SIDESTEP THE FLU

By Pam Smith, Nutritionist and best selling author

Flus, colds and viruses have been attempting terrorist-like "body invasions" for years -- long before the recent concerns around H1N1; it appears that there are always going to be threats of flu pandemics, real or sensationalized. The H1N1 alarm sounded in April. Just 6 months later, the never-before-seen swine flu has become the world's dominant strain of influenza. With flu's favorite chilly weather fast approaching, public health experts have great concerns that we are going to be a sick nation this fall. The big unknown is how sick. One in five people infected or a worst case -- half the population?

Millions of vaccine doses are now arriving into the U.S., but the hopeful news: Even with no vaccine, winter is ending in the Southern Hemisphere without as much havoc as doctors had feared, a heavy season that started early but not an overwhelming one. The strain that doctors call the 2009 H1N1 flu isn't any deadlier than typical winter flu so far. Most people recover without treatment; many become only mildly ill. Importantly, careful genetic tracking shows no sign yet that the virus is mutating into a harsher strain.

We're used to regular flu that, sadly, hits mostly grandparents. But the real shock of swine flu is that infections are 20 times more common in the 5- to 24-year-old age group than in people over 65. That older generation appears to have some resistance, probably because of exposure decades ago to viruses similar to the new one. In addition, pregnant women are especially at risk, as are people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and neuromuscular diseases including muscular dystrophy. And horrifically, children have indeed died -- unexpectedly and without other complications. So, the availability of vaccines is a blessing and necessary.

First in line for the vaccines: Pregnant women, school aged children and young adults up to 24 years, health care workers and younger adults with risky health conditions. And, do people still need to bother with regular flu vaccine? Definitely -- according to the Centers for Disease Control. There's still enough regular flu circulating to endanger people, especially the 65-and-older generation.

The mantra for prevention and protection against ANY flu: Wash your hands often and well, sneeze into your elbow, stay home so you don't spread illness when you're sick. And -- practice an extra dose of self care and stay well defense strategies against the flu -- or any sickness!

STAY WELL STRATEGIES
The good news is that you can break free of the sickness trap by following some natural health principles. Keep your immune system in optimal working order so that you're far less likely to acquire the infection to begin with!

Here's how:

Optimize your vitamin D levels. As I often discuss, getting more than adequate Vitamin D is one of the best strategies for avoiding infections of ALL kinds, and Vitamin D deficiency is likely to be a culprit behind the seasonality of the flu, not just being exposed to the flu virus itself. (For more information on the importance of getting enough Vitamin D, visit my September 2007 newsletter at www.pamsmith.com/Newsletter/sept07.htm#sunshine.)

Get enough rest. Just like it becomes harder for you to get your daily tasks done if you're tired, if your body is overly fatigued it will be harder for it to fight the flu.

Have Effective Tools to defuse stress. We all face some stress every day, but if stress becomes overwhelming then your body will be less able to fight off the flu and other illness.

Exercise. When you exercise, you increase your circulation and your blood flow throughout your body. The components of your immune system are also better circulated, which means your immune system has a better chance of finding an illness before it spreads.

Wash Your Hands Often and Well. It will decrease your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people.

EAT WELL, GET WELL -- STAY WELL: FOODS THAT BUILD A HEALTHIER IMMUNE SYSTEM

1) Yogurt. Probiotics, or the "live active cultures" found in yogurt, are healthy bacteria that keep the gut and intestinal tract free of disease-causing germs. Although they're available in supplement form, a study from the University of Vienna in Austria found that a daily 7-ounce dose of yogurt was just as effective in boosting immunity as popping pills. In an 80-day Swedish study of 181 factory employees, those who drank a daily supplement of Lactobacillus reuteri--a specific probiotic that appears to stimulate white blood cells--took 33% fewer sick days than those given a placebo. Any yogurt with a Live and Active Cultures seal contains some beneficial bugs, but Stonyfield Farm is the only US brand that contains this specific strain.

And, the next time you hit the yogurt aisle, pick up the Greek kind -- compared with regular yogurt, it has twice the protein (and 25% of women over 40 don't get enough) -- and is loaded with healthy probiotics. Look for fat-free varieties like Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt (120 calories and 23 g of protein per 8-ounce serving).

