In recent days, the coronavirus has been all over the news. People are stranded on cruise ships because countries are fearful of the epidemic being spread to their shores. So, what can one do to naturally reduce the likelihood of getting a virus-borne infection like the flu or a cold—or to protect oneself from their scarier cousins like the SARS or H1N1 pandemics that swept through countries just a few years ago?
Flu shots are effective, but only for the viruses they are targeted for. Typically, physicians gather a few examples of the past year and design the immunization to target those specific viruses. The problem is, the flu virus constantly mutates so there is a whole different variety popping into existence by the next season. That’s why you need a new flu shot every year! Patients are surprised to be told they have the flu even though they had their flu shot. The shot certainly reduces the risk, but the virus is clever and is constantly changing.
To understand what you can do, it helps to understand how these viruses get a foothold in the body. The usual route is through the mouth or nose. Breathing in virus-laden water droplets sneezed into the air is one route. Touching a contaminated doorknob or other surface and then touching your mouth is also a popular way for viruses to enter the body.
Your body’s first line of defense is in the throat. Tonsils and adenoids are composed of tissues similar to the lymph nodes or glands. Their job is to intercept viruses or bacteria before they can penetrate into the bloodstream. Years ago, removing these glands was almost a right of childhood. Over time it was found that removing the adenoids and tonsils substantially increased asthma, pneumonia, and allergic and infectious diseases. So, today, these tissues are left in place in all but the most severe cases.
One of the first simple ways to combat the spread of cold and flu around the home is to encourage the “elbow cough.” Simply teach your kids and train yourself to cover the face with the elbow when coughing. This avoids coating the hands with virus particles, which can then be transferred to doorknobs or other surfaces.
Water and sleep are two overlooked simple defenses against viral attacks. Lack of sleep lowers the power of your immune system. In addition, you need a constant flush of eight full glasses of water every day to cleanse your body of metabolic toxins. Being fully hydrated also provides easier access by the cells of your immune system to all parts of the body so there is nowhere for a virus to hide.
Wash your hands with simple soap and water to kill any virus particles present. I am not a fan of disinfectant sanitizing sprays—they have their own dangers. Just regular soap and water is enough to do the job. Where disinfectant wipes shine is in wiping down contact surfaces like doorknobs, tables, toilet flush handles—just about anything that commonly gets touched.
So, what can you do after you catch the virus? The truth is, once the flu or cold virus is firmly established in the body, even strong pharmaceutical antiviral drugs have a tough time impacting the course of the infection. All the coughing, sneezing, fever, and body aches are actually from your own immune system! It is waging a war to drive off the invading viruses, and once that war is launched, there is little to do but treat the symptoms and hope your immune system is victorious!
I tell my patients there is one simple remedy that everyone should have in their bathroom medicine cabinet—zinc lozenges. It is important to note that once viruses get past the thyroid and adenoid tissues, they are now beyond the front guard of the body. Typically, one of the first signs of a pending cold or flu is a scratchy or sore throat. We get this symptom many times throughout our life and, most of the time at least, the virus is stopped there. But, occasionally, it gets through and into the body to raise havoc.
At the first sign of a sore or scratchy throat, one should suck on a zinc lozenge and allow it to coat the throat. The zinc particles will bind with the viral particles on the outside surface of the tissues and render them inert. Think of it like ambushing the virus from behind!
Zinc lozenges come in multiple flavors and can be found in the cold and flu aisle. If you can stand the unflavored tasted of zinc, you can find it cheaper in the vitamin isle. Note that you need the lozenges and not the pill form of zinc.
The use of vitamins in the treatment of colds and flu is somewhat controversial. Vitamin C, in larger than usual dose, is suggested to greatly shorten the severity and duration of viral illnesses. However, pre-dosing with vitamin C in an environment where your kids or coworkers are infected likely aids your immune system in preventing the infection in the first place. For prevention or treatment, vitamin C is best taken in several divided doses throughout the day.
Vitamin C strengthens the immune system and is a strong antioxidant shown to be effective against the swine and bird flu. The suggested base dose for vitamin C is 60 mg daily. This dose is just high enough to limit scurvy or other deficiency syndromes. The Linus Pauling Institute offers an overview of optimal vitamin C intakes for different ages and conditions. Their basic recommendation is as follows:
“For healthy men and women, the Linus Pauling Institute recommends a vitamin C intake of at least 400 mg daily. Consuming at least five servings (2½ cups) of fruits and vegetables daily provides about 200 mg of vitamin C. Most multivitamin supplements provide 60 mg of vitamin C. To make sure you meet the Institute’s recommendation, supplemental vitamin C in two separate small doses taken in the morning and evening is recommended.”
Another natural technique to deal with an upper sinus or respiratory infection is to attempt to flush out much of the virus through the use of a neti pot. A neti pot is a small watering pail with a spout designed to flush out the nasal sinuses. Usually used with a saline solution, a neti pot can be effective in loosening clogged mucus and creating a hostile environment for viruses. The best time to use a neti pot is at the first sign of nasal sniffles.
It is important to be proactive during the cough and flu season. Wash your hands with plain soap and water. Avoid using chlorinated sprays on yourself, but use them liberally on doorknobs, counters, or any surface touched by people. Keep zinc lozenges in your medicine cabinet and pop one in your mouth at the first sign of throat irritation. For nasal and upper respiratory infections, a neti pot can be very beneficial as a natural way to flush out the viruses.