Flu Shots… To Have or Not to Have, THAT is the Question!
by Nadia Gazzi
“Tackle the root cause, not the effect”
~ Haresh Sippy
It’s that time of year again! Everyone is offering flu shots and encouraging everyone to get them. Here at Bing’s Natural Health (BnH) many clients ask, “Should I get a flu shot?” So I thought I’d share some of the thoughts I’ve been sharing with people when they ask.
Although I personally do not get a flu shot, there may be a perfectly good reason for you to do so. After talking with you, and examining you I might even recommend it.
My personal decision is to not get a shot because I spend most of my days working closely with people and many of them are sick, so my immune system doesn’t need any extra stress. Some people do get side effects and a reaction when their immune system detects the flu shot. The flu shot might give them a bit of a fever and make them a bit achey and headachey for a few days. Flu vaccines are not necessarily bulletproof, and vaccines are no guarantee to protect people from a potentially fatal strain of the influenza, because unfortunately the virus can mutate to the point where it doesn’t match the vaccine very well at all.
Instead, I do as much as possible with Chinese herbs, diet, acupuncture, sleep, and self-care to keep my immune system in tip top condition all year round, and especially during flu season.
Common Arguments for Getting a Flu Shot
- Promotes community immunity and protects the vulnerable from exposure to the virus. People aged over 65 usually get an enhanced vaccine, which has a component in it which also boosts their immune system.
- A weakened immune-system, children, elderly (over 65), pregnant women, asthmatics, HIV, heart disease and cancer patients all fall into the high risk categories.
- Lowers the risk of infection by introducing antibodies
- Reduces severity of attacks and complications
- Minor risk of side-effects in comparison with actually getting the flu
- Getting the flu jab makes others safer by reducing the risk of transmitting it to others
The vaccines are egg based. So, the primary reason why you may be advised against the flu shot is if you are vegan, or if you have allergies to eggs, antibiotics, gelatine, or other ingredients of the vaccine.
And an Individualised Approach
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) focuses on protecting the body from attack by strengthening the five major systems of the body. TCM assesses health in a similar fashion to Western Medicine by evaluating a person into one of three broad groups:-
Healthy: no discernible health issues or symptoms at all;
Unhealthy: definite signs of disease of a greater or lesser kind;
Sub-Optimal Health: not unhealthy, but there are minor symptoms – runny nose, sniffles, tiredness, etc – that indicate imbalances that may develop into disease. Most of society falls into this third group.
In relation to getting a flu shot, the TCM response would be that a healthy person doesn’t necessarily need it because their immune system is well-balanced and resilient, so that it can respond to whatever demands are made on it. Therefore, their immune system will marshal it’s defences effectively against a virus or bacteria by attacking it and building immune responses against the threat.
A person whose health is generally poor is much more likely to need the flu shot as their immune response is already compromised. The risk is that the shot will divert immune resources from other organs, so this impact needs to be reduced and relieved from a TCM perspective.
Most of the population is probably classed as having sub-optimal health and they are the ones who need to weigh up the risks and benefits. However, they are also the ones who will gain the most from TCM interventions that help to balance and strengthen their five organ groups. The five major organ groups in TCM are the:
These are not the same as the western medicine organs of those names, although there is a relationship between them. There are specific TCM indicators that signal deficiency or blockage of the Qi energy running through each organ/channel and they are all closely related, so strengthening one channel promotes the health and energy balance in others.
The more you work on strengthening the energy flows in all the channels and promoting balance, the better your body will resist the onslaught of germs, bacteria and viruses from the outside world. Here are a few things you might choose to do instead of (or in addition to) your flu shot:
- Reduce / Eliminate Stress: common stressors include… sugar, hydrated fats, drugs, alcohol, shallow breathing, lack of sunlight and lack of sleep, as well as over work and tense relationships.
- Stimulate the Thymus Gland: the thymus gland produces your fighter cells and is just behind the breastbone. Drumming this with your fingers for 60 seconds twice a day stimulates the gland and opens the pathways to build your immune response.
- Exercise: 30 minutes of low-impact exercise (swimming or walking) each day reduces the inflammatory effect of stress hormones. N.B. If you are feeling tired you should consider whether that is because you have been active all day and should rest, rather than exercise; or whether you have been sitting all day and your tiredness is the result of energy stagnation. Like all symptoms you need to take a personalised approach and be in touch with where you are currently at.
