Over the past few years, Hong Kong has experienced particularly nasty and virulent strains of flu, with the past two consecutive years seeing a serious surge. 2018 resulted in more preventable fatalities than 2017, and stressed the hospital system to over 100% occupancy. But why do some people become unwell each year while others manage to avoid it all together?
Jo Herbert-Doyle who specializes in Functional & Lifestyle Medicine at Central Wellness and Stanley Wellness suggests that while there aren’t any quick fixes or miracle remedies to staying flu-free, the answer is in keeping the whole body well as the foundation of good immune health. Here are her top tips to improving lifestyles that can address the underlying causes of ill health, and her advice from an integrative naturopathic perspective, for those less inclined to go straight for the flu-jab.
Jo impresses upon her patients, the importance of eating well – especially over the holiday season when people usually indulge a little more than usual. “You may have heard the term ‘eat the rainbow’” she says. “This refers to ensuring your meal choices focus on ample colourful vegetables, salads and fruits rather than primarily animal products, refined and processed foods; especially sugar which actually suppresses immune system function” she continues. Eating lots of colourful wholefoods provides patients with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – many of which act as antioxidants therefore helping support optimal immune function rather than depleting it. Aim for three handfuls of salad or colourful veg at each main meal, plus two serves of fresh fruit each day.
Keep your gut healthy
According to medical experts, around 70% of the immune system tissues actually reside in the gastrointestinal tract, which makes looking after your gut a prime focus for whole body wellbeing, but especially good immune function. “Don’t ignore any gut symptoms you may experience (e.g. bloating or irregular bowel habits) as these are not only abnormal but likely depleting both your immunity and energy levels, as well as creating inflammation in your body” says Jo. Seeking advice from a naturopath to investigate the cause of any gut imbalance and suggesting a pro-biotic if required, is recommended.
Improve stress resilience
There is no denying, stress is a killer; especially when it comes to immune function. “When the stress hormone cortisol goes up, your innate immune function becomes suppressed leaving you more vulnerable to infections like the flu” says Jo. Ongoing stressors from work, long hours, a busy life – especially over the holiday season, and high expectations add up and, over time, can have a negative impact on everyday health and energy levels. The antidote to a challenging life is rest and ensuring a healthy balance between the things that are less enjoyable but must be done, and the enjoyable things that might otherwise be under prioritised. Jo also suggests that herbal medicine can also make a difference; she recommends speaking to a naturopathic herbalist about creating a bespoke formula for individual situations rather than simply picking something off the shelf.
Get enough sleep
Insufficient or unrestorative sleep is one of the biggest stressors impacting the long-term health (and immune systems) of busy people. Nevertheless, quality sleep is often the first casualty when juggling multiple deadlines, frequent travel, socialising, or wrestling with worries and an overactive mind. “You should be prioritising 7 hours sleep on most, if not all, nights of the week by adjusting your schedule accordingly. If you are having difficulty falling or staying asleep, this is another area herbal medicine can be helpful while you implement some lifestyle changes that your future self will thank you for” says Jo.
And failing all of that, what should you do if you become unwell? The #1 rule is to not try to push through it but listen to your body and take the time you need to fully recover your energy levels before jumping back into your usual routine. If this means taking some time off work then so be it. Not only will this help you avoid any other viruses that may be about, but also prevent you exposing others who may also be vulnerable to what can be a serious infection. Now’s the time to call in favours from friends and family to help support you; and/or order in some warming, easy to digest soups containing immune-supporting garlic, ginger and shiitake mushrooms (perhaps some chicken for those who eat meat) and rest.
Please note that the Flu tips given by Jo Herbert Doyle, Naturopath, are not an alternative to treatment against the flu and especially not against the current prevalent Corona virus.
The naturopathic advice may help strengthen your immune system to help reduce risks of catching common colds and flu “