Supporting your Immune and
Respiratory Systems during Winter
Because the symptoms of the common cold are caused by more than 200 different rhinoviruses (rhin = nose) the development of a vaccine for the common cold isn’t practical. By supporting your immune and respiratory systems, you will be able to prevent colds, flu and allergies. After all, your body’s natural state is to be healthy!
To minimise the spread of colds and flu, people should try to keep their immune defenses up and their exposure down.
Prevention is the best cure
Cold and flu viruses can be transmitted in the following ways: touching respiratory secretions on a person’s skin (when shaking hands, for example) or environmental surfaces (such as doorknobs, kitchen counters, wash basins or handrails) and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth; also by inhaling infectious particles in the air (from a cough or sneeze).
The best way to break the chain of infection is by frequent hand washing and not touching the nose, eyes or mouth. The inner, mucous lining of the respiratory tract is the body’s first line of defense against cold and flu viruses. Drink lots of fluids, prevent air from drying out by using humidifiers, and take a vitamin A and beta carotene supplement to protect these delicate membranes.
To minimise the spread, avoid close contact and prolonged exposure to people with colds. Always sneeze or cough into a facial tissue and immediately throw it away. Clean surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant. The Japanese have an excellent habit of wearing face masks when they have a cold. It is a very considerate thing to do and something we could definitely adopt in South Africa – start a new fashion accessory by wearing multi-coloured, fluorescent face masks!
Improve and maintain the optimal functioning of your immune system:
- Increase your intake of the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin A, beta and mixed carotenes, vitamin E and selenium. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, drink a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice every day and take an antioxidant food supplement combination throughout winter.
- Control your stress levels with daily relaxation techniques, do regular moderate exercise (strenuous exercise exhausts your immune system) and listen to your body by taking a break when you’re feeling under the weather.
- Herbs like Echinacea, garlic, chickweed, licorice root and golden seal are excellent immune
system boosters. Ginseng improves general immunity against infections and as an adaptogen, also supports the body during stressful times. Regular use of ginseng seems to prevent colds and flu. There are three different herbs commonly called ginseng: Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), American ginseng (Panaxquinquefolius), and Siberian ‘ginseng’ (Eleutherococcussenticosus).
Avoid crowded, dry, smoky, hot places
Your environment can increase your chances for getting colds or flu, so beware.
Wear a mask if you have to! The Japanese do and there is nothing preventing you from starting a new, healthy fashionable habit. Use your imagination and design a mask for every occasion!
Turn off the air conditioners and heaters to allow the air to humidify. Dry air and smoke irritates your mucous membranes and this may lead to catarrh (runny nose, phlegm becoming yellow or green).
What about the flu vaccine?
The most important tool in mainstream medicine for fighting the chameleon like flu virus, is immunisation by a killed virus vaccine. A few of the most common flu virus strains are identified in the Northern hemisphere during their winter. The vaccine is then made from highly purified, egg-grown viruses that have been made non-infectious. As a doctor of natural medicine, I would never recommend the flu vaccine for everybody. There are very effective, natural guidelines and remedies available to prevent the flu.
It is important to remember that the flu vaccine does not prevent the common cold.
Vaccination might sometimes be recommended, only for the following high-risk groups:
- People aged 75and older who have a predisposition towards flu, bronchitis and pneumonia during winter
- Residents of nursing homes and other facilities that provide care for chronically ill persons
- Everybody over the age of 6 months, including pregnant women, who have certain underlying medical conditions that required hospitalisation or regular doctors’ visits during the preceding year. These conditions include:
– asthma, anaemia, chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart, lung or kidney disease
– impaired or compromised immune system function due to HIV infection, treatment with drugs such as long-term steroids, or cancer treatment with radiation or chemotherapy
– Children and teenagers (6 months to 18 years) who must take aspirin regularly and therefore may be at risk of developing Reye syndrome if they get the flu
- For health-care workers, nursing home personnel, and home-care providers to reduce the risk of transmitting flu to high-risk persons (and to protect themselves from infection). Police, ambulance personnel, fire fighters, and other community service providers may also sometimes find vaccination useful.
It takes the immune system about six to eight weeks to respond to vaccination. The best time therefore to get the flu vaccine, is mid March to end May, before the flu season starts.
The vaccine’s most common side effect is tenderness at the vaccination site for up to two days. Some people may experience fever, malaise, sore muscles, and other symptoms resembling the flu that can last for a few days after the flu shot.