by Corey “Narkissos” Springer
Owner of: “The NarkSide” Fitness Forums,Apollo Fitness Barbados, & NarkSide Apparel.
Hi all. As you guys may have heard, I’d recently been rendered infantile by some killer bug. I really thought this was it for me this time around.
I’ve had dengue fever four times thus far, two episodes being within weeks of each other last year. This episode of God-knows-what was far worse than any bout of Dengue fever that I’d ever had. So, I was mentally preparing myself to kick the bucket.
I don’t normally rush to the doctor when I’m feeling infirmed, but this time around… I did.
I was loaded up on antibiotics, and a bunch of other crap… that left me feeling worse and worse as the ailment progressed.
Over a week passed, and I was still feeling like absolute crap. Each day, my friends and peers would be asking me “How do you feel?” “Are you any better?” My answer each day? No.
I mean hell, aren’t medications supposed to make you feel better?
A friend told me “well maybe the medication isn’t working… Maybe you need to go to the doc again for more medication, or a different prescription”. My dad echoed the same sentiment.
It was on one of these really bad days, while waiting to meet St. Peter at the pearly gates, that I experienced a should’ve-would’ve-could’ve moment of absolute clarity.
“Maybe the medication ISN’T working”.
Maybe, it never really works.
Maybe we over-medicate, and under-estimate the negative effects of doing so.
Maybe we over-apply drugs, while under-applying supplements, sound dieting knowledge, and basic common sense.
Don’t get me wrong… The point of this article isn’t to bash the medical field, or to suggest that you stop taking your medications.
The point of this article is to provide an alternate view… as well as a supplementary approach towards the maintenance of optimal health. Yes… even during flu season.
Disclaimer: I’m a chronic asthmatic… and I have been for 26 years. Yes, I’ve used diet, exercise, supplements, and common sense to beat my asthma. However, please note once more: I am NOT suggesting that you stop taking medications.
Intro to the flu
Influenza (typically called “the flu”), is a viral infection. Viruses are small infectious organisms which need to enter a living cell to replicate. Viruses hijack the host cell, altering the cell’s normal functions.
Sometimes this hijacking results in cell death. Sometimes, viruses simply leave some of their DNA behind. When the cell is agitated/activated, by whatever standard metabolic process, the virus may begin replicating again… causing disease.
Our body has a number of defenses against, and responses to, viral attacks.
For one, when viruses enter the body, they trigger an immune response. Should we survive a viral infection, some our white blood cells (the cells which attack and destroy the virus, and infected cells) ‘remember’ the virus… thus they’re able to to quickly identify and rectify subsequent infections by the same virus. This process is called immunity.
In this article we’ll discuss how one can fortify and support these defensive and response-mediated mechanisms.
I won’t be separating this suggestions into sections… as some of these measures are both preventative and reactive.
Strike 1: Load up on Phytochemicals/Phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are biologically active protective chemicals found naturally in plants. The nutrients are contained in the chemicals responsible for the colour of the fruits and vegetables we
eat. As colours are easily recognizable, dieticians often suggest that dieters eat a range of colours. This allows for a a range of phytochemicals… and, subsequently, a range of benefits.
Some phytochemicals are immune-boosting.
Some are metabolism-boosting. Some are antibacterial, while others are antiviral. Still others prevent against oxidative damage… while supporting cellular repair.
All of these benefits are of particular interest during the flu season.
Examples of foods high in flu-busting phytonutrients:
- brussels sprouts
- cabbage, kale
- bok choy
- onions (all kinds)
- plums (and prunes)
- red grapes (including derivatives: raisins, grape juice, and red wine) cranberries
Foods containing the chemical lycopene:
- Tomatoes (and tomato products)
- pink grapefruit
- pink guavas
Food containing chemicals called carotenes:
- sweet potatoes
- citrus fruits
Foods rich in lutein and related phytochemicals:
- green beans
- kiwi fruit
- green peppers
- honeydew melon
Foods which are rich in various (other) types of phytonutrients:
- Seeds (e.g. flax seeds)
NB: We’ll discuss more of these foods in the “anti-inflammatory section of this article”.
Strike 2: Avoid pro-inflammatory foods!!!
As stated in my earlier article “You are what you assimilate”, gastric and intestinal irritation can negatively affect health. Thus it would make sense if one cut out all sources of gastric irritation if disease is to be treated and/or prevented.
