Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Naturopathic medical advice for staying well this flu season

By Terri Hansen
Environment, Science & Health Writer
As seen in Indian Country Today

Portland, Ore.—When naturopathic physician Dr. Orna Izakson looks at a plant she sees more than its stem, leaves or vibrant flower – she sees medicine. And naturally, she takes a natural approach to flu prevention and hastening a healthy recovery.
“Our bodies are trying to bring us toward health,” she says. “The responses we experience to outside stressors are our body’s intelligent response to that stressor. A fever is an intelligent response: It makes the body more responsive to invaders… and it makes us feel lousy so we slow down and go to bed so that our bodies can heal.”

So what can you do to stay well this flu season? “Keep things moving,” says Dr. O, as her patients call her. That means drinking clear fluids — especially water — and eating foods that are close to nature. You can get most of the pieces you need in your diet for good health from colorful vegetables, including fiber.

Avoid simple sugars they best as you can; they stun the immune system. “Each handful of berries you give your children is one less Twinkie, it’s a positive step.”

Cigarette smoking depletes vitamins and decreases natural immunity. “You need to cut back, smoke less and what you do smoke should be natural, or if packaged smoke American Spirits,” Dr. O says. “Make up for the extra cost by smoking less.”

Vitamin D, produced naturally in the skin by sun exposure, is critical to your immune system. Deficiencies are epidemic and darker-skinned people are more likely to have low levels. Depending on her patient’s lab assessments of their blood levels, she generally recommends 2,000 to 4,000 iu daily of D-3.

Probiotics support healthy gut bacteria, a barrier between you and the outside world. One 2009 study found regular use of probiotics reduced children’s cold and flu symptoms. Another found probiotics helped elders get more immunity from flu vaccines. Buy probiotics as supplements – acidophilus is one, and find them in traditionally fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee and uncooked miso.

Herbal steams are an old and effective tradition for any respiratory infection: Mix herbs with boiling water in a bowl and cover for a minute with a towel. Drape the towel over your head and the bowl, close your eyes and breathe the steam through nose and mouth into your nasal passages, throat and lungs to loosen mucous, strengthens mucus membranes, and disinfects your passages. Repeat as needed.

“You can use thyme, pine needles, cedars, eucalyptus, and chaparral. Orange peels can be effective too, but wash them well before using,” Dr. O says. “Talk to the Elders, they often know what’s best to use in your location. It could be herbs from the place your grandparents called home, or you may have a grandma in your head; listen to whose voice is louder.”

Lomatium and osha root are best taken as tea, tincture or by chewing on the root directly. “When you take it internally, you’re taking in the volatile oils. They want to volatize, spread out. They go into the bloodstream, their aromatics bubble out into and through your lungs and mucus, disinfecting.” Think of the flu as leaving junk stuck in your lungs, a perfect spot for breeding bacteria. Herbs move it out, disinfecting from underneath.

Garlic helps to fight many bugs that can make you sick, making it one of Dr. O’s favorites. Raw is best if your stomach tolerates it. Add a chopped clove or two, if you can, to any hot or cold food.
If you get sick in spite of these positive steps call your medical provider.

Home remedies Dr. O suggests for her patients include mustard plasters; to make your own grind yellow (or any) mustard seed and mix with water. Place a brown paper bag on your chest as a barrier, then smooth the mustard plaster on top. Use the plaster two to three times a day. How long you keep it on depends on your comfort level, but check frequently; if the skin starts turning red it’s time to take it off.

The next treatment, like the mustard plaster, moves blood and helps immune cells get to where they’re needed most. Wet a pair of cotton socks with cold water; wring them out thoroughly. Put on well-warmed feet, cover with a pair of dry wool socks and get into a warm bed for the night. You can also do this with a cotton t-shirt and wool sweater.

