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by Katherine Willow ND

As anxiety over the H1N1 flu escalates, there is confusion about whether to get the flu shot—or not.   People are caught between conflicting philosophies, both adamant in their views about vaccinations, pro and con.  I’d like to offer some thoughts from a holistic perspective that may help people who lean in this direction make a decision with relative peace of mind.

First of all, the H1N1 flu is not particularly dangerous compared to the usual seasonal flu.  The deaths worldwide are fewer than normal.  With respect to the young man who passed away recently, supposedly from this flu, we are not given any information about exactly how he died so it is impossible to assess what was really going on.  None of the people he was exposed to were even reported to contract the illness let alone coming close to dying themselves.   There is no need to be overly afraid other than to take basic precautions—it’s like worrying about getting into an accident every time you get into a car.  Yes it’s possible, but WORRYING DOESN’T HELP, just do up your seat belt and go on with your life!

There is a lot of criticism and mistrust of the vaccine.  The main issues are that it hasn’t been adequately tested and that it contains substances that are toxic.  There are also reports that it can have severe side effects.  Going even further, one finds a whole host of conspiracy theories that accuse pharmaceutical companies and even governments of  promoting false fears  in order to gain profits from the manufacture of the vaccine and anti-viral drugs.

It’s hard to tell what’s true.  In 26 years of being a naturopath I’ve never seen a severe vaccine reaction that I know of, but a recent book on vaccines really stands out in my mind. It’s called “Childhood Vaccinations, Answers to Your Questions”, and has a companion workbook, “Childhood Vaccinations, Making Informed Decisions”. It was written by a colleague I very much respect, Katia Bailetti ND, who used to work with us at the clinic.  She researched infant mortality rates in the first year of life, obtaining the information directly from medical data bases.

The resulting diagram graphically portrays a spike in infant deaths exactly around each scheduled vaccination time.  I’d never seen anything so convincing about the negative effects of vaccines. I personally believe this extends to flu vaccines which I think are almost totally unnecessary when we live in a healthy way. (You can learn more about the books and also purchase them through Katia’s website, We also carry them at the Carp Ridge Natural Health Clinic.)

An experience that has informed my outlook comes from a family trip to India where none of us were vaccinated.  Instead we took natural remedies to protect ourselves from the unaccustomed germs.  None of us were ill and we ended up sharing our remedies (very successfully, by the way) with sick people who had all been vaccinated.

Another experience was as a young practitioner treating a woman with chronic fatigue and recurrent infections.  She gradually became stronger and then suddenly contracted chicken pox without any obvious exposure.  It was a terrible case, with lesions everywhere.  However when she recovered, the level of her health was unexplainably so much better, it made me give credence to the  principle from Traditional Chinese Medicine that childhood diseases have the purpose of clearing negative influences from the womb. (I didn’t vaccinate my children, but encourage other parents to make up their own minds.)

Similarly in German New Medicine, infections, including  the flu, are part of the healing process of the body.   At the same time, it is acknowledged that this phase is a vulnerable and occasionally dangerous time for some people, to be taken seriously and not minimized.

It has been a noticeable pattern in my practice that when patients who have a chronic illness come down with an acute infection, that they are almost always better from their chronic condition afterward.  This is predicted by naturopathic philosophy and is remarkable to watch.  I often tell patients about this pattern so they can be prepared to go through the acute symptoms without using drugs, which can suppress the process.

Along similar lines, the  flu has a cleansing function in the body, mediated by the fever and evidenced by the classic aches and digestive upset that accompany a cleansing reaction.  The lung symptoms are also doing a service, helping to expel the virus (when there is one).  When people proactively do a seasonal cleanse, they decrease the probability of going through the flu process.

There is also an emotional component to contracting the flu.  Stress impacts the immune system, making us more vulnerable, often after the stress has passed, such as when we go on holidays after overworking intensively.  In German New Medicine, fear of death is specifically related to the lungs and kidneys and can increase the possibility of fluid build-up in the lungs.  It’s like a deepening spiral, lung symptoms causing fear that increases the lung symptoms.  This needs to be short-circuited with confident reassurance, whether from a parent, a naturopath, a medical doctor or a nurse at the hospital.

