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Ask a Naturopath: What is the best thing I can do to prevent the flu this fall?

by Katherine Willow ND

Question: What is the best thing I can do to prevent the flu this fall?

Timely question. And the answer is, it depends on your body type, your stress level, your lifestyle and your current state of health.

Fall and spring are the seasons of change when our bodies naturally work to detoxify from the season before, in this case, the ice cream, BBQ food and other treats that might have been eaten over summer. This is especially so if our digestion is weak, in which case food is not metabolized, or ‘burned up’, completely and tends to congest the body.

Let’s see how this basic principle applies to the variables above:

Body Types: This knowledge is taken from Ayurvedic medicine. There are three basic types and many possible combinations of them which in western medicine are called our genetic constitution. A thorough guide is the book Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra.

Kapha types are strongly built, with a fair complexion, blue eyes and a tendency to gain weight easily. They do best on a light diet without dairy and wheat, lots of exercise and care not to oversleep unless they are depleted, and this will go far to prevent the flu.

Pitta types have a medium build, reddish complexion, hazel eyes and a strong drive to action. If they can slow down, stop the coffee and alcohol which they often crave and take some milk thistle for their liver, which tends to become irritated, they can protect themselves against the flu.

Vata types are slender or very heavy, extremely sensitive in every way and have brown hair, eyes and skin. Their main tools to offset the flu are: sleeping more, especially earlier in the evening, eating enough easily digestible protein to stabilize their anxiety and making sure bowel movements are regular as they are often constipated.

Combinations of these types need to mix and match the recommendations.

Stress Level: Being chronically stressed is probably the biggest risk factor for getting the flu. Chronic stress beats up our body, depletes our immune system, slows our digestion, cripples our ability to sleep, prevents the release of toxins and contracts our thinking into fight or flight solutions instead of evolutionary creativity.

When we are in deep stress we don’t even want or feel able to relax or do the things we need to do to balance ourselves, such as stopping to breathe. Sometimes it takes a flu to slow us down and switch us out of sympathetic drive when there are situations which trigger this survival mechanism such as a sick family member, an important job deadline or old trauma that hasn’t been resolved.

We need to learn to drop out of the fight or flight syndrome and allow our bodies to recharge and heal before going back into the battle, hopefully with a little more resilience each time. Mindfulness meditation, yoga, napping, gentle hobbies and short holidays can help. So can vitamin D, adrenal support, multivitamins, essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes, protein shakes and many kinds of herbs that support and soothe the nervous system. Cognitive therapy is brilliant for stress.

Severe chronic stress is not quickly fixed in most cases and is a process of healing our ravaged bodies and maturing into our ability to see life’s challenges from a calm perspective. Stress-driven illnesses encourage us to do just that.

Lifestyle: This topic includes food, exercise, sleep, sex, work, play and worship—in other words, how we usually live. We are vulnerable to the flu when we are out of balance in any of these categories and who isn’t from time to time in our out-of-balance culture!

The way I work with lifestyle is to help people find their “home base”, a combination of all of the above following body type, blood type, glandular strengths and weaknesses, family background and personal philosophy. Coming to this place of home is where we feel our optimum and are able to heal old wounds and excesses. When life inevitably kicks us out of this comfort zone, we know where to come back when we are able to catch our balance, using the home tools to do so and each time stretching our capacity to thrive on this boot camp of a planet.

Current State of Health: When we have chronic illnesses in ‘hanging healing’ mode, we often don’t get the flu until we start to heal. In this case, the flu is a good and necessary process. Consider sleeping it off with plenty of hot fluids and not medicating it.

Also, this is the perfect time of year to do a ‘cleanse’ of your system, which goes a long way in warding off the flu. As I mentioned, during spring and fall our bodies naturally work more to excrete toxins and congestion as they ‘go into different gear’ for the seasonal weather changes. You can help your body along by doing your own cleanse (If you can, come to our Free Talk, Sat, Oct 22, 1-3pm: Learn Fall Cleansing for Optimal Health).

Final Word: You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the flu shot. As a naturopathic doctor, my intention is to build health and immunity, which prevents the flu. There are specific natural preventives and treatments including elderberry juice, astragalus, echinacea and homeopathic remedies which I prefer to use. The only time I would recommend the flu shot is for a person who is frightened at the thought of not taking it!

Dr. Katherine Willow is a fourth generation registered naturopathic doctor with over three decades of experience with hundreds of patients. She is founder and director of Carp Ridge EcoWellness Centre (www.ecowellness.com) and has a specific interest in German New Medicine and how emotions relate to disease, about which she is currently writing an introductory book.