- Cupping / Gua Sha: are very effective ways of stimulating the circulation of energy from the outside and dispersing toxins that may have stagnated in certain areas of your body. This is often used in conjunction with acupuncture to further stimulate your organ function.
- Herbs: custom herbal medicine prescriptions in conjunction with dietary therapy recommendations will help you nourish and support your entire system and strengthen vulnerable areas of your constitution.
In summary, my general answer is: “It depends?”
Flu can be life-threatening in some people and can cause serious complications like pneumonia, so definitely see a GP if you’re concerned, especially if you are at higher risk due to age, pregnancy or chronic health problems.
You need to make an individual decision based on your own constitution, circumstances, exposure to germs, your doctor’s recommendation and your personal convictions. As with everything in this world, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. There is only the answer that is best for you.
In the meantime, there are some simply measures to protect yourself and others. Wash your hands routinely, cough into your elbow to slow down the spread of infected droplets and if you are unwell, please stay home.
Thrive in Winter by Bing Qian
“A person who is healthy has a thousand dreams. A person who is sick has only one.”
When you think about your life goals and desires, I’m sure that good health plays a major part in most of them. After all, we need health to fully enjoy and participate in many areas of life: work, relationships with family and friends, sport and exercise, celebrations, recreation… I was reflecting on this the other day as I checked in on my progress for the plans I made for myself at the start of the year, and realised how important a role my overall sense of health and energy plays in their fulfilment.
I realised that I was feeling a bit sluggish and lacking energy in general… not sick, just slightly prone to sniffles, tired, and bloated. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to lose a few kilos for the past few months because I determined that was part of the problem and so I made an appointment at the clinic and discussed this with my Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner. And in particular, how to thrive in winter?
She determined which of my systems were deficient in energy and what I needed to do to stimulate and balance my Qi energy, so that I would be able to replenish my reserves of nutrients and energy, and actually thrive in winter, in preparation for the demands of spring growth. As well as boost my immunity against all of the winter colds and flu strains. It was one of those cases that proves the dangers of self-diagnosis even in your own area of expertise.
I’ve been reminding my clients to review their Chinese herbs, exercise, and eating habits, listen to their body, stop detoxing, and make sure they’re getting extra sleep so that their body stays energised and resilient throughout the winter, even when you’re surrounded by people who are sneezing, coughing and sniffling. Yet, I hadn’t changed my own regime to fit the changing season.
What Did I Do?… and What Happened?
- Exercise: I’ve changed my exercise habits and I’m doing less vigorous (for me) outdoor activity and more stretching and indoor movement.
- Sleep & Rest: I’m conscious that along with the benefits of electricity and 24 hour light comes the temptation to stick to the same hours of sleep all year round and to feel lazy when I go to be earlier or struggle to get up at my usual time. TCM tells us that our needs vary with the seasons and I have noticed that indulging that desire for extra sleep seems to result in fewer colds, sniffles and flu attacks.
- Nutrition: This is not the time of year to detox. Your body will function better on a nourishing diet that is warming and soothing and that meets your specific needs. My practitioner suggested that I swap my fresh fruit and nut breakfast for a bowl of rice porridge as a way of increasing my energy and reducing bloating and then eat as I chose for the rest of the day.
- Herbs: I’ve changed my herbs to balance my system and boost my immunity so that it can fight off infections and viruses. The beauty of using herbs to help you ward off threats of infection is that you can modify your regime (under supervision) to meet your specific needs throughout the season and strengthen whichever systems show signs of vulnerability.
Not only do I now have more energy, I also lost 2kg in the first week of this regime, even though it seems counter-intuitive given that I was eating more carbs and calories, sleeping more, and doing less vigorous exercise. It just shows the importance of balance and an individualised approach. i can’t over emphasise this enough – TCM tailors a treatment plan specifically for you, based on where you are currently at, and does not give you a general “one-size-fits-all” treatment.
Obviously I’m biased, but I strongly recommend that you schedule an appointment with your favourite Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner before you succumb to one of the many strains of viral or bacterial infection this winter. Your practitioner will be able suggest appropriate seasonal modifications to your herbs and diet so that you are able to resist infection, no matter what form it takes.
A Brief Word On Flu Shots…
One of the reasons I have chosen not to get a flu shot for the past years is that the vaccines are formulated on the basis of a pre-season guess about the most likely strains this year. I prefer to approach this by staying healthy and focusing on balancing and strengthening my immunity to all attacks – not just particular strains of influenza. Having said this, the influenza virus should be taken seriously, especially by those in high-risk groups where vaccinations are recommended, especially if you’re at higher risk due to age, pregnancy or chronic health problems.