A recent statistic that would confirm the holistic perspective of flu is that 2/3 of flu cases that are tested don’t show ANY virus.  I believe the flu is a natural mechanism of the body to help bring us back into balance when we are imbalanced.

So what do I recommend that people do about vaccinations on the basis of my particular experience, training and world view?

Here  are  several suggestions:

  1. Do your own research until you feel confident in either camp.  Being afraid is terrible for your health, in my opinion worse than the vaccine for most people (obviously not for those with severe reactions but those are rare).  Ask yourself whether you are more afraid of getting the flu or of vaccine side-effects and listen to your gut–along with looking at all the studies you can. (For an alternative viewpoint, you could check out what Dr. Mercola has to say about H1N1 at
  2. Whether you vaccinate or not isn’t the primary question; it is the strength of your immune system that will ultimately determine how healthy you are.  Even the flu shot is not a  guarantee that you won’t get the flu.
  3. Be prepared with flu remedies to offset anxiety; I recommend natural ones (see previous naturopathic flu tips post and current article by Reba Word ND on homeopathic flu remedies) because they not only work better (shown in studies), they don’t harm you.  Drugs always have some side-effects.
  4. Remember that the flu will go away by itself, usually within 6 days, even if you do nothing but stay in bed and drink warm fluids.  Eating lightly when appetite returns quickens recovery.
  5. Intense symptoms are a result of a vital body.  Relax and enjoy the rest.  Use natural methods to moderate the symptoms such as homeopathic remedies and hydrotherapy.  We can prescribe/describe them over the phone so you don’t have to come in when sick, in fact we prefer you stay home and rest!
  6. If your child is ill, stay as calm as you possibly can and make sure YOU get support because then you can positively influence the child.  Vital children spike high fevers.  Learn ahead of time how to handle them naturally if you are so inclined or have drugs on hand as back-up to avoid going to the hospital because they are all overcrowded and waiting in a room full of sick people can’t be good!
  7. If you are afraid of the flu and are worried for yourself and your family and natural theories don’t make you feel secure—please get the shot!  But also work on your immunity.
  8. We use homeopathic preventatives in our office: for $10 you can get a season’s supply of Influenzinum and Thymuline to take weekly to strengthen your immune system.  You can even do this along with the flu shot.  Add in a seasonal cleanse for extra good measure.
  9. Nothing will protect you well if you don’t eat, sleep, exercise and manage your stress.  And even then you may get the flu as part of your healing process.  If you can think about it as a useful biological mechanism that requires simple commonsense care, you will probably be fine—just as you are when you drive your car.
  10. (These last three are from Dr. Oz) Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine or hydrogen peroxide if you don’t trust salt). H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat/nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an infected one. Don’t underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.
  11. Similar to above, clean your nostrils at least once every day with warm salt water or hydrogen peroxide. Not everybody may be good at Jala Neti or Sutra Neti (very good Yoga asanas to clean nasal cavities), but blowing the nose softly once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.
  12. Drink as much of warm liquids (tea, coffee, etc) as you can. Drinking warm liquids has the same effect as gargling, but in the reverse direction. They wash off proliferating viruses from the throat into the stomach where they cannot survive, proliferate or do any harm.
    Hope this helps you enjoy and better cope with the season!

by Katherine Willow ND

sneezeThis is a summary of general health tips and naturopathic tips for any type of flu, as well as specifics on the H1N1 virus (you might also read my post, Should you get the H1N1 Swine flu shot?).  If you have any questions, please contact your naturopathic doctor as we specialize in programs that meet individual needs. If you are in the Ottawa, Ontario area, feel free to call our clinic at 613-839-1198.

So far, most people with H1N1 recover without any specific treatment.

General flu symptoms
The new H1N1 flu virus is a respiratory illness that causes flu-like symptoms including fever (often high), cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, fatigue, severe headache, sore throat, lack of appetite, possible nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Most cases in Ontario have been mild.

Warning signs for children:

  • fast or troubled breathing
  • bluish or grey skin colour
  • not drinking enough fluids/dehydration
  • not waking up/interacting
  • irritable to point of not wanting to be held
  • flu symptoms improve but return with fever and cough

Warning signs for adults:

  • difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • pain or pressure in chest or abdomen
  • sudden dizziness
  • confusion
  • severe or persistent vomiting
  • flu symptoms improve but return with fever and worse cough

A naturopathic doctor is trained to deal with these situations and can help you decide what path to take.

