Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 May

H1ow N1ot to Get Swine Flu

Swine flu. Even the hype surrounding it is pandemic. It’s made headlines in every major newspaper and magazine. The CDC has a new press release every half hour. TV talking heads and radio pundits furrow their brows and express extreme consternation as they tell us to start “bracing for the worst.” President Obama has asked for another billion-and–a-half dollars (that we don’t have) to fend off this impending menace. Frightened school boards are halting classes everywhere until they are given a better action plan. Cruises are cancelled, trips are postponed, pigs are slaughtered, nations are blamed. It’s crazy.

I’m sorry. At this point, I’m not buying it.

I am not convinced that Swine flu H1N1 is any different from just about every other strain of flu we experience every year. Hong Kong flu, every Asian variety of the past two decades, duck flu, other bird flu, you name it. We know the CDC trades in hyperbole, but, hey, “we’re from the government and we’re here to help you.” On the other hand, in the past few hours there seems to be some consensus from clear-thinkers emerging that this swine flu might not be so fatal as strains that caused some prior pandemics. Too little too late?

In fact, there are viruses (and bacteria and fungi and parasites and…) around us all the time. So why don’t we all get sick all the time? Why do so many people get sick and die during epidemics? Every year in the US there are 50,000,000 cases of flu (all types) and 36,000 deaths. If everyone is exposed at some level (and I guarantee you, everyone is exposed) then why doesn’t everyone get sick? And if 50,000,000 get the flu, why don’t 50,000,000 die? It all comes down to the health of your immune system and the strength of your organ reserve. Of course, the Primal lifestyle guarantees both. In the vast majority of cases, people that die of the flu have extremely weakened immune systems and/or experience organ failure indirectly related to the flu (kidneys fail, heart fails, liver fails, etc). But what does that mean for you and me? If you have a healthy immune system and are otherwise in good shape, there’s a strong likelihood that routine exposure to swine (or any) flu will be handled by your immune system without you even noticing. Or maybe you’ll feel weird for a day or two and then you’ll shake it. And even if you should get sick, in 99.99% of cases you have nothing to fear from any form of flu except maybe the loss of a few days pay and a few days of feeling crappy. But only if your immune system is in good order.

So what can you do to bolster your immune system and make sure you fend off any attack – swine-related or otherwise?

1. Avoid Sugar

Sugar is a powerful immune suppressor. One dose of a big dessert or a bag of gumdrops scarfed at a movie can be enough to temporarily weaken the immune system and open the door to infection. That’s especially true if you’ve been eating Primally and clean for a while. Unfortunately, most Americans are susceptible because a lifestyle of sugar intake can result in perpetual immune suppression, the effects of which not only make them sitting ducks for the flu, but can also exacerbate heart disease and cancer.

2. Avoid Stress

Chronic cortisol (the major stress hormone) release is another powerful immune suppressor. As tough as times are, it behooves you to get a handle on stress and do whatever you can to mitigate it, whether it’s through meditation, yoga, prayer, biofeedback or just taking a few minutes each day to chill. People get sick when they are stressed out not from the stress itself, but from the fact that exposure to any virus or bacteria overwhelms their frail immune system.

3. Avoid Overly Stressful Workouts

Again, few things can suppress the immune system as quickly as chronic cardio or a single excessive weekend warrior workout (usually anything under 45 minutes is fine). I can pinpoint from my marathon days those exact individual workouts in which I knew immediately that I had gone too far or dug too deep. Invariably I came down with some URTI within a few days – not because I was newly exposed, but because I was vulnerable to anything and everything that was always floating in the air, on a doorknob or in a handshake.

4. Cut the Grains

This would normally be part of the first item “avoid sugar”, since grains tend to be converted to glucose pretty rapidly. But beyond their glucose load, grains (especially whole grains) and their glutens, lectins and phytates may have a collective immune altering or immune-suppressing effect in some (and I suspect most) people.

5. Avoid Stupid Exposure Mistakes

In many cases a mild exposure, like being in the same room with a flu “victim”, is enough to stimulate a healthy immune system to react in a way that further reduces the likelihood you’ll come down with your own case. On the other hand, shaking the hand of someone with the flu who just coughed or sneezed into it might put you over the edge if you then wipe you nose or rub your eyes (eyes are a very vulnerable entry point). I’m not the biggest fan of hand cleaners, but if you think you just got slimed, wash a decent hand soap just to be sure. No need to go OCD in this regard. I would never wear a mask on a plane, for instance, but I’m not telling you not to if you sit next to a cougher/sneezer.

6. Do Get Some Sunshine

The immune system requires vitamin D to function optimally and sunlight is the best way to ensure you get enough D (a vitamin D supplement won’t hurt either). Winter is cold and flu season not just because we are inside sharing our sputum, but because we spend less time getting sunshine and vitamin D.

7. Exercise Appropriately

If you follow the PB, you’ll know that getting a fair amount of low-level aerobic activity and a few focused strength sessions each week will have an immune-boosting effect.

8. Eat Good Fats and Avoid Bad Fats

Omega 3s, mono-unsaturates and even most saturated fats will support healthy immune systems. On the other hand, any intake of trans and hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated fats will compromise immunity, as will excessive intake of the Omega 6 fats found in many vegetable oils.

The swine flu is nothing new. Whether you get sick or not is entirely up to you. To paraphase George W. Bush “Flu me once, shame on — shame on you. Flu me — you can’t get flued again”  Take responsibility for your own health and, fer cryin’ out loud, don’t be flued by the hype.

