Are Germs Really the Problem? Rethinking Cold & Flu Prevention
By Marilee Nelson |
Autumn is in the air and according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, fall's onset kicks off the cold and flu season which typically peaks during the winter months. Colds and flu spread from person to person, mostly through coughs, sneezes, talking, or by touching an infected surface then transmitting it to the mouth, nose or eyes. In December 2014, Americans reported the highest rate of flu and cold percentage since Gallup began tracking colds and flu daily in 2008.1 In addition, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the 2014-2015 season brought mortality rates that exceeded epidemic thresholds.
The good news is, you don’t need to be a part of this year’s statistics! In this article, we’ll talk about two different theories on how we get the cold and flu, our recommendations for preventing illness, and what to do if you catch a cold or flu this season.
Germ Theory or Terrain Theory?
Louis Pasteur is the scientist most associated with the Germ Theory of disease, which has been the basis for modern medicine since the mid-1800s. In Germ Theory, people are the victims of germs that are the culprits of infectious illness. Successful treatment consists of medications or vaccines that kill these microbes. Pasteur is a household name now and well-recognized for his contributions to modern medicine. In fact, every gallon of milk sold in groceries stores recognizes Pasteur on its label: commercially-sold milk is “pasteurized” to kill germs by heat.2 However, you may not recognize the name of one of Pasteur’s contemporaries and rivals, Antoine Béchamp, who stated that it was not the germ, but the body or the "terrain" that attracts or repels these harmful organisms. Béchamp’s understanding of disease is known as Terrain Theory.
Béchamp found that a low-oxygen cellular environment (acid pH) invites pathogens to come in as scavengers to clean up weakened or poorly defended tissue just as garbage attracts flies. A low-oxygen cellular environment is the result of a toxic, nutrient deficient-diet, toxic emotions, and a toxic lifestyle. In other words, germs are actually clean up crews and ultimately have a beneficial effect. According to Ethel Hume, author of “Bechamp or Pasteur? A Lost Chapter in the History of Biology”, the findings of Béchamp were covered up, buried, or set aside in the germ theory and terrain theory debate. Interestingly, Pasteur himself recanted the Germ Theory on his deathbed, acknowledging Béchamp’s idea of the Terrain being the source of disease.
In reality, it is not the bacteria themselves that produce the disease, but we believe it is the chemical constituents of these microorganisms enacting upon the unbalanced cell metabolism of the human body that in actuality produce the disease. We also believe if the metabolism of the human body is perfectly balanced or poised, it is susceptible to no disease." - Annual Report of the Board of Regents of The Smithsonian Institution, 1944
It’s the Toxins, Not Just the Germs, That Are Making Us Sick
Germ Theory has largely dominated the American medical treatment of disease, which focuses on drugs and medication. However, within the last decade, scientists have directly linked vulnerability to illness and the unprecedented rise in degenerative disease to our toxic body burden. This toxicity is a result of exposure to harmful chemicals in our food, homes, and workplaces - in other words, our toxic environments are making us sick.3
If you follow Béchamp’s Terrain Theory, you know that you can reduce your toxic body burden and your vulnerability or resistance to colds and flu by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet. These are the best ways to create a strong immune system, which naturally wards off disease and sickness. We recommend beginning with the basics: eating a balanced healthy diet of real food, using nontoxic cleaning and body care products, having a home that provides a safe haven free of chemicals, getting good sleep and rest, and reducing stress. These are super cold/flu prevention strategies!
Cold and Flu Prevention:
- eat a balanced diet with real food
- use nontoxic cleaning products
- choose natural, nontoxic skin and body care products
- create a safe haven at home, free of harmful chemicals
- prioritize quality, restful sleep
- take time to relax and de-stress
Formula for avoiding the flu:
Make Sleep a PriorityDon’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Adequate sleep is extremely important for boosting immunity and helps to protect you if you’ve been exposed to a virus, according to recent article in the New York Times.4 Try taking a 20-minute power nap if you’re falling short.