How the flu is spread

  • person to person via coughing, sneezing and touching contaminated objects (virus can live 2-8 hrs outside the body)
  • people are contagious one day before getting ill, to 7 days after becoming ill

Who it affects & particular groups at risk

  • teens and children more than other age groups
  • people over 65 seem to be immune
  • pregnant women
  • children under under 2-yrs-old
  • those with asthma, diabetes and heart conditions

General steps for prevention

  • hygiene–regularly washing hands with soap for 15-20 seconds
  • disinfect surfaces in home, i.e. kitchen, bathroom, bedside tables and toys
  • if using hand sanitizer gel, rub until dry
  • cough into sleeve/arm

Lifestyle habits to keep away the flu

  • a healthy diet, especially minimizing congesting foods, sugar, caffeine, excess meat, excess alcohol
  • adequate, easily digestible proteins; lots of veggies, moderate fruit, adequate water
  • adequate sleep favouring the hours before midnight
  • exercise according to body type without overdoing it; yoga and stretching good
  • keep a positive attitude — stress lowers immunity
  • fall detox program is a fantastic preventive, see your ND for individualized suggestions
  • deep breathing exercises, they are relaxing and oxygenate your system. Many of us are shallow breathers, especially if we lead a busy lifestyle

Immune system boosters

  • astragulus (can use in cooking)
  • shitake mushrooms (can also use in cooking)
  • black elderberry extract once daily
  • garlic, raw if possible
  • Vit D, 1000 IU, twice daily also helps with seasonal depression
  • Vit A, E, C; zinc, copper, selenium; L-glutamine moderate doses
  • probiotics, most lactobacillus strains, 24 billion/d for a month
  • essential fatty acids 2-3X daily in capsules or liquid
  • adrenal support (glandulars, herbs, homeopathy–ask ND for individual suggestion)
  • full spectrum light therapy as we had insufficient sun this summer
  • Thymuline homeopathic pellets once a week


  • H1N1 vaccines (2 shots) will be available in November in addition to the regular seasonal flu shot
  • naturopathic doctors are comfortable with individual choices about whether to use the vaccine
  • be aware of additives such as squalene and thimerosol
  • become aware of infection rates in your area and avoid crowds when appropriate

Treatment if you become sick

  • stay at home and rest until 24 hours after the fever breaks
  • it’s okay to go to work if a family member is ill (you’re not contagious)
  • allow a mild to moderate fever, 37.5 degrees optimizes the healing response
  • lighten diet immediately, even fast if you are able, avoiding congestive foods like dairy, wheat, fried foods, bananas
  • sugar depletes the immune system, avoid as much as possible
  • drink warm herbal teas to break the fever
  • peppermint can be inhaled to decongest the lungs

Anti-viral products

  • vit C 1000mg every 4 hours for 3 days and then 1000mg daily (or to bowel tolerance)
  • elderberry supplements, following directions (studies show remarkable results with flu)
  • garlic, 2-3 cloves/day and gradually reduce
  • green tea
  • tea tree or oregano oil steam inhalation

Other supplements

  • echinacia at first sign and every 2 hours of recommended dose

Homeopathic remedies

  • use a home kit or ask your ND for a specific remedy; especially good for children


  • hot compresses over chest to decongest lungs, making sure to stay warm
  • cold, wrung-out socks covered with wool socks to bring down fever (esp for children)
  • dry skin brushing; hot then cold showers support lymphatic function
  • your ND may have more specific recommendations

Medical antivirals

  • Tamiflu and Relenza take an average of 1/2 day off a six day illness;  most people won’t need these, more for people who have other conditions and are medically oriented
  • medical cold and flu remedies are not generally indicated for children
  • avoid aspirin for children under 13 (Reyes syndrome)


  • CAND/OAND for referrals to your nearest naturopathic doctor — their websites are and
  • Telehealth Ontario to help decide whether to go to hospital: 1-866-797-0000 or similar for other provinces
  • books:  Staying Healthy with the Seasons, Elston Haas MD &
    Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon
  • Supplements Plus:  offer a wide range of mail order supplements to serve ND patients, 10% off with mention of ND / or  toll-free 800-387-4761
  • local health food stores / holistic pharmacies

Good health to you!

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