Preventive Measures for Swine FluWritten by: Alison Print This Article
Use of Our Content (Reposting and Quoting)
(Updated August 3, 2009, with additional information on the use of vitamin D3 to boost immune system response to prevent or reduce influenza infection and symptoms.)
With growing worldwide concern over a possible pandemic of swine flu (also known as H1N1 flu), you might be wondering what you can do to keep your family and you healthy. Obvious measures already mentioned in much news coverage include washing hands frequently, avoiding contact with people with flu and cold like symptoms, and staying home when you are sick. Although there is no vaccine for this new swine flu strain, there are immune system boosting measures that you can take at low cost which are likely to help you avoid getting flu and to speed recovery if you do get it. We’ll discuss several options you have to help stay healthy despite a flu outbreak. By the way, these suggested measures all apply to other types of flu, too.
Put the “Swine Flu” in Perspective
As of the original writing of this article in May 2009, there had been only one death of a US resident from the “swine flu outbreak”. Since then, the numbers have risen considerably. However, in a typical flu season (November to March) in the United States, between 30,000 and 50,000 people die from influenza viruses. The number of deaths from this “outbreak” so far isn’t even 1% of the typical annual total for the US. It seems like an overblown panic that there is so much attention being called to this relatively small tragedy compared to the much larger loss of life that is routine from similar causes. Our first bit of advice is not to get caught up in the panic. Our second bit of advice is to focus on easy changes you can make to your behaviors, diet, and nutritional supplements that can vastly decrease your risk of getting sick with any kind of flu.
There are many basic steps you can take to significantly reduce the chances of contracting or spreading flu, most of which have essentially little to no financial cost.
Avoid places where sick people congregate such as hospitals and doctor’s offices. If you must go such places, use “well patient” waiting rooms if you are not sick with an illness spread by contact or airborne means.
When around many other people in tight spaces, such as public transportation, consider wearing face masks that cover the mouth and nose. This can help reduce the chances of either contracting the flu by inhaling the virus from another person or spreading it by exhaling the virus if you’re already sick.
Avoid travel to areas with poor health care and sanitation. Now is probably not the time to be traveling to poor countries with flu outbreaks.
Avoid eating lots of sweets. High blood glucose interfere with the ability of white blood cells to fight infections.
Avoid high stress situations, and take time to relax each day. High stress tends to suppress the immune system. Don’t pack your schedule full of intense activities every moment of the day. Give yourself some time to read a book, take a walk with your partner, or watch a movie.
Get some light exercise each day. Among other benefits, exercise helps reduce blood glucose levels. Taking a morning or evening walk for 15 to 30 minutes is a good way to fit in some exercise and relaxation. If you prefer, you can make it functional, too, by walking to lunch with friends rather than driving.
Get plenty of sleep. Inadequate sleep suppresses the immune system. At least part of the reason for this is that it boosts stress levels that affect body chemistry. For instance, too little sleep tends to increase production of hormones such as cortisol that can suppress the immune system.
Use nasal rinses in the morning and evening. Using a saline nasal rinse helps moisten the mucous membranes and loosen up and rinse out mucous and germs. Some people , including Dr. Mark Stengler of Bottom Line Natural Healing, are particularly recommending Xlear Nasal Wash – Xylitol Nasal Spray as being much better than typical saline rinses. (Note: You can get 3 free samples of Dr. Stengler’s Bottom Line Natural Healing newsletter by clicking here. It is an advertising-free monthly publication usually of 8 pages in length containing helpful health tips focused on holistic and natural healing methods to prevent and treat disease. They also have a free daily health e-newsletter to which you can subscribe by clicking here.)
There are a variety of low-cost dietary supplements that you can take to boost your immune system to better fight infection, thus reducing the chances of catching the flu and speeding up your recovery if you do get it. Many of them are very inexpensive and can be used on a daily basis to help reduce your chance of getting sick year-round.
Dietary supplements can interact with medicines and each other, so be sure to read cautionary labels, drug and supplement information, and ask your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.
Vitamin D3: There is growing evidence that low sunlight levels lead to lower vitamin D levels in the body which make humans more susceptible to influenza infections. While the connection isn’t “proven” in an absolute sense yet, vitamin D is extremely inexpensive and safe except for a very small number of people who have unusual severe chronic infections involving L-form or cell-wall-deficient bacteria that live inside of human immune cells.
Furthermore, it is now widely believed that vitamin D deficiencies are extremely common. Research is finding that more than 50% of the US population suffers from low vitamin D levels. Dark-skinned people living far from the equator are at particular risk, meaning American, Canadian, British, and Australian immigrants from Africa, India, and Asia are at particular risk. These populations are also showing elevated levels of other vitamin D related diseases such as autism.
While the US government is mired in their usual politics-before-health debate about what a “safe upper limit” for vitamin D is, reputable researchers and doctors widely believe that the 400 IU per day of vitamin D currently set as the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is grossly inadequate for all but the youngest children. The consensus seems to be that nearly everybody needs to be taking additional vitamin D3.