Wake Up with a Positive OutlookYour first meal is not really what you put into your mouth, but what you put into your mind - your perspective for the day. Research has shown that negative emotions, fear, worry, anger, and depression actually depress the immune system. "Stressed people's immune cells become less sensitive to cortisol," says Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. "They're unable to regulate the inflammatory response, and therefore, when they're exposed to a virus, they're more likely to develop a cold."5
Practice Relaxation to Reduce StressStress is so demanding on your body that your immune system suffers, which makes you more susceptible to colds, infections, and diseases.6 Finding an effective way to regulate personal stress is essential. Examples include relaxation techniques, moderate exercise, taking breaks when working, practicing yoga or meditation. Need some motivation? Check out these 7 Stress-Busting Tips.
Prioritize ExerciseStay active by following a regular exercise routine. Walking three or four times a week is a good place to start. This does more than keep you fit and trim. "All it takes is a pair of walking shoes to help prevent becoming one of the thousands predicted to suffer from the common cold this winter."7 Research shows that people who exercise in moderation report fewer colds, but don’t over do it! Overexertion can actually make you more vulnerable.8
Get Some SunIf you maintain vitamin D levels within the optimal range, you will likely avoid being affected during the cold and flu season entirely. The body produces Vitamin D in response to sunlight and wintertime deficiency of this important vitamin has been directly linked to the seasonal increase in colds and flu.9 Vitamin D deficiency is epidemic in America. If you’re curious about your vitamin D levels, you can get a convenient home test from the Vitamin D*action Project.10
Get SocialA hug a day keeps the doctor away! An active social life increases your immune response. A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that frequent hugging, along with good social support, may lower susceptibility to infection, preventing or reducing the risk of illness.11 Research published by the American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that social isolation may increase stress, which slows the body’s immune response and ability to heal quickly.12
Stay HydratedKeeping your body hydrated is such a basic step for good health that it's often overlooked. Make sure you drink purified water.
Wash Your HandsKeeping hands clean is one of the best things to keep from getting sick and avoid spreading germs to others. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using soap and water or a product with surfactants like Branch Basics instead of an antibacterial sanitizer.13 Dr. Frank Esper, infectious disease expert, advises limiting your exposure to bacteria and viruses by showering daily, washing hands before eating, preparing food, inserting contact lenses, and any other activity that brings you in contact with the eyes or mouth.14 For more recommendations about hand-washing, please check out Hand Soap Versus Hand Sanitizer: How “Antibacterial” Became a Dirty Word (& 4 Steps to Healthy Hands).
Strengthen Your GutYour gut flora (good bacteria) is the gatekeeper of the immune system, in fact, 70% of the immune system is in the gut! Good bacteria in the gut help reduce inflammation, prevent infection, and reduce the severity of a cold or flu (if you do contract illness). You can increase good bacteria in the gut with probiotics and fermented foods like unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir. Avoid GMO foods as another way to strengthen your gut, as these foods disrupt gut flora.15 Whenever possible, eat organic foods to avoid pesticides, which also damage gut bacteria and weaken your immune system.16
Eat Real Food, Avoid Processed FoodsFortify your immune system with a healthy balanced real food diet loaded with nutrients. Food is what fuels the body - seek out real food and ditch chemicalized, processed, and GMO foods that make us more vulnerable to colds, flu and disease. Focus on the outer perimeter of the grocery store, where the fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins are found.17 Choose a rainbow of colored vegetables, especially leafy greens, which are rich in minerals and vitamins.18 Skip foods that contain processed sugars, which scream out to cold and flu bugs: “Come get me”. Homemade chicken soup is a classic cold season meal, and for good reason - it’s highly nutritious and provides a warming, healing, and balanced meal in one bowl. Try my recipe for Chicken Soup with Bone Broth.
Ditch the Harmful ChemicalsThe importance of creating a safe haven in your home free of chemicals can’t be overemphasized. Just cleaning your house with toxic conventional cleaning products can aggravate your immune system and make you and your family more vulnerable to catching colds, flu, and other illness. If you happen to be in a space where you detect the presence of a toxic chemical (such as getting a whiff of gasoline when pumping gas), hold your breath or slowly breathe out until you get out of area of contamination.
Avoid Pesticides In Your Food, Your Home & Your WorkExposure to pesticides can dismantle the immune system, opening up the body to vulnerability to cold, flu, and other disease. Many times after homes, churches, schools are sprayed with pesticides, people come down with colds or flu and never realize the reason for succumbing to infection. Start connecting the dots - there is always a reason people get sick. For example, earlier this year, a school in Ottawa, Canada sprayed pesticides to treat for cockroaches. Within the week, the rate of students experiencing headaches and flu-like symptoms increased dramatically until they eventually had to temporarily close the school.19 If you’re concerned about the cleaning products or pesticides used in your child’s school, check out Two Things Parents Can Do to Improve School Air Quality.
