Immune boost helps keep the flu at bay

An H1N1 vaccine shot isn’t the only option to fight the flu this season.

Jaty Tam is a naturopathic doctor at Body of Knowledge Healing Arts in Toronto. She said keeping your immune system in shape will also keep the flu bug at bay.

“From a naturopathic point of view, our goal is to strengthen our body’s ability to fight it off,” she said.

Tam added, pregnant women, children under the age of two and anyone with a chronic illness such as asthma or diabetes, are more likely to get H1N1 because their immune systems are not as strong.

“The older population, which is usually a big target for seasonal flu, is immune [to] H1N1,” she said. “A virus very similar to H1N1 must have been around at some point and they were exposed to it naturally and are now immune.”

However Tam said there are things both older and younger people can do to help kick-start the immune system, such as getting a good source of vitamins C and D and using echinacea.

“When you are starting to feel sick that’s the time to use the echinacea,” she said. “Echinacea can be really good for boosting your immune system.”

Along with getting the right supplements, Tam said taking heed of what you are eating and drinking is also an integral part of readying the immune system.

“There are definitely ways to immune-boost your diet… any kind of fried, fast foods and processed (foods) will lower your immune system,” she said.

Tam said eating foods enriched with garlic, ginger and onions will help increase your immune system’s strength. Eating mineral-rich green leafy plants, such as cabbage and spinach, is also useful.

One of the necessary liquids people forget to include in their diets is water.

“Something as essential as water can make a really profound impact on our health,” she said. “Most people don’t drink enough water. The amount of water that you need is seven to eight (250ml) cups a day.”

If you happen to get sick, Tam said taking some time to get out of the house for fresh air and sunshine will help improve your circulation and in turn your immune system.

Whether one is sick or not, Tam also stressed the importance of sleep.

“When you are sleeping, that is the prime time for your immune system to fight off infections, heal wounds and repair tissue,” she said. “If you’re going to be sick or if you want to build up your immune system, getting enough sleep is very important.”

According to Tam, the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night. To help get out of bed the morning after, and also to help the immune system, naturopathic doctors recommend hydrotherapy, or simply alternating showers.

“Always start with hot and always end on cold,” she said. “The ratio is always going to be three hot to one cold. So if you do one minute of hot, you’re going to do 20 seconds of cold.

“Doing something like this can increase your circulation in your immune system in a really profound way,” she said. “I’ve definitely had people say that just from trying this they have warded off a cold or a flu coming on.”

Whether you decide to take the H1N1 vaccine or not, Tam said one should always be ready in case the vaccine doesn’t work.