Meta-studies looking at toxicology and health effects from a wide range of other vitamin D studies show that vitamin D3 doses of up to 10,000 IU per day are safe for nearly all adults. Adults should probably be taking 4000 IU per day or more, children 12 and over 2000 IU per day or more, children 6 to 12 about 1000 IU per day or more, and children under 6 around 400 IU per day or more. A sensible best practice is to discuss with your doctor a procedure to adjust your vitamin D3 intake to achieve target blood levels around 50 to 80 ng/mL as measured by a vitamin D 25(OH)D blood test. We’ve described how to go about doing this in our article Adjusting Your Vitamin D Intake to Optimal Levels.
As we discussed in our article New Vitamin D3 Products Address Vitamin D Deficiency Crisis, high-dosage vitamin D3 supplements are now available widely at a cost that can be just pennies per day for children and adults. For the vast majority of people, there’s really no good reason to be avoiding taking vitamin D3 supplements given the low cost and consensus of significant health benefits.
You should feel safe to start supplementing with vitamin D at levels around those we mention above unless you show the symptoms of a chronic L-form or cell wall deficient bacterial infection such as sarcoidosis. For more information, see our article Vitamin D Supplementation: Helpful or Hazardous? that discusses these relatively unusual severe chronic infections that may be worsened by taking more vitamin D.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC): NAC helps your body generate glutathione, an important antioxidant, and to support liver and immune functions. It also helps to thin out mucus produced during colds and flus. This supplement is usually sold in 600mg capsules. As a preventive measure, take two 600mg capsules per day during the flu season and one 600mg capsule daily the rest of the year. If you start to get symptoms of a cold or flu, boost this to four or five 600mg capsules (total of 2400 to 3000mg daily) for two to three days. If you’ve gotten full-bore symptoms, keep going with the higher dosage for a week, then revert back to the 600mg per day. If you take Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetamol), read our article about the health risks from that painkiller that can be alleviated in part by NAC.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant and immune system booster. Take 1000mg per day daily, preferably split into two doses. During the cold and flu season, boost this to 2000mg to 3000mg per day in two or three doses. If you develop cold or flu symptoms, pump up the vitamin C to 5000mg per day in five or more doses. Vitamin C is water soluble, so what your body can’t use is going to get flushed out in urine quickly. The main side effect from too much vitamin C is loose bowel movements, so if you develop those then you may be taking too much vitamin C.
Elderberry: Elderberry extracts helps reduce cold and flu symptoms and cut the duration of the cold. Consider taking one 400mg to 500mg Elderberry capsule per day during flu season and two to three per day when you have active flu. Although Elderberry is effective at hindering the ability of viruses to infect more cells, there is a risk that it could boost production of inflammatory cytokines in the body. It would be advisable to take an anti-inflammatory supplement along with Elderberry capsules. Curcumin is reputed to have anti-inflammatory and other beneficial effects and is an excellent daily supplement with thousands of years of usage in India showing it has a good safety record plus growing numbers of studies showing it has multiple positive health effects.
Zinc lozenges: Zinc has antiviral action when dissolved in the mouth and throat. If you’ve got symptoms, consider taking a chewable zinc lozenge every few hours and letting them dissolve in your mouth and throat. Taking more than 50mg of zinc per day may start to unbalance your copper levels. This will eventually suppress your immune system if continued for several days or longer, so if you do for some reason get a lot of colds and flus, take some copper supplements with zinc. Take about 2mg to 3mg of copper per 50mg of zinc, and consume the copper at least 30 minutes apart from the zinc lozenges to help absorption.
Beta-1,3-glucan and PARACTIN: Both are reputed to boost immune response and can be taken on a daily basis with higher dosages when sick. PARACTIN is a proprietary extract from the herb andrographis.
It is possible that the antiviral drugs Tamiflu (generic name Oseltamivir) and Relenza (generic name Zanamivir) may help fight off the swine flu. The US CDC has indicated that swine flu is susceptible to these medicines. However, Tamiflu is also associated with an increase in suicides and other side effects. Relenza has fewer noted side effects. (You can search for side effect cases for medicines at the US FDA’s website http://www.fdable.com.)
Both medicines, however, are much more expensive than the supplements mentioned previously. Our choice would be preventive supplements as they have been used more widely and are much less expensive. However, if you actually do contract the swine flu and it is confirmed by a test, then you should consider a doctor’s advice and let him or her know if you’ve been taking some preventative supplements or medicines.
We hope this article will help you and your family avoid catching flus and colds as often and recover from them more quickly. You have a variety of inexpensive options on reducing your risk of catching these illnesses, and a few more expensive ones such as the Tamiflu and Relenza medications.
Unless this H1N1 outbreak becomes far worse than it has been so far, you should be able to significantly reduce the health risks to you and your family. As we’ve discussed, you can do it without breaking the bank, too.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned in this post are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.