Staying healthy and focusing on balancing and strengthening immunity is not the only solution to the question of influenza and so I advise our clients to discuss this with both their TCM practitioner and their GP if they are concerned. To be honest, like most health questions, I don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all recommendation on this subject because it depends on your particular state of physical, mental and emotional health.
Should you bother with cold and flu drugs?
While medicines from your pharmacy can give you some relief, they’re only masking your symptoms and won’t make you get better more quickly or stop you from being contagious. You can infect other people before you even start having symptoms.
And it’s important to watch out for how much pharmaceutical medicine you’re taking. If you are taking different cold and flu medications, you could risk overdosing, which can cause damage to your kidneys and liver.
Salt water nasal sprays are a better choice because they’re extremely safe and very effective.
A simple breath exercise to relax
your mind and help you fall asleep
by Alice Louey
This is a helpful breath exercise that I learnt a few years ago that relaxes your mind, and helps you fall asleep quickly. The use of slow deep breaths eases your body into a relaxed state. Breathe slowly and deeply into the belly; your belly should rise gently with each in-breath, and lower gently with each out-breath. The important numbers to remember for this breath exercise are 4 – 7 – 8.
Are you ready to begin?
Find a comfortable position to begin; I recommend lying on your back with a pillow under your knees and hands gently resting on your belly. Otherwise sitting comfortably with your hands on your belly will also work.
4 – breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose for a count of 4; you can feel your belly gently rise as you breathe in deeper
7 – hold your breath for a count of 7
8 – breathe out slowly through your mouth for a count of 8; you can feel your belly gently lower as you release your breath
Inhale- 2-3-4, Hold-2-3-4-5-6-7, Exhale- 2-3-4-5-6-7-8
Repeat this breath exercise at least 5 times, and feel free to continue as long as you like.
During each cycle of this breath sequence you will notice that your breath naturally becomes slower and deeper.
Some people do find it difficult to either hold their breath for 7 counts, or to exhale for 8 counts; so it’s completely fine to gradually build up to these numbers. Try starting with 4-4-5 (inhale -2-3-4, hold-2-3-4, exhale-2-3-4-5), then when that is manageable try 4-5-6; and when you have the hang of that sequence, try 4-6-7.
Or if you find that holding your breath is hard, just focus on making your out-breath longer then your in-breath; breathe in for 4 counts, breathe out for 5 counts focusing on slow deep breaths into your belly.
Gradually you will be able to include a pause between your in-breath and your out-breath.
For other tips about having a regular routine amount of sleep, please refer to a previous article on Sleep Hygiene.
“Your body is a unique and complex entity… think of a custom-built car,
not an assembly-line production and treat it accordingly.”
This is the story of two women… and the key to your health and energy.
So, what is the secret of living to 100 years and still being active, engaged, and mentally sharp?
Last month we went to South Australia to celebrate Aunty Dorothy’s 100th birthday. She’s an amazing lady, sharp as a tack, energetic, bossy, and very deaf. Fortunately, her eyesight is so good she doesn’t even need glasses, so we write our greetings and questions on a white board and then she answers us verbally. She had no problems reading the congratulatory messages from the Queen, Governor General, Prime Minister and local MP’s and then chatting to us about them.
I don’t know how Aunty Dorothy ate and exercised throughout her life, but I can tell you three secrets that she knows now, and that we should learn from her if we want to measure our life in energy and happiness:-
- Nurture Your Relationships: make an effort to connect and interact positively with people around you each day. Loneliness, bitterness, and regret sap the joy from your heart and the health from your body. Aunty Dorothy focuses on the good in people and always remembers that she has faults too when she feels offended. So she keeps reaching out to people and learning from them;
- Pay Attention to Your Own Body: by all means study nutrition styles, exercise regimes and the like, but don’t be a slave to them because not everything will suit you. Aunty Dorothy’s question about food and activity is: Does this make me feel more or less energised? She isn’t driven by ‘what she ought to do’ as much as by ‘how does this make me feel’.
- Simple Things Make a Difference: most of us don’t need more complexity in our lives, we need less. For Aunty Dorothy that means focusing on the things and people she values, and letting other things go. As she says, “At 100 years old, I try to remember that each day is a gift and spend the energy I do have on things that matter: like bringing joy and encouragement to others. A lot of activities just don’t matter in the long run.”
