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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.