As we approach the holidays and wintertime, like clockwork, the flu fear begins. We start seeing flu shot signs at every pharmacy, news stories of this year’s flu virulence, and reminders everywhere on the importance of getting the flu shot to stay protected. This article is not intended to dissuade anyone from getting the flu shot, but rather to provide a better understanding of why people get sick and guidance on how to best protect yourself and family.
Aside from cold weather, what else changes at this time of year?
The most significant belief shift I had about flu season was several years ago at a Tony Robbins seminar. On the last day of the event, Tony teaches about how to achieve optimal health, thus more energy, to accomplish all of one’s life goals. During this session, he talks about the “flu season” with common sense and a touch of humor. Paraphrasing what he says, it shouldn’t be called “flu season,” but instead “decreased immunity season,” due to all the activities we do around this time of year. To paint a picture, we start out with Halloween, which for many brings excess candy (sugar intake) and for some adults, partying and drinking. This is followed up by Thanksgiving, a time of feasting, drinking and pies. Then we roll into December with its holiday parties leading up to the final event of Christmas and New Years, with every occasion providing sweet temptations and reasons to drink and be merry.
Stress levels also tend to rise during this time. There is gift-buying pressure, work deadlines, traveling, and for some, visiting relatives. On top of all that, it is getting colder, and we’re getting less sun (Vitamin D). Some people are also exercising and sleeping less. All of these factors combined create a perfect storm of decreased immunity.
The point is that clearly our bodies are not as resilient during this time if we fall into any of the above categories. This puts us at greater risk for succumbing to sickness, whether it be the flu virus or any other pathogen. As my wise first chiropractor, Dr. Wendel, once said to me, “it’s not the seed, it’s the soil.” In my previous article, “Flu Prevention: Boosting Natural Immunity,” I go into detail on how to support the immune system through basic body care, herbs and supplements.
What if you get the flu shot?
Having said that, I know that some people will still get the flu shot, either by choice or job requirements. Recently one of my patients who works in a hospital was telling me that she has to get the shot every year, but would rather not. This led us into a discussion on what she could do to help her body process the shot better. Although the medical community ensures that the vaccine is safe, the fact is that there are toxic ingredients in it. Even though they are in very small amounts, it would still be beneficial to support the body’s detoxification processes. Aside from the inactivated virus, the flu shot contains formaldehyde, aluminum salts and Thimerosal (mercury). These all have a purpose in making the vaccine more effective, and healthy bodies should clear them out within a few days. However, if someone is already “clogged” up from prior toxicity, these chemicals may be stored in body tissues longer. In our modern world, it’s very common that people’s detoxification systems are already overburdened due to poor diet (excess processed food/drink), environment pollution, skincare and cleaning products, etc.
Supporting your body’s natural detoxification
The liver, kidneys, lungs, colon and even skin are all organs that help rid the body of toxins. In general, it’s a good idea to help out your detox organs, but even more reason if you’re getting a vaccine.
Skin detox assist:
Sweating is a way to rid the body of toxins, so turn up the heat! High intensity exercise and saunas (especially infrared) are great methods to do this. If you struggle to get a good sweat going, it may be a good idea to treat yourself to a full-body exfoliation to clear your pores.
Lung detox assist:
With every exhale our lungs are working to expel CO2, airborne toxins, mold and allergens from the body. While this occurs without thought, we can boost this function (and shift the body to a more relaxed, healing state) by bringing conscious awareness to our breath. My favorite method is to focus on exhaling as much as possible. The lungs will then automatically take a fuller inhale, followed again by a complete exhale. I do this for at least 10 breath cycles at a time.
Another approach is called “Vagus Breathing,” which is also known to stimulate the Vagus nerve, a parasympathetic (relax mode) cranial nerve that regulates heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and digestion. In this technique, you exhale twice the amount of time you inhale. For instance, if you inhale for 3 seconds, you exhale 6 seconds. You can practice this as long as you comfortably can (physically and mentally). 5 minutes is a great time to strive for.