A friend and client called me and asked for my advice. She’s in her 30’s, vegan, active, and uses ‘superfoods’ (cinnamon, turmeric, chia seeds, goji berries, blueberries etc.) to boost her health and energy.
While I was away in January she had some stomach and energy issues and found a herbalist who prescribed some herbs and tea. Some of her symptoms had diminished, but she was feeling worse overall. It turned out that the underlying problem had been exacerbated by this particular herbal treatment, but because everything she was taking was ‘healthy’ and ‘natural’ she never stopped to think about how these things made her feel.
Unlike Aunty Dorothy, she didn’t pay attention to her body’s response to the herbs, tea, and turmeric, and other foods which were inflaming her stomach lining. The more salad and superfoods she ate, the worse she felt because these foods did not agree with her condition and body type – so with each meal it was as though she was scraping a wound rather than giving it a chance to heal.
She definitely didn’t like my Traditional Chinese Medicine prescription (mostly steamed vegetables with no oil or spices) but when I showed her what was going on in her stomach, why the superfoods made her feel worse, and how she could heal the inflammation by following this diet for a few months, she understood what she needed to do… and enjoyed almost immediate improvement.
Why this Matters to You…
Aunty Dorothy has never really tried to be healthy… she’s just followed the principle that she wants to feel as energetic and unaware of her body as possible, so she eats mostly fresh food, in moderation and moves regularly (an upbringing and life on a farm made that fairly easy).
She’s never gone in for superfoods or liver detoxes, much less weight training or marathon running… and I think most people should follow her example. The truth is that one type of eating or exercise does not fit everyone and you can make yourself sick by following trendy generic advice.
Your health and energy are the most precious resources you have. Please don’t squander them chasing after cultural prejudices and fads. Get some personalised advice from professionals who are willing to provide ongoing monitoring and pay attention yourself as to how your chosen regime is making you feel. Once you are tuned into your own body, you can be your own best doctor because you’ll know the difference between giving your body a healthy challenge and causing additional stress.
That’s why, at Bing’s Natural Health, we don’t just take your history the first time you come and visit – we ask questions and check how you’re doing every single visit. We want to know what has changed and how you’re feeling, and what is going on in your life, so that together we can help you celebrate every milestone birthday with joy, energy and alertness.
Chinese Medicine Dietary Therapy and Food Therapy
There is evidence that acupuncture can be considered as a viable treatment to reduce the pain and the physical dysfunction associated with osteoarthritis of the knee. This involves the management of pain and discomfort without medications.
At the level of the individual who has chronic pain we first have to work out which mechanisms are causing pain in that individual, and then proceed based on which mechanisms are causing pain in that individual. In a lot of chronic pain conditions, the pain may not be occurring because of damage or inflammation in the area of the body where someone is experiencing pain in the peripheral tissues, such as the knee.
The drug and non-drug therapies can be entirely different for each particular pain mechanism. So, patients need to empower themselves by rethinking where their pain is coming from and what types of doctors, therapists and treatments they should be seeing to get help with their pain. The patient can do a lot to direct their therapy in the right direction to help with their type of pain, including an awareness that a lot of drugs may only be marginally effective to treat chronic pain and have side effects. The patient has the best sense of what is going on in their body, and need to educate themselves and be more knowledgeable about managing their particular type of pain.
Osteoarthritis is by far the most common cause of arthritis, especially as people get to live longer and get tend to get heavier, especially in the western world. Nearly everyone will develop osteoarthritis if they live long enough and some of the most common areas to develop osteoarthritis are in the weight bearing areas such as the knees, the hips and the back.
Osteoarthritis was thought to be the classic peripheral pain condition where the degree of damage or inflammation seen on an x-ray or MRI or CAT scan would accurately predict who is experiencing pain and who is not experiencing pain. It was really thought to be a disease of the cartilage, and when the cartilage degraded, you eventually got bone rubbing on bone. And when bone is rubbing on bone, this would hurt. But 30% – 40% of people who have bone rubbing on bone have no pain, whereas 10% – 15% of these people do have severe knee pain. The point is that structural cartilage deterioration does not always cause pain – so what is causing this disparity? If there is no cartilage damage, then is the pain all in the head? Is it psychological? Then what is the appropriate drug and non-drug treatment?
The various underlying mechanisms of pain may need entirely different types of treatments because some people will not respond to opioids, surgical procedures or injections, and be more dependent on non-drug therapies. For example, the body’s two most potent internal analgesic systems are sleep and exercise, such as sleeping well and moving. Arthroplasty does not predictably relieve pain because not all people respond to a surgical procedure to remove their pain.