Use Nontoxic Body Care ProductsThe skin drinks up the ingredients in any product that it comes into contact with - make sure yours don’t have ingredients that are harmful and can damage the immune system.20
Limit Drinking AlcoholExcess alcohol reduces overall immunity and disrupts REM sleep, which is the most restorative part of sleep (an important part of a healthy lifestyle). Drinking alcohol can also damage the body’s dendritic cells, a vital component of the immune system. An increase in alcohol consumption over time can increases a person’s exposure to bacterial and viral infections.21
Don’t Smoke & Avoid Secondhand SmokeSmoking disrupts the immune system, which is your body’s natural self-defense system against the common cold. Smoking exposes you to toxic chemicals, makes you more vulnerable to cold and flu virus, and can irritate the throat lining and worsen common cold symptoms such as a sore throat. According to one study, smokers are also more likely to develop serious respiratory complications from the common cold.22 Secondhand smoke exposes you to the same toxic chemicals, makes you more vulnerable to cold and flu, and can irritate the throat lining, worsening common cold symptoms such as a sore throat. Children and infants who live in households where smoking is present are at increased risk for serious respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and for exacerbation of already present respiratory conditions like asthma.23
Strategies Once You or Someone in Your Home Has a Cold
- Keep Hands & Surfaces Clean - Keep your hands clean by washing frequently with soap and water. Carry a hand cleaner for on-the-go use. Avoid using antibacterial hand cleaners (See why in Hand Soap Versus Hand Sanitizer: How “Antibacterial” Became a Dirty Word). When a family member has a cold or flu, pay careful attention to cleaning shared surfaces such as keyboards, telephones, doorknobs, and remote controls. The flu viruses survives on surfaces from two to twenty-four hours, according to infectious disease expert Dr. Frank Esper. Wipe clean phones, computers, and desks. Keep personal items such as toothbrushes, towels, utensils, and drinking glasses separate. Wash contaminated items—especially toys that are shared—in hot, soapy water.
- Cover Your Mouth & Nose - This is a common courtesy: cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Teach your family to do this as well to avoid spreading illness.
- Keep a Distance & Breathe Out - Generally, keeping a 6-10 foot buffer from a person who is sick is a good idea. When you’re in the vicinity of someone who is sneezing or coughing, hold your breath or gently and slowly breathe out. If possible, walk outside the 6-10 foot zone to keep from inhaling the contaminated air.
- Drink Elderberry Tea - This traditional, all-natural cold medicine relieves cold and flu symptoms, breaks up congestion, and helps reduce fever. It not only has anti-inflammatory properties, but it is also anti-viral and can help speed up the duration of a cold or flu.24
- Let Your Fever Do its Work - As long as your fever is not too high, you can let the fever run its course rather than taking medication to lower it. Fever is the body’s way to up-regulate the immune system and reduce replication of bacteria and viruses. Pay attention to the signs of the fever - if it lasts more than five days or is accompanied by meningitis symptoms, talk to your doctor. For a full explanation of how to support a healthy fever (and when to call the doctor), check out Benefits of Having a Fever.
- Pour a Bowl of Chicken Soup - Did you know that chicken soup eases congestion by increasing mucous flow and helps reduce inflammation associated with colds and flu?25 For a nutrient-dense chicken soup recipe, try my recipe for Chicken Soup with Bone Broth.
- Increase Zinc - Zinc is a mineral that helps once you get a cold or flu by increasing the production of white blood cells that fight infection which has been shown to help shorten the duration of a cold by a few days. Zinc is found in pumpkin seeds, egg yolks, spinach, oysters, nuts, and beans. Get your zinc from foods rather than supplements. If you prefer to take lozenges when you’re sick, make sure you find a healthy one and don’t take more than are recommended.
- Try Oscillococcinum - Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic remedy that is absolutely fabulous for reducing the misery of colds and flu. It’s a must have for your medicine cabinet and you can find it at your local health food or grocery store.
What do you do at home to fight a cold or flu? Leave us a comment below!
Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.