Examples of Pro-inflammatory foods:
- Food high in sugars
- Heavily processed carbohydrates
- Grains (in people who are allergic to grains)
- Dairy (in people who are allergic to Dairy)
- Fatty Red meats (and foods high in arachidonic acid and omega-6 fatty acids)
Strike 3: Add anti-inflammatory foods!!!
If inflammatory foods are correlated to an increased risk of illness, then it can be said that anti-inflammatory foods may reduce your risk of illness. Furthermore, should illness manifest, they may speed recovery… or, at the very least, reduce the subsequent discomfort felt during the period of convalescence.
Examples of Anti-inflammatory foods:
- Bananas (Bananas can correct ‘leaky gut’, thus preventing nutrient malabsorption).
- Berries (Berries add quertin, an immune-supporting anti-oxidant, as well as other phytochemicals and fiber)
- Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids (Flaxseed oil, fish oil, fatty fish, walnuts, pumpkin seeds etc.)
- Soy protein/Tofu/Soy Milk (Research shows that foods high in soy isoflavones may reduce systemic inflammation).
Strike 4: Stock up on supplements!!!
B-complex vitamins: Stress mediation.
The b-complex vitamins:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine/pyridoxal/pyridoxamine/pyridoxine hydrochloride)
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B8 (inositol)**
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamins/cyanocobalamin)
Viruses enter the body via a number pathways. Some viruses are stopped in their tracks almost immediately upon entry. Generally the factor which influences the severity of the manifestation of a viral invasion is immune health. Stress is a factor which can negatively impact immune health.
Enter the b-complex vitamins! During times of stress, b-complex vitamins are heavily utilized by the cells of the body. This can make the body more susceptible to sickness. Logically their supplementation should reduce the risk of illness. Even where illness manifests, b-complex vitamins can help mitigate feelings of lethargy and fatigue… they may also positively affect headaches which manifest.
Suggested dose: 800 mg per day
**NB: Inositol, has been de-classified as a ‘vitamin’. However, for the purpose of this article, it’s been included.
Dietary Fiber: Does more than “keep you regular”
As shown in my earlier earlier “You are what you assimilate”, intestine health heavily affects immune health and function.
Keeping everything regular and free-flowing is necessary where both preventing illness, and dealing with illness is concerned.
With reference to illness which have already manifested, maintaining digestive health may prevent the overgrowth of bacterial agents… which, if allowed to proliferate unimpeded, may make an already crappy bout of the flu even more so.
Suggesed dose: 30 grams per day
Echinacea: Wonder herb?
Wonder herb indeed!
This herb has been shown to reduce the virus-induced secretion of pro-inflammatory chemicals. Its effects don’t appear to be limited to specific viruses either! To the contrary actually, as a study showed that inflammation-inhibitory effects were prevalent even in the presence of viruses such as rhinoviruses 1A and 14, the influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus, adenovirus types 3 and 11, as well as the herpes simplex virus type 1. Echinacea has also showed potent virucidal activity against viruses with membranes, thus indicating its potential as a multi-functional flu-fighter.
Suggesed dose: 1000 mg, thrice daily (during periods of illness).
NB: I only suggest using echinachae during times of stress and illness. It’s very effective on the short-term… but less so on the long term.
Research shows that the herb ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc) might have potential clinical applications as a preventive agent against (and therapeutic application for) influenza infection. We aren’t however discussing the small amounts one would consume in herbal infusions. Effective dosages for this herb are in gram amounts… so the application of a powdered form of this herb is necessary.
The plus side?
It’s really cheap.
Suggested dose: 3gr per day
Horehound: Egyptian expectorant.
The herb White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is very effective against coughs. It acts as an expectorant as well as a soothing tonic to the throat. The herb’s use has been documented as far back as ancient egypt. It’s natural, versatile, and importantly, DOESN’T TASTE LIKE MEDICINE!
To me, that latter point is the most important.
Suggesed dose: 10 to 40 drops of the extract in water, 2 lozenges, or 1-2 grams of dried herb or infusion, three times daily (as needed).
Vitamin C: The go-to guy?
Vitamin C… the first thing most people reach for during cold and flu season. However, the jury is out as to whether vitamin C is actually useful in flu prevention. That being said, studies have shown that mega-dosing can reduce the severity and duration of influenza episodes. Anything that can reduce my downtime is gold in my book! My suggestion? Stock up on it!
Suggesed dose: 8000mg-10,000 immediately at the onset of illness; 3000-5000 mg per day during the flu season.