The sensory nerves throughout our body pick up things like heat, cold, chemicals, pressure and the like from the periphery. A lot of the information that is coming from the peripheral nerves is never supposed to be sent to the brain to be felt as pain. This is the information that most people don’t feel from the periphery, but people with a lot of chronic pain conditions do feel this information as pain. The pain is dependent on the pain pathways or neurotransmitters that inhibit and facilitate the transmission of pain to the brain, rather than what is happening out in the periphery. For example, it is not supposed to hurt to sit in a chair, but for people with chronic pain, sitting in a chair activates different nerves out in the periphery, and all of that information is allowed to go to the brain, to be felt as pain because the pain pathways to the brain are not working properly. A lot of things that aren’t supposed to hurt, do hurt, whereas normal people are more pain insensitive. For people with chronic pain, the normal filtering mechanisms whereby all the sensations that are going on in the peripheral tissues is not supposed to be felt as pain – but those filtering mechanisms are broken or absent or deficient, and this is why certain people experience pain for things that are not supposed to be painful. Sleep and exercise are some of the things that can assist these internal pain pathways. Only a third of the people in the general population have any type of chronic pain and usually have a low pain threshold and are more sensory sensitive.
These nerve pathways can be controlled. These nerve pathways can be changed.
Stress, anger, frustration and fear all amplify the overall experience of pain. Conversely, do something emotionally rewarding and it will have a pain relieving effect.
A rehabilitation approach can be particularly helpful for this type of pain – by getting people moving and getting people sleeping. Because of the pain, people reduce their activity levels. When you start becoming more active as a treatment for chronic pain, you have to start low, very slow and very gradually. The biggest mistake is to try to move straight into an exercise program. Slowly get better over time.
The NCBI website has an article on “Acupuncture and Osteoarthritis of the Knee”
There is strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis. Please refer to AACMA – Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association for The Acupuncture Evidence Project:
Further Related Reading:
Sinew acupuncture for Knee Osteoarthritis
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Is it a psychological disorder.that’s all in the head? Is it in the genes?
Western medicine is yet to find a cause, prevention or cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome(CFS). Western medicine even struggles to make a diagnosis of CFS and usually comes to this diagnosis only after excluding many other possible illnesses. In the meantime, your tests may all be normal, causing a doctor to be dismissive of you, and say that there is really nothing wrong with you, and so there isn’t anything that they can do for you, because they can only fix something that conforms to their current understanding. The frustrating thing for patients that have this condition is that they outwardly look normal – so they don’t get the empathy and the sympathy from friends, family, co-workers and doctors.
An individual can have different levels of CFS, ranging from “I’m always tired” right through to being bed-ridden and unable to care for themselves. Medical tests will not be able to predict who has this condition and how severe this condition will be in any given individual – there is a tremendous disparity. And what may help one person will make the symptoms of another person worse.
What drug and non-drug therapies work best? Unfortunately, because of the poor understanding of the mechanisms of this condition, a lot of the therapies simply won’t work, because they are not targeting the right areas. What is the correct treatment? What types of doctors and what types of treatments should a person be seeking to get help with their CFS? For example, physical activity or movement of some sort may, or may not help.
You have the power as a patient to direct your care in the direction that you feel is best for you, and go to the types of doctors, physical therapists, psychologists and people that are more likely to help you. For example, it may or may not be ideal to go to someone who has a needle because their solution will be to inject a drug that may only be marginally effective at best, with possible side effects. So, some of the non-drug therapies may need to be considered. You need to educate yourself and become more knowledgeable as a patient to become a better consumer of health care and direct your therapy in the direction that you think is appropriate.
The condition can be exacerbated by different types of stress, including both physical and psychological stress. Unfortunately, CFS causes you to be stressed because you can’t do what you want to do, you can’t do what your co-workers want you to do, or what your family wants you to do, which causes more stress, which cause more fatigue.
The rehabilitation approach aims to slowly reverse the downward spiral, and the functional decline, to gradually get better over time. This could involve doing some exercise, movement or activity – without over doing it and worsening the symptoms. Start slowly and increase slowly – carefully pace yourself which means keeping your activity levels even. Try to get a good night’s sleep by managing your sleep patterns.
The NCBI website has an article on randomized controlled clinical trials of acupuncture and moxibustion treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome patients.