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Focus on Immunity:
asisting your body to fight the flu

by Patricia Kyritsi Howell, RH (AHG)

An outbreak of H1N1 influenza seems imminent as we move towards winter this year. For the most part the mainstream strategy for dealing with this impending health crisis is to stockpile vaccines and antiviral drugs (both of which will be in short supply). We are also being urged to wash our hands frequently and use hand sanitizers and reminded to cover our mouths when we sneeze or cough. Oh yes, we also need to invest in a few N95 respirator masks (available at most hardware stores for $14.95 or from shysters on the internet for $50 each.)

Unfortunately most of these measures will have little or no affect in limiting our chances of getting the flu. Because viral resistance to influenza drugs occurs so fast, flu shots being manufactured now may very well be ineffective at preventing the strains of flu weíll be dealing with later this winter. If a great number of people become infected, it is possible that local hospitals and clinics in our rural communities will soon become overwhelmed, and that will leave many of us to treat our symptoms on our own.

While this may sound grim, there are actually many simple and effective things, you can do to improve your ability to resist both viral and bacterial infections. By taking making a plan to start to strengthen your immune system you can dramatically reducing the chances of getting sick in the first place or, if you should get sick, to recover faster.

Many of the suggestions for creating a holistic flu prevention and treatment strategy require that you act now to get your flu plan going. Simple steps such as taking tonic herbs to strengthen your immune system and recue (decrease?) the chances that youíll get sick, making simple lifestyle changes like working less, getting more sleep, eating a nourishing diet, and managing stress are all essential

And since H1N1 flu symptoms tend to come on quickly, it may be impossible for you or others in your family to do simple activities like cooking, shopping or even thinking clearly once you start to feel sick. Take some time now to assemble the things youíll need to prevent and treat flu symptoms.

You may also want to get together with a few friends to talk about creating a support network should anyone in your circle get sick. This support might include delivering nourishing meals, preparing herbal teas or running errands so you donít have to go out. If anyone gets sick they simply make a call to activate the network. Flu symptoms can be severe and often make you so weak that you really canít do much for yourself or your family. A plan for getting help is good health assurance!

Keep in mind that we are not doomed to experience a devastating pandemic this winter. In fact there is plenty of historical evidence that many epidemics and pandemics have been successfully treated using herbal remedies and a good dose of common sense. Here are some suggestions for you to consider:

Strengthen your immune system by taking tonic herbs starting right now. Herbs like reishi mushroom, astragalus, schisandra berries and shiitake mushroom are food for your immune system. By taking them daily for three to six months you will strengthen your immune systemsí ability to fight off infections. Reishi, astragalus and schisandra may be taken in tincture form; 30 drops in a small amount of water, three times a day for six months or longer to build up the immune system. Shiitake mushrooms are a delicious edible mushroom that may be used in soups and stews.

Get lots of sleep. We all feel better when we get enough sleep, but if thatís not enough of a reason to go to bed early, a recent study came up with some stunning evidence about the role sleep plays in improving immunity. In the study a large group of people were exposed to a rhinovirus (a common cold virus). None of the people who regularly got eight or more hours of sleep each night became ill, while those who got seven or less hours of sleep contracted a cold.

Use herbs that stimulate your immune system at the first signs of illness. Echinacea, garlic and astragalus stimulate the surface immune system and increase your ability to accurately repel invading viral infections. Any of these three can be taken in tincture form at a dose of 30 to 60 drops in a small amount of water every two to three hours to rev up your immune response. Train yourself to start using these herbs the instant you notice swollen glands, a scratchy throat, headache or other signs that your immune system is trying to ward something off.

Drinking lots of fluids. Adequate fluid intake is critical when you have the flu to reduce fever symptoms and prevent dehydration. Nourishing fluids like vegetable or chicken broth and soup are the best source of nourishment when you donít have an appetite or feel nauseous. Make some clear broth soups now and freeze them in case you, your family or friends become ill. Along with soups, drink lots of herbal tea, at least one cup per hour. Herb teas are one of the best ways to relieve flu symptoms and support your bodyís immune response. Good tea choices include peppermint, elder flowers, yarrow, boneset and ginger. Drink at least two cups of tea an hour, especially if you have fever or diarrhea.

Stay home and rest if you are sick. Rest is critical for recovery. It is a well know fact that dangerous flu complications are much more common in people who try to work when they are sick or donít wait until they have fully recovered to return to their regular schedules. In fact, one of the biggest threats to everyoneís health in a pandemic is those who are sick and insist on working or going to public places where they will contribute to the spread of the virus. So do your part by canceling everything, get in bed and stay there.

Patricia Kyritsi Howell is a medical herbalist and author of Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians. She has a private practice with offices in Clayton (Rabun County), Georgia where she also runs the BotanoLogos School for Herbal Studies.