Your optimal dose: Two 6-ounce servings a day.

2) Salmon and Omega-3 Fats. Salmon is a rich source of vitamin D and one of the best sources of omega-3s you can find. These essential fatty acids have a wide range of impressive health benefits -- from boosting your immune army's fighting power and mood to preventing heart disease to smoothing your skin and aiding weight loss and minimizing the effects of arthritis. Unfortunately, many Americans aren't reaping these perks because we're deficient, which some experts believe may be at the root of many of the big health problems today, like obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Omega-3s also slow the rate of digestion, which makes you feel fuller longer, so you eat fewer calories throughout the day.

Your optimal dose: 8-12 ounces of salmon (or other cold water fish like tuna, trout, mackerel, artic char, halibut, sardines and black cod) per week. (Check out my "Simply Delicious Salmon Cakes" recipe below.)

3) Garlic. This potent onion relative contains more than 70 phytochemicals, including the active ingredient allicin, which in addition to lowering blood pressure, fights infection. Garlic works like a broad-spectrum antibiotic against bacteria, virus, and protozoa in the body, but unlike antibiotics, no resistance can be built up so it is an absolutely safe product to use. British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold. Other studies suggest that garlic lovers who chow more than six cloves a week have a 30% lower rate of colorectal cancer and a 50% lower rate of stomach cancer. (Check out "Garlic -- Have It Your Way!" below).

Your optimal dose: Two raw cloves a day and add crushed garlic to your cooking several times a week. To activate and preserve protective compounds while cooking, crush the cloves and let them stand for 10 minutes before heating them.

4) Oats and Barley. These grains contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities more potent than echinacea, reports a Norwegian study. When animals eat this compound, they're less likely to contract influenza, herpes, even anthrax; in humans, it boosts immunity, speeds wound healing, and may help antibiotics work better.

Your optimal dose: At least one in your three daily servings of whole grains. To reap the benefits, eat 1/2 cup daily -- preferably unsweetened. For a versatile breakfast, top with different combinations of fruit, yogurt, and nuts. You can also use oats to coat fish or chicken or add texture to meatballs.

5) Chicken Soup. All over the world, mothers and grandmothers cook up steaming pots of chicken soup whenever a loved one comes down with a cold. A study published in the journal Chest, conducted by researchers at the Nebraska Medical Center, proves there's medical merit to the savory remedy. Chicken soup contains compounds that lessen inflammation, which contributes to a cold's familiar symptoms. When University of Nebraska researchers tested 13 brands, they found that most blocked the migration of inflammatory white cells -- an important finding, because cold symptoms are a response to the cells' accumulation in the bronchial tubes. The amino acid cysteine, released from chicken during cooking, chemically resembles the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine, which may explain the results. The soup's salty broth keeps mucus thin the same way cough medicines do. Added spices, such as garlic, hot peppers and onions, can increase soup's immune-boosting power.

Your optimal dose: Have a bowl when feeling the beginnings of congestion or tightness through the chest. (Check out Grandma's new Chicken Soup)

6) Tea. In a Harvard study, people who drank 5 cups a day of black tea for 2 weeks had 10 times more virus-fighting interferon in their blood than others who drank a placebo hot drink. The amino acid that's responsible for this immune boost, L-theanine, is abundant in both black and green tea.

Your optimal dose: Although not a replacement for water, try for several cups daily -- decaf still has the fighting power without the buzz.. To get up to five times more antioxidants from your tea bags, bob them up and down while you brew.

7) Mushrooms. For centuries, people around the world have turned to mushrooms for a healthy immune system. Contemporary researchers now know why. Studies show that mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells, making them more aggressive. This is a good thing when you have an infection -- or even the beginning of one.

Your optimal dose: Shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms appear to pack the biggest immunity punch; experts recommend at least 1/4 ounce to an ounce a few times a day for maximum immune benefits. Add a handful to pasta sauce, saute with a little olive oil and add to eggs, or heap triple-decker style on a sandwich.

May you eat well, get well -- and stay well! reprinted with permission from www.PamSmith.com contact Pam directly for speaking events 407.909.9898

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