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Should you get the H1N1 Swine flu shot?

by Katherine Willow ND

As anxiety over the H1N1 flu escalates, there is confusion about whether to get the flu shot—or not.   People are caught between conflicting philosophies, both adamant in their views about vaccinations, pro and con.  I’d like to offer some thoughts from a holistic perspective that may help people who lean in this direction make a decision with relative peace of mind.

First of all, the H1N1 flu is not particularly dangerous compared to the usual seasonal flu.  The deaths worldwide are fewer than normal.  With respect to the young man who passed away recently, supposedly from this flu, we are not given any information about exactly how he died so it is impossible to assess what was really going on.  None of the people he was exposed to were even reported to contract the illness let alone coming close to dying themselves.   There is no need to be overly afraid other than to take basic precautions—it’s like worrying about getting into an accident every time you get into a car.  Yes it’s possible, but WORRYING DOESN’T HELP, just do up your seat belt and go on with your life!

There is a lot of criticism and mistrust of the vaccine.  The main issues are that it hasn’t been adequately tested and that it contains substances that are toxic.  There are also reports that it can have severe side effects.  Going even further, one finds a whole host of conspiracy theories that accuse pharmaceutical companies and even governments of  promoting false fears  in order to gain profits from the manufacture of the vaccine and anti-viral drugs.

It’s hard to tell what’s true.  In 26 years of being a naturopath I’ve never seen a severe vaccine reaction that I know of, but a recent book on vaccines really stands out in my mind. It’s called “Childhood Vaccinations, Answers to Your Questions”, and has a companion workbook, “Childhood Vaccinations, Making Informed Decisions”. It was written by a colleague I very much respect, Katia Bailetti ND, who used to work with us at the clinic.  She researched infant mortality rates in the first year of life, obtaining the information directly from medical data bases.

The resulting diagram graphically portrays a spike in infant deaths exactly around each scheduled vaccination time.  I’d never seen anything so convincing about the negative effects of vaccines. I personally believe this extends to flu vaccines which I think are almost totally unnecessary when we live in a healthy way. (You can learn more about the books and also purchase them through Katia’s website,  www.drbailetti.com. We also carry them at the Carp Ridge Natural Health Clinic.)

An experience that has informed my outlook comes from a family trip to India where none of us were vaccinated.  Instead we took natural remedies to protect ourselves from the unaccustomed germs.  None of us were ill and we ended up sharing our remedies (very successfully, by the way) with sick people who had all been vaccinated.

Another experience was as a young practitioner treating a woman with chronic fatigue and recurrent infections.  She gradually became stronger and then suddenly contracted chicken pox without any obvious exposure.  It was a terrible case, with lesions everywhere.  However when she recovered, the level of her health was unexplainably so much better, it made me give credence to the  principle from Traditional Chinese Medicine that childhood diseases have the purpose of clearing negative influences from the womb. (I didn’t vaccinate my children, but encourage other parents to make up their own minds.)

Similarly in German New Medicine, infections, including  the flu, are part of the healing process of the body.   At the same time, it is acknowledged that this phase is a vulnerable and occasionally dangerous time for some people, to be taken seriously and not minimized.

It has been a noticeable pattern in my practice that when patients who have a chronic illness come down with an acute infection, that they are almost always better from their chronic condition afterward.  This is predicted by naturopathic philosophy and is remarkable to watch.  I often tell patients about this pattern so they can be prepared to go through the acute symptoms without using drugs, which can suppress the process.

Along similar lines, the  flu has a cleansing function in the body, mediated by the fever and evidenced by the classic aches and digestive upset that accompany a cleansing reaction.  The lung symptoms are also doing a service, helping to expel the virus (when there is one).  When people proactively do a seasonal cleanse, they decrease the probability of going through the flu process.

There is also an emotional component to contracting the flu.  Stress impacts the immune system, making us more vulnerable, often after the stress has passed, such as when we go on holidays after overworking intensively.  In German New Medicine, fear of death is specifically related to the lungs and kidneys and can increase the possibility of fluid build-up in the lungs.  It’s like a deepening spiral, lung symptoms causing fear that increases the lung symptoms.  This needs to be short-circuited with confident reassurance, whether from a parent, a naturopath, a medical doctor or a nurse at the hospital.

A recent statistic that would confirm the holistic perspective of flu is that 2/3 of flu cases that are tested don’t show ANY virus.  I believe the flu is a natural mechanism of the body to help bring us back into balance when we are imbalanced.

So what do I recommend that people do about vaccinations on the basis of my particular experience, training and world view?

Here  are  several suggestions:

  1. Do your own research until you feel confident in either camp.  Being afraid is terrible for your health, in my opinion worse than the vaccine for most people (obviously not for those with severe reactions but those are rare).  Ask yourself whether you are more afraid of getting the flu or of vaccine side-effects and listen to your gut–along with looking at all the studies you can. (For an alternative viewpoint, you could check out what Dr. Mercola has to say about H1N1 at  swineflu.mercola.com)
  2. Whether you vaccinate or not isn’t the primary question; it is the strength of your immune system that will ultimately determine how healthy you are.  Even the flu shot is not a  guarantee that you won’t get the flu.
  3. Be prepared with flu remedies to offset anxiety; I recommend natural ones (see previous naturopathic flu tips post and current article by Reba Word ND on homeopathic flu remedies) because they not only work better (shown in studies), they don’t harm you.  Drugs always have some side-effects.
  4. Remember that the flu will go away by itself, usually within 6 days, even if you do nothing but stay in bed and drink warm fluids.  Eating lightly when appetite returns quickens recovery.
  5. Intense symptoms are a result of a vital body.  Relax and enjoy the rest.  Use natural methods to moderate the symptoms such as homeopathic remedies and hydrotherapy.  We can prescribe/describe them over the phone so you don’t have to come in when sick, in fact we prefer you stay home and rest!
  6. If your child is ill, stay as calm as you possibly can and make sure YOU get support because then you can positively influence the child.  Vital children spike high fevers.  Learn ahead of time how to handle them naturally if you are so inclined or have drugs on hand as back-up to avoid going to the hospital because they are all overcrowded and waiting in a room full of sick people can’t be good!
  7. If you are afraid of the flu and are worried for yourself and your family and natural theories don’t make you feel secure—please get the shot!  But also work on your immunity.
  8. We use homeopathic preventatives in our office: for $10 you can get a season’s supply of Influenzinum and Thymuline to take weekly to strengthen your immune system.  You can even do this along with the flu shot.  Add in a seasonal cleanse for extra good measure.
  9. Nothing will protect you well if you don’t eat, sleep, exercise and manage your stress.  And even then you may get the flu as part of your healing process.  If you can think about it as a useful biological mechanism that requires simple commonsense care, you will probably be fine—just as you are when you drive your car.
  10. (These last three are from Dr. Oz) Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine or hydrogen peroxide if you don’t trust salt). H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat/nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an infected one. Don’t underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.
  11. Similar to above, clean your nostrils at least once every day with warm salt water or hydrogen peroxide. Not everybody may be good at Jala Neti or Sutra Neti (very good Yoga asanas to clean nasal cavities), but blowing the nose softly once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.
  12. Drink as much of warm liquids (tea, coffee, etc) as you can. Drinking warm liquids has the same effect as gargling, but in the reverse direction. They wash off proliferating viruses from the throat into the stomach where they cannot survive, proliferate or do any harm.
    Hope this helps you enjoy and better cope with the season!