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Avoid Winter Infections

Avoid Winter Infection

It is inevitable that an unexpected strain of influenza will occasionally hit our shores. A few years ago it was SARS. This year it is swine flu which is caused by type A influenza (H1N1). Swine influenza is usually confined to pigs and until recently human infection with the virus was rare (limited to 3 people). However, in March 2009 human cases of swine flu began emerging in Mexico and in some areas of the United States, mainly affecting healthy young adults. More than 100 people have died from the virus in Mexico. The infection is not limited to the Northern Hemisphere. In New Zealand 10 students returning from Mexico have tested positive to swine flu and suspected cases in Australia are being monitored.

Prevention
Queensland Health has stated on their website that the seasonal influenza vaccine is unlikely to offer useful protection against swine flu. So what can you do?

The very best protection against infection is a healthy immune system. If your immune system is healthy it has a very good chance of fighting any type of infection so that illness does not occur or, if symptoms do occur the severity will be reduced. As always prevention is easier than cure and it is necessary that we go into winter as healthy as possible. This means having a healthy diet, regular exercise and plenty of rest and relaxation. These lifestyle factors are fundamental to optimal immune function. Adequate levels of vitamin C, zinc and many of the B Complex vitamins are necessary for healthy immunity.

Immune Enhancing Herbs
Apart from these fundamental necessities, there are many herbal medicines that can help to improve the immune system, thus avoiding or minimising infection. Perhaps the best known of these is Echinacea, which is one of the most commonly prescribed herbs by health professionals around the world. However, not all Echinacea products are the same. Patients will often say, “I have already tried Echinacea and it didn’t work”. What has to be asked in such situations is “which Echinacea product was used and how much was taken?” It often turns out that the patient was unknowingly taking a cheap low quality product or an ineffective dose.

The quality and dose issues are best illustrated by a clinical trial conducted in the USA. The product used was made from the roots of 2 Echinacea species, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia. These are considered to be the most active species and their roots are the most potent part. Several doses were used in the trial, but it was found that only when the dose exceeded 2000 mg per day did regular use of Echinacea significantly prevent colds.

Apart from Echinacea there are many other herbs that are very beneficial for the prevention and treatment of winter infections. When treating winter infections, each individual’s requirements differ and in some cases a combination of herbs may be more beneficial for the prevention and treatment of winter infections.

Once a viral infection has taken hold it is often necessary to use a combination of immune enhancing herbs to bring about a quick recovery. Herbs such as Andrographis, Cat’s Claw and Sacred Basil can be very beneficial for the treatment of acute infections. As already discussed for Echinacea, quality of the herbs has to be high and the dosage needs to be correct for the individual and the type of infection.

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