Liver detox assist:
The liver is vital for many essential functions in the body including digestion, hormone production, energy storage and metabolism. However it is best known for being the main detoxifying organ. It does this through 2 pathways known as, “Phase 1” and “Phase 2.” In Phase 1, a group of liver enzymes convert toxins into less harmful substances. Then in Phase 2, “conjugation” occurs, where glutathione, sulphate and glycine make the toxins water-soluble so they can be flushed out of the body.
To facilitate this process, you can:
1. Avoid toxic foods/drinks that give your liver more work to do. In general, this includes alcohol, sugar, processed foods (a long ingredient list with words hard to pronounce), drugs (unless medically necessary), fried foods and table salt.
2. Consume food/drink that support your liver detox function. Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur, which the body needs to produce glutathione (an important part of phase 2 detox). This veggie family includes broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. These foods are better digested and absorbed when cooked. Vitamin C is also an important antioxidant, as it protects the liver enzymes needed in both phases. Vitamin C food sources are citrus fruits, red and green bell peppers, kale, broccoli, beets, papaya, kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe, mango and pineapple.
3. Herbs to support liver detoxification include dandelion root, yellow dock, chicory, milk thistle, fumitory and peppermint. These can be taken as supplements or herbal teas.
4. Supplements: You can also take a Liposomal Glutathione supplement. In this form, the glutathione will makes its way through the stomach without getting destroyed. You can also supplement with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and alpha-lipoic acid, the building blocks of glutathione.
Kidney detox assist:
Once the liver converts toxins into water-soluble compounds, they’re sent to the kidneys to be excreted in urine. Thus we must drink enough water to keep this process going. I love the phrase, “the solution to pollution is dilution!” Drinking plenty of clean, filtered water is a sure way to help your kidneys clear out toxins faster. It is recommended that you drink ½ your body weight in ounces. That amount could also include fresh vegetables and fruit, which contain a natural amount of water. You should aim for urine to be clear. Foods known to support the kidneys include parsley, cilantro, nettle, alfalfa and green tea. Cranberries and juniper berry are known as “renal tonics,” which help flush toxins and prevent bacteria buildup.
Colon detox assist:
The colon, or large intestine, excretes solid chemical waste from the body. It also houses most of the body’s gut flora, or “microbiome,” which is vital for healthy digestion and immune function. People should ideally have at least one bowel movement a day, but many struggle with constipation and other digestive issues. Adequate water and exercise definitely help get things moving, but a high fiber diet of whole foods is essential. Specific foods that aid colon detox are: fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, apple cider vinegar), lentils, chia seeds, root vegetables, onions, garlic and apples.
Activated charcoal is a great supplement to prevent absorption of toxic substances. It has a strong negative charge, causing it to bind to positively charged toxins in the digestive tract before making its way to the colon for elimination. It can also bind to beneficial nutrients, so it should be taken on an empty stomach and with at least 8 ounces of water.
If you try all these things and still have trouble staying “regular,” you may want to consider colon hydrotherapy (aka colonic) and/or probiotic supplements. You may want to discuss these options with a nutrition specialist to ensure you get the right probiotic for your body, but in general, you want to look for multiple strains (Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, etc) and a high CFU count (colony forming unit). 1-20 billion CFU is what is recommended by most sources. For a very complete probiotic explanation, visit https://www.drkarafitzgerald.com/2018/01/02/get-probiotic-doctors-advice/.
Chiropractic must also be mentioned when it comes to optimal digestive function. Joint restrictions in the spine (stuck/stiff areas in the neck or back), can lead to impaired nerve flow to vital organs and tissues. In other words, you’ve got to keep your spine moving well so you can too!
While there are many studies of people experiencing better digestion after an adjustment (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4486990/ ), my favorite example of this is from my cat. Since this article is already longer than I intended, for a full account of this story, check out my next blog entry.
Did you get all that??
As you can see, there are a myriad of ways to support your body’s detoxification and immune function. Whether you get the flu shot or not, these are all important considerations and practices to ensure a healthy, happy winter season.