Vitamin D: The go-to guy’s bosom-buddy
Vitamin D doesn’t come to mind when most people think about preventing/treating colds and flu. However, some schools of thought actually attribute the development of influenza to Vitamin D deficiencies. Whether is actually the case is yet to be established. However, studies do show that people with low serum levels of vitamin D report more cases of cold or flu. So it would appear that fortifying one’s vitamin D levels may significantly reduce the risk of influenza infections.
With regard to optimal dosing, studies find the current RDA to be ineffective for flu prevention. Dr. John Cannell, in his paper “Epidemic Influenza And Vitamin D“, hypothesized that a dosage of 5000 IUs per day may prevent influenza.
NB: The current RDA for Vitamin D is 400IUs.
In 2008, the Public Health Agency of Canada started study investigating the role of vitamin D in severe seasonal influenza. In 2009 this organization publicly stated that it would be adapting said study to the H1N1 virus.
My suggestions? Do some ‘practical investigations’ of your own! This is another supplement I’d stock up on during the flu season.
Suggesed dose: 35 IUs per pound of bodyweight.
NB2: For a 140 lb female that’d be 4900 IUs. For the 180 lb male, that’d be 6300 IUs.
Whey Protein: Not just for muscle-building.
Cold-processed whey protein isolate sits near the top of the muscle-building supplement pyramid. However, we’re not looking at this supplement as a muscle-builder today. No, today we look at whey in a different light… that of an immune-booster, as well as an easy-to-digest food substrate. The latter property is of special consideration, as the nutrient malabsorption is a common occurrence during times of illness.
Whey’s immune-boosting properties are highly documented. The ingestion of whey protein has been shown to drastically increase levels of the antioxidant gluthatione in tissue… particularly that of the heart, liver, and spleen. Dröge and Breitkreutz (2000) stated:
“The immune system works best if the lymphoid cells have a delicately balanced intermediate level of glutathione. Even moderate changes in the intracellular glutathione level have profound effects on lymphocyte functions. Certain functions, such as the DNA synthetic response, are exquisitely sensitive to reactive oxygen intermediates and, therefore, are favoured by high levels of the antioxidant glutathione.”
NB: “Lympocytes” are a type of white blood cell which has two primary forms/functions: the production of antibodies in the humoral immune response; participation in cell-mediated immune response.
Suggested dose: 20% of allotted calorie intake. [Bounous & Gold (1991)]
Zinc: the “Terminator” of trace minerals.
“What are you talking about Nark?”
I’ll tell you what I’m talking about!!!
If Arnold Schwarzenegger was a mineral, he’d be zinc-coloured. Seriously!
Zinc is involved in numerous metabolic processes. You think of it, and zinc’s involved. The mineral plays a crucial role in literally hundreds of enzymes and biological functions. Where it isn’t the primary character, it’s the co-factor to the primary character… playing the supporting role in numerous biological processes.
Here’s a short-list of this mineral’s call to fame:
- Necessary for growth and cell division
- Necessary for fertility (via regulating the activity of the reproduction system)
- Improves perception of taste, smell and appetite
- Essential for skin, hair and nail health (Zinc participates in skin regeneration)
- Active in the maintenance of healthy vision
- Necessary for the synthesis of insulin
- Active in the process of blood formation
- Contributes to the timely healing of the wounds
- Maintains the proper functioning of immune system (particularly where the T-cells are concerned)
To say that this mineral is a power-house would be an EPIC UNDERSTATEMENT! Added to its obvious immune benefit is its ability to stop diarrhea in its tracks! Diarrhea is often one of the most uncomfortable and inconvenient parts of influenza infection. With zinc, you avoid having to add more medicines to your arsenal. Kiss Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol good-bye!
Suggested dose: 50 mg per day
Other Supplements worth investigating:
- Allium sativa
- Panax quinquefolium
- Eleutherococcus senticosus
- Andrographis paniculata
- olive leaf extract
- Isatis tinctoria
- Sambucus nigra
- larch arabinogalactan
- Astragalus membranaceous
- Baptisia tinctoria
- vitamin A
You are NOT a victim… so you’ve no reason to throw up your hands and act like one. There are many measures which one can implement to prevent illness, as well as to speed recovery from illness. My suggestions?
Take advantage of the above suggestions from the very first sign of illness. Hit it hard, and you just may succeed in knocking those little germ bastards out!
–Corey “Narkissos” Springer
“The NarkSide” Fitness Forums
Apollo Fitness Barbados
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