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Should I Get a Flu Shot?

Achieve Your Health Goals by “Getting Real”

9 Natural Cold and Flu Remedies (plus one)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. “Trinkwasser, the fact that you haven’t gotten sick doesn’t mean that your immune system hasn’t been busy identifying all the bugs you’ve been exposed to and keeping you from feeling all the symptoms. When the bugs “don’t hit you as hard” is when you know your immune system is working well.”

    Yeah this is what I’m hoping! Mother, and other teachers, shopkeepers etc. often report getting a lot of minor illnesses at the start of their careers, after which probably due to exposure they stop catching stuff nearly so often. There’s a lot to be said for keeping your immune system challenged enough to be active as well as fed with good things.

    NOT so useful though when the likes of doctors and nurses become immune to stuff which they are still passing between their patients. :( Keeping away from doctors’ surgeries and hospitals is proably a good plan, and not just during this non-epidemic.

    More from the estimable Michael Eades

    Trinkwasser wrote on May 9th, 2009
  2. I have been reading your blog for awhile. very inspiring. I was reading this H1N1 post and just the other day got a joke from a friend in Australia and I cant help myself I have to share. I hope you are moderating your comments ..dont want to offend anyone but it was funny! Esp the comments from my male colleagues to each other when they got this:

    2007 – Chinese year of the Chicken – Bird Flu Pandemic devastates parts of Asia

    2008 – Chinese year of the Horse – Equine Influenza decimates Australian racing

    2009 – Chinese year of the Pig – Swine Flu Pandemic kills pigs around the globe.

    It gets worse……..

    next year……

    2010 – Chinese year of the Cock – what could possibly go wrong???

    Blanche wrote on May 13th, 2009
  3. Really good article. I am from India and currently the Swine Flu has started affecting people in India with 14 deaths reported so far. The media is having a helluva great time trying to cover this as if it’s Judgement Day. I won’t say that people shouldn’t be careful. They should take precautions. But why all this hype.

    And I completely agree with your article on having a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, sleep, etc. Your article was really useful and motivating. It assures me that I am not alone in thinking that “I won’t get sick” (atleast not with a flu).

    Thanks again and keep the good work going Mark.

    PJ wrote on August 13th, 2009
  4. I have just had what might have been Swine Flue. I wasn’t able to complete the NHS questionnaire over the ‘phone as I failed the first hurdle – at the time my temperature was normal, so I wasn’t allowed to continue. This was even though I had read on a web site that a high temperature is not always present with Swine Flue. It subsequently rose to 102F (38.9C).

    I went to the doctor who was very nice and agreed it could be Swine Flue, but didn’t seem to be very interested. She said: “there are probably lots of people going around with Swine Flue without realising it”.

    Anyway I fell better now, so panic over. It lasted about 1 week.

    MaunderBeak wrote on September 5th, 2009
  5. woweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee that is so cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

    zerina wrote on October 6th, 2009
  6. I started the eyes itching and watering and sneezing uncontrollably for two days and I wolfed down garlic cloves as much as possible till my mouth burned and by Day 3 symptoms stopped. No fever, chills, aches, nothing.

    Susan Schroeder wrote on December 4th, 2009
  7. Ever since I heard about the swine flu it has worried me, because I always worry about getting sick (although I hardly ever get sick) I’m a little bit of a hypocondriac. I was so worried that my 12 year old daughter would get the swine flue from school. We live in Texas, and since it all started in Mexico I was really worried that some kid from her school who’d been to Mexico on vacation would bring the flu back to the school.
    Then about a week ago my husband started caughing and he told me he wasn’t feeling well, so we went to the doctor right away and they said that he might have the swine flu. They gave him Tamiflu and some other medicines. The next day he said he was feeling a lot better, and that was pretty much it. I was very worried though because I had been very close to him about the time when he started to feel sick, the time when you shed the virus. The doctor told me to wait a few days and if I din’t get sick I would be fine. They didn’t want to give me Tamiflu “just in case” because that could make the virus resistent if I didn’t get sick this time but in the future.
    So to make a long story short, only my husband got sick with what they confirmed being the swine flu, but my daughter or I never got sick.
    I think that I have stayed healthy for all these years (I’m 29) is because I was outdoors playing all the time in every weather conditions as a child, and we had a lot of pets. I’ve heard over and over again that being exposed to animals as a child helps to build up your immune system. My family ate healthy natural food, no artificial ingredients. Only had sweets on saturdays, never on weekdays. We were no neatfreaks and I have to say that our house was never really clean, and I actually believe that being exposed to germs and dirt as a child really helped me and my family. My mom never gave me medication if I got sick, and to this day I never take painkillers, or eat a lot of sugar. No one in my family has never been really sick.
    I don’t know if I’m right but what ever I did as a child, it is working for me. Now a days I never drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I eat organic food, I don’t like red meat, I don’t like greasy food because I never had it as a child. So I think the combination of being exposed to all kinds of germs as a child, and being outdoors a lot has helped me as an adult.

    Carolina Stephens wrote on January 22nd, 2010
  8. Vitamin D really boosts your immune system. The average adults should optimally get 5000 iu a day, preferably from sunshine. When that’s not possible, taking a vitamin helps as well.

    Jeff wrote on November 10th, 2010
  9. These types of became terrific all over again exercise routines whereby means that we can loosen your vertebrae plus sleep the right way without the practical knowledge in regard to demand of your all over again.

    Israel Colding wrote on February 29th, 2012

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