not proven–for the prevention of the common cold.” The article goes on to identify water therapy researcher Edzard Ernst, M.D., who wrote  about shower therapy: “An efficient, practical and inexpensive prophylaxis [preventive measure] against one of the most frequent (and ‘expensive’) diseases has been identified at last.” In a 1987 research study comparing a “cold shower”group with a control group for 6 months, Ernst found that the cold shower group’s colds were “significantly fewer, significantly milder, and slightly shorter.”

Well, even if not “proven” to the FDA’s satisfaction yet, cold showers are worth considering as flu season looms ever closer, and here is some research evidence. As noted before in this space, however, cold showers may not be for you if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or a circulation problem, so always check with your doctor first!

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FDA says no cold meds for kids under 2- but there are alternatives

Today, the government issued a Public Health Advisory warning parents that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products should not be used to treat infants and children under 2 because of serious and potentially life-threatening side effects, including convulsions, rapid heart rates, decreased levels of consciousness, and death.

So what to do when your baby or toddler has a cold? There are a number of safe alternative treatments in Own Your Health: Your Sick Child, by John D. Mark, M.D., of Stanford University Medical School. These include herbal remedies, saltwater nose rinse, herbal steam inhalation, and anti-inflammatory foods—such as hot blueberry soup.

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Herbs for Health

Here are some herbs that will help you have stay healthy, especially during winter. My expert is Alexa Fleckenstein, MD, author of Health2 0 and Healthy to 100. Here is what she told me:

“Herbs have been with us throughout evolution. They fit into our ancient physiology like a key into a lock. In prehistoric times, we always ate herbs from the wild. In modern life, a bitter green or strong root might just be what your body needs to find its way back to balance.”

Unlike the new “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics, bacteria and viruses do not easily develop resistance against herbs, says Dr. Fleckenstein. That is because a single herb contains hundreds or more of compounds, and many of these compounds work on killing off the germs. Since point mutations in bacteria can only develop one by one, it is highly unlikely that an herb becomes ineffective against a pathogen, because there will always be plenty of compounds to destroy the microbes first.

“The word for these compounds working together is synergy,” she explains. “Synergy is the reason why I recommend whole herbs (tinctures or so-called phytocaps with extracts of the whole plant) instead of ‘taking the best’ from several pants, and making a patented medicine. Patent medicines exist because natural plants can’t be patented, and so firms try to make money by taking single compounds from a plant, combining it with other single compound, thus producing a ‘new’ medicine which allegedly is better. The truth is that in many cases it is not better because you cannot improve on nature.”

So what does Dr. Fleckenstein recommend that you have on hand this winter in case illness strikes?

For colds and flu: echinacea, osha, pau d’arco, olive leaf, elderberry
For simple urinary tract infection: Uva ursi, usnea, cranberry. (Drink lots of warm water, too.)
For indigestion: dandelion, peppermint, milk thistle. (And think of cleaning up your diet!)
For cough: horehound, echinacea, linden flowers
For insomnia: valerian, hops, passionflower

Important caution: Always check with your doctor before taking any herb, since there could be dangerous interactions with other medicines you are taking!

For more information, check out her books (which include not only advice about herbs, but also about cold water, nutrition, movement and life balance). Another great resource is The Green Pharmacy, by ethnobotanist James Duke.

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Got Milk? For Some Children, the Answer Should Be “No!”

“For some children, the possible adverse health effects of cow’s milk outweigh the benefits, despite what the dairy industry would have us believe,” asserts Stanford University pediatrician John D. Mark, MD.

In his new book, Your Sick Child, part of the Own Your Health series about combining alternative and conventional medicine, Dr. Mark refers to research showing that cow’s milk and dairy products, due to their saturated fat content, can increase inflammation in the airways and other parts of the body. “This inflammation may exacerbate asthma, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and colds,” explains Dr. Mark, an expert on the lung diseases of children. “I regularly try an elimination diet of cow’s milk, cheese and butter from my patients’ diets, and often there is a dramatic improvements in their respiratory problems.”

What about calcium and strong bones? “There are other and often more nutritional ways to get calcium, vitamins and protein, including green leafy vegetables, nuts, calcium-fortified juices, cereals, beans, sesame seeds, almonds, figs, seaweeds, and fortified soymilks,” says Dr. Mark. “We are the only species that drinks milk from another species, and the only species to drink milk at all after infancy. Many children – and adults as well – have trouble digesting cow’s milk. Many children are simply not biologically meant to drink it.”

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Take a Cold Shower to Protect Against Colds and Flu This Winter

At first, it sounds crazy – can a cold shower really prevent colds and flu? But Dr. Alexa Fleckenstein, author of HEALTH 2 0: TAP INTO THE HEALING POWERS OF WATER TO FIGHT DISEASE, LOOK YOUNGER, AND FEEL YOUR BEST (McGraw-Hill 2007) says that a few seconds of cold water after your hot shower is scientifically proven to make you healthy – even if you’re in the cold water for less than 30 seconds a day.

Here are 6 ways that a short cold shower protects you from colds and flu:

1. A brief cold water shower will decrease your body’s “reaction time” to cold. The cold shower “teaches” the blood vessels in your skin to clamp down faster, so you are losing less warmth in draft or cold exposure. Especially, during the winter months while it’s cold outside, you’ll stay warmer, longer.

2. Gamma interferon and interleukin-4 are two important virus-fighting cytokines (immune system proteins) A new German study has shown that cold water exposure helps these two disease-fighters work better together, resulting in fewer viral colds.

3. A cold shower increases lymphocytes in the blood. Lymphocytes produce antibodies, which help fight germs.

4. A cold shower makes you breathe deeply. (A big gasp when the cold water hits the skin!) A deep breath opens closed or clogged alveoli (small air sacs in the lungs) which are then less prone to bronchitis and pneumonia. And deeper breathing means more oxygen for the whole body.

5. A cold shower increases blood flow in all organs, especially skin, heart and lungs. The pharynx/larynx ( organs of the throat) also benefit from the increased blood flow, and are better able to kill viruses.

6. And a cold shower lifts your mood. Depressed people get more colds – probably because depression lowers immunity. A brisk cold shower has been proven to lift the mood and lower stress, both of which jumpstart the immune response – which kills flu and cold germs!

Remember that cold water therapy works only if done regularly, and also needs a few weeks (about six) to work. Start with just your feet and hands in the cold water, and gradually work your way up to your whole body. It feels great!

IMPORTANT: Check with your doctor first. Contraindication include uncontrolled high blood pressure, and narrowing of the arteries.

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