With a daughter starting kindergarten and a 2-year-old headed off to preschool (like such a big boy!), I've begun to pay more attention to health alerts, such as those about H1N1 virus outbreaks. Although up until now I've managed to take swine flu news (and press releases, so many press releases!) in stride, H1N1 is inching its way up my list of concerns. Today I spoke with Chicagohealers.com practitioner Martha Howard, MD, a holistic doctor who recommends a number of simple strategies and natural remedies to boost immunity and combat the H1N1 swine flu virus. Read on for her tips, and let us know what you're doing to boost your immunity and your kids' immunity this fall by posting a response below.
Delicious Living: With kids going back to school, how concerned should parents be?
Martha Howard, MD: Well, at this point, it turns out that what they call the “disease burden” is more on young people between 5 and 24 than it is with the normal seasonal flu which typically affects infants and the elderly more. With normal seasonal flu, 90 percent of deaths are in people 65 and older. With swine flu it has been just the opposite. The population that has been sickest is between 5 and 24, and pregnant women. Parents do need to be concerned about school-aged kids. That’s part of the reason CDC has come out with so much publicity.
DL: What natural preventative measures can parents take?
MH: One thing you can take or give your kids is a natural substance that we have in our bodies called N-acetylcysteine. There's a study in this month’s American Family Practice about using N-acetylcysteine to prevent flu. The study was conducted to access effects on regular seasonal flu, but with the way N-acetylcysteine works, I believe it can work with the H1N1 virus. Elderly subjects were given 600 mg twice a day throughout flu season, and they were 29 percent less likely to catch the flu. And when they got flu, it wasn’t as severe. Scientists aren't sure exactly how N-acetylcysteine works, but it dose encourage the body's production of glutathione, which the liver uses for detoxification. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant. Although you can get glutathione supplements, it seems as if it’s better to produce your own rather than take it in synthetic forms, which are difficult for the body to absorb and process. Adults can take 600 mg of N-acetylcysteine twice a day. For kids, you'd give a dose proportional to weight. The usual dose is based on a 160-pound adult, so a 40-pound child gets ¼ of that dose, or 150 mg twice per day. [Learn about other immune-boosting herbs and supplements.]
Next, I would recommend getting natural hand sanitizers, such as CleanWell, with herbal-based active ingredients like thymol and oregano oil. There is at least some evidence that those natural defenses are less likely to create resistant bacteria and viruses [than conventional hand sanitizer with chemical agents]. Plant oils and alkaloids are too complicated for oganisms. Plain, alcohol-based sanitizer is fine, too. Put at least a dime size blog on palm and then rub all over hands and fingers, especially the fingertips, until hands are dry. Hand washing is equally good. Have your child sing “Happy Birthday to You” for the length of hand-washing. That amount of time is adequate to get rid of organisms.
DL: Are there any other general immune-boosting supplements you'd recommend?
MH: Vitamin C is also a good preventative measure. Adults need between 1.5 and 2.5 grams of vitamin C per day to be healthy. I think it’s reasonable to take 500 mg vitamin C 3-5 times per day. Take it to bowel tolerance; if you get loose stools then back off. For children it would be comparable by weight. Plain ascorbic acid is fine. Drink 6 to 8 ounces of water with each dose. Vitamin C goes out of body in 3-4 hours, so you can take another dose after that time.
And don't forget, it's very helpful to think about general health and habits. Teach kids not to rub their eyes, put fingers in their nose, and to keep their hands away from their face. And keep in mind that the immune response will be stronger if you're in good general health. Focus on preventative measures such as eating a good diet, getting exercise, taking care of your emotional health. All of those things contribute, so if you have 5 servings of fresh veg and fuit, good proteins, other vegetables, and a real meal 3 times a day you're going to be better off. If you have nothing for breakfast, school nachos for lunch, and pizza for dinner, you’re going to be out of luck. Avoid the so-called “sports health” drinks with HFCS and dyes. Kids should drink water and some all-fruit juices. If they’re not allergic to dairy, milk.
DL: What about the swine flu vaccine?
MH: You can certainly consider the vaccine, but the vaccine is going to have limited availability. In the U.S., we’ll almost certainly be short of vaccine. The good news is that they'll be producing some single-dose vaccine without potentially unhealthy adjuvents (additives) or mercury preservatives, which are banned in Germany. However, they'll also have multi-dose viles with those preservatives. If you are pregnant or have a child with health issues such as asthma, ask your provider for the single-dose viles. I myself wouldn’t take the multi-dose vile.
DL: If your child is exposed to or gets the virus, are there any other natural remedies that can stave off the virus or speed the recovery process?
MH: If flu becomes widespread in your area, I would recommend Chinese herbs. Several combinations can be effective with flu. The first is Zhong Gan Ling, and the second is Yin Chiao. Both can be taken around three times per day, following directions on the product. I would get some of both of those formulas to have on hand in case of swine flu outbreak. If it looks like flu is going around, start taking them and then take them for a week to 10 days. In the face of those herbs, the virus can’t multiply or grow. You can also try the homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum.