As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with the recession, the banks teetering on the brink of extinction and the rain, a threatened flu pandemic is hurled into the mix. There is an irony in the fact that stress, a result of worry, has quite a significant negative impact on the human immune system, the very same immune system we expect to keep us safe from flu! While official statistics are not readily available, there is anecdotal evidence coming from doctor’s offices that cases of stress related illnesses, both physical and mental, have rocketed since the start of the year.
At the last official count we had close to one hundred people infected with Swine Flu in Ireland. As I write, there have been no fatalities here but some 429 people have died from the virus worldwide, including 7 in the UK; a little too close for comfort perhaps.
It was also announced recently that attempts to contain the virus in the UK have now been halted with health authorities instead concentrating on treating the virus. As all this has emerged during the spring and summer, experts are warning that we should all brace ourselves for the coming ‘real flu season’ of autumn and winter. Such comments have sparked a rush to buy face masks and other over the counter drugs from pharmacies all over England and Wales. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try and boost the immune system rather than buy a face mask? Fortunately I don’t think that we have followed just yet and there hasn’t been a run on masks.
Laws of nature
As humans we have grown accustomed to an ‘instant’ world. We expect things to be fast, quick and convenient. Unfortunately the laws of nature are in sharp contrast to such thinking and while our brains often believe we should have everything we demand, when we demand it, our bodies and the environment we live in are still subject to many natural laws.
For example, despite the great medical advances if you break a bone, once reset, the bone will knit back together at its own pace regardless of what you think about it. Wanting it to be fixed quicker is futile or lamenting that you ‘need’ to be better for an upcoming event is pointless. If you plant lettuce seeds it will take some time before the lettuces appear and no amount of wishing they were grown will speed up the process. It’s a simple case of sowing, waiting and reaping and it affects all areas of our lives. With these natural laws in mind, it is now that we should be doing things to help stave off colds and flu in the autumn and winter. We need to plant the seeds for a strong immune system today in order for it to be strong if it is attacked at a later stage.
There is no question that a healthy diet rich in all the vitamins and minerals necessary will help to build strong immunity. While it is not the greatest comparison, if you put the wrong fuel into your car it won’t work properly. Equally if you leave the engine without oil or adequate water it will eventually stop working altogether. The body also needs fuel, oil and water in order to operate at its best. Unfortunately many of us bombard our systems with fats, sugars, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and exposure to heavy metals which all compromise our immune systems. However, it’s not so much about not doing these things as it is about the things we do to compensate and combat the problem areas.
There is an interesting observation known as the French Paradox which has noted that the French drink copious amounts of wine, eat cheese and breads, pork products and smoke and yet they have a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease and obesity. Many explain the French Paradox by agreeing that while they enjoy all these ‘naughty’ things they also eat a great deal more fresh fruit and vegetables than other countries, therefore offsetting any difficulties. Also when it comes to high calorie carbohydrates (pastries and croissants), the French tend to eat these in the morning, giving them an entire day to digest it and work it off.
A fighting chance
In the case of Swine flu or any kind of flu for that matter, surely it is better to engage in some form of prevention rather than cure. I have no intention of becoming a fanatic and giving up all the things I enjoy but I intend to at least give myself a fighting chance and take some steps now. Personally I have quite a bit of work to do as I have piled on the pounds since January and developed some appalling habits of mid morning chocolate breaks and evening cup cake fests. While the foods I’m choosing do not fall into the really awful junk categories, it is the quantity and frequency of consumption that have created the problem. I think my system is still pretty healthy, but I can feel the extra strain and the extra work that has to be done to cope. When I smoked dieting was never that big a deal. I lost weight and then I gained weight, but stuck around a certain size for years. If I needed to drop a few pounds I’d just eat less and smoke more. Now that I am a non smoker it’s a new game altogether. In fact if I’m honest, my weight gain has almost made me revert back to smoking, but that would be very stupid and would, no doubt, put even further stress on the immune system.
I’m not a health expert but I know that overly processed foods put an extra strain on everything in the body as it tries to break everything down, extract any nutrition there is in the food and then eliminate all the chemicals safely.
I also know that for a functioning and healthy immune system you need to get as many vitamins and minerals as you can from your food. For example vitamin A and beta-carotene rich foods should be eaten every day; carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and melon are all good sources. You also need B vitamins found in white fish, oily fish, spinach, kidney beans, brown rice, chickpeas and bananas. Oily fish also contain vitamins D and E and are rich in omega 3 fatty acids which are also good for immunity and protection. Avocados are excellent for vitamin E also. Vitamin C is readily found in citrus fruits, cherries and berries which are all in season at the moment as well. If you think along the lines of the Mediterranean diet; lots of vegetables, olives, olive oil, nuts and seeds also help. It might also be worth noting that the deeper the natural colour of the fruit or veg, the higher the levels of nutrients.
Now is the time to form better habits that will boost the natural immune system. You can also teach the whole family to wash their hands properly and regularly. Don’t let Swine flu become another worry on a list that’s already too long.