Bottom line, Dr. O says, is it’s the simplest things that help the most: Eat simply. Exercise moderately. Get plenty of rest. Drink water. Cover your cough. Wash your hands. Get outside and breathe clean air. And find some way to cultivate joy in your life every day. “This is traditional medicine, the best memory of the traditional medicine. It’s practical, it empowers people.”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

2009-H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine on its way to IHS clinics, ETA October 7

By Terri Hansen
Environment, Science & Health Reporter

The vaccine for the 2009 H1N1 influenza A (swine flu) virus makes it arrival at Indian Health Service clinics and facilities October 7. The seasonal flu vaccine is at the clinics now.

“We want people to get their seasonal vaccination as quickly as they can, and once the H1N1 vaccine arrives, get that as quickly as they can,” said IHS epidemiologist John Redd M.D. Those unable to make separate appointments can get both vaccines at the same time, he said.

Testing of vaccines for H1N1 shows they work with a single dose and quickly take effect.

Influenza is increasing in all 50 states, and 98 percent of it is the H1N1 strain. Most cases are occurring in children and young adults, Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at a briefing. The viruses remain similar to those chosen for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, and nearly all cases respond well to the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir.

Clinic patients should not delay in calling their clinic to learn what the vaccination plans are, said Redd. Many clinics plan mass vaccination days.

Last month President Obama’s science advisory council released a report that said Native American populations are considered at elevated risk of severe outcomes from 2009 H1N1 infection due to their populations being “historically at high risk for severe respiratory infections,” and, “A cluster of severe H1N1 disease among First Nation people in remote Manitoba, Canada suggests these groups may be at high risk. Cases of H1N1 virus infection in these clusters have had rapidly progressive, diffuse, lower airway disease … resulting in development of acute respiratory distress syndrome and prolonged ICU admission.”

“We don’t think that American Indian and Alaska Native people strictly by virtue of being AI/AN are individually at higher risk for H1N1 disease,” said Redd. “But risk factors such as diabetes and obesity are known to be more common in American Indians and Alaska Natives, so the population may be at higher risk because of the risk factors.”

The CDC says pregnant women, health care workers, people 6 months to 24 years of age, those who care for infants and those with chronic health conditions are priorities for the H1N1 vaccination.

The IHS has a proactive approach to pneumonia prevention, a severe respiratory infection that can be a serious and sometimes life threatening complication of influenza. “We take pneumonia in itself and as a complication of flu very seriously,” Redd said. “We definitely want to stay on top of that. In 2008 we vaccinated 82 percent of the American Indian and Alaska Native population against pneumonia.” He said the IHS offers the pneumococcal vaccine, and encourages those who haven’t received the vaccination to ask for that vaccination, too.

He said IHS efforts regarding H1N1 have been vigorous. “We started the first weekend of the outbreak,” he said. “We’ve issued guidance involving use of the Strategic National Stockpile. We’ve spent a lot of time communicating with states to consider those tribal populations within their borders. We’ve done a lot of outreach to providers including community health representatives and public health nurses on getting the system ready to receive the vaccine.”

The SNS is a large stockpile of medicines and supplies designed to support public health agencies during a public health emergency. It is deployed, according to guidance issued by the federal government, as a joint effort among state, local, territorial, tribal and federal officials if the health of a community is threatened.

As far as the antiviral medications, those intended for the general population are distributed through the SNS by the states, said Redd. “In the Arizona outbreaks, we received the antivirals we needed from the state.” The IHS has some internal distribution for their health professionals if they fall ill.

Redd said a big goal of the IHS is what they call mitigation – minimizing the impact of sick patients who might overwhelm a health facility. “A small hospital could deal pretty well with taking two intensive care patients for 10 days, whereas it might be very difficult for them to take 20 ICU patients in one day,” he said. “So one of our goals is to minimize spread and slow the flu down.

“The second portion in all this is every clinic having a local flu plan. That plan includes contingency planning – if the hospital intensive care unit or the local capacity is overwhelmed, in a worst-case scenario, we’d continue to see people as outpatients.

“We’ve got all these issues very much in mind.”