Flu: Fighting the Flu Without the Shot (cont.)

MEMBER QUESTION:
Dr. Weil, I have seen people out in public sneeze into a tissue and then not wash their hands. Is using a tissue enough of a safeguard?

WEIL:
If they don't wash their hands then they become vehicles for transmitting viruses. It's up to you to wash your hands.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I have many drug allergies. How can I find out if a particular herbal supplement contains any of these allergens?

WEIL:
Well, you read the labels, and then you can look up ingredients you're unfamiliar with on the Internet or consult a knowledgeable health practitioner.

MEMBER QUESTION:
There are many immune-boosting products, for example various mushrooms, acidophilus, etc. Do you recommend any of these over the others?

WEIL:
Some of them have specific uses or different uses. Astragalus has antiviral effects and is particularly indicated for prevention of flu. The Asian mushrooms have anticancer effects. One of them, reishi, is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. So you need to do a little homework to find out which is indicated for you.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Is a maitake, reishi, and shitake combo in pill form ok to take if you have asthma aggravated by mold?

WEIL:
Should be ok. But when you start any substance like that, just pay attention to make sure you don't get an allergic reaction to it.

MODERATOR:
Of course the most basic thing we need to do is take care of our overall health. What are your top 5 recommendations?

WEIL:
You'll find all of this in my book, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health , or on my web site, www.drweil.com.

  • Good nutrition
  • Regular physical activity
  • Adequate rest and sleep
  • Judicious use of dietary supplements and natural products, for example, to enhance immunity
  • Practicing some techniques of stress reduction -- my personal favorite is breathing exercises

MEMBER QUESTION:
It has been suggested that a high dose of vitamin C and zinc, 50m daily, will help boost the immune system Do you agree?

WEIL:
I don't think we really have any evidence for the efficacy of high doses of vitamin C in that regard. As for zinc, I usually recommend people stay around 15 milligrams a day. High doses can actually suppress immunity.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What about claims of Dr. L. Pauling about 20 g/day of vitamin C for everyone?

WEIL:
I think Dr. Pauling's claims have simply not been supported by scientific evidence, and even the Linus Pauling institute in Oregon now says that the human body can't use more than about 200 milligrams of vitamin C a day. Higher doses are probably safe for most people, but they're simply a waste of money.

"The human body can't use more than about 200 milligrams of vitamin C a day. Higher doses are probably safe for most people, but they're simply a waste of money."

MEMBER QUESTION:
How many mg of vitamin C are needed by smokers? And what do you think is the role of ascorbyl palmitate in vitamin C supplementation?

WEIL:
The health benefits of taking vitamin C are insignificant compared to those of quitting smoking. So please keep that in mind. I don't think smokers need any more vitamin C than the rest of us, but you might check out products containing turmeric, which are available to protect the body from effects of smoke.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I take quite a few supplements. You recommend "judicious use." Is there any common mistake(s) that you see frequently (overuse/underuse)?

WEIL:
Often there are optimal dose ranges for supplements, and often taking too much or too little is not ideal. There is wide variation in supplements, so I would urge you to do research to find out the best forms and amounts of supplements you choose to take.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What are the best places to research supplement use?

WEIL:
If I can beat my own drum, I would urge you to go to the vitamin advisor on drweil.com or consult my books.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Isn't it conceivable that someone who takes FluMist could transmit the virus for a short time after receiving it?

WEIL:
Yes, that is true, probably up to four days. Therefore, if you do get FluMist you should avoid close contact with susceptible individuals; for example, debilitated older people.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Is FluMist effective at your age?

WEIL:
I'm 62 and it's definitely effective. I'm assured it's ok for people up to 65 to use it.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What do you recommend for psoriatic patients on Enbrel to avoid the flu?

WEIL:
Enbrel suppresses certain aspects of immunity. It would be perfectly ok for patients taking it to use astragalus.

MODERATOR:
Any specific recommendations for individual symptoms of the flu?

WEIL:
Yes:

  • If you have a cough, I would use a cough suppressant, either over the counter or a narcotic.
  • You can take an analgesic for muscle aches and pains.
  • Gargle or use lozenges for sore throat.
  • If you are really sick you're probably not going to want to get out of bed.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of fluid.
  • Breathe steam, if you can, to soothe the respiratory system.
  • Remember the prescription drugs I mentioned earlier. They have a high rate of efficacy for shortening and severity of the flu if you start to take them promptly.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I'm 10 weeks pregnant with my second child and I decided not to get the flu shot because I'm afraid it could hurt the baby (read a report about a correlation between the flu shot and autistic children), especially in the first three months. Why do some doctors recommend getting the flu shot and others say to stay away from it in the first three months? And, how bad can the flu be for a normally healthy and strong pregnant woman?

WEIL:
I think there's a division of medical opinion about risks of flu shots in pregnancy. I think it's prudent to avoid it in the first trimester. After that, I think it's ok. Ordinary flu is unpleasant, but not very, very serious for young people who are healthy. But flu is not just a bad cold; it's a different and more serious disease, and some strains of it can be very dangerous. I don't think we're going to see that this year, so you'll probably be fine. Remember, you can always take astragalus.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Dr. Weil, if you were (definitely) diagnosed with MS, would you get the flu shot? Which is the greater risk; that the shot itself might trigger a flare-up of the MS, or that contracting the flu would do the same?

WEIL:
That's a hard question. I guess I think the risks of the flu shot in that situation are not that great.

"Please don't be too paranoid about flu. This is an ordinary flu season coming up and the shortage of vaccine is not a reason to panic."

MEMBER QUESTION:
Do you or your family take the flu shot?

WEIL:
I generally don't take flu shots. However, I got the flu last year, rather late, in March. I got it in Japan and had the first symptom, a cough, on the flight home. I was pretty sick for five days. If the flu vaccine were not in short supply, I might get it this year, but given the situation, I will not take it, although I may take flu mist. My daughter, who is 13, got a flu shot last year.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I believe a healthy diet high in garlic, hot peppers and green leafy vegetables, among others, is effective in fighting the winter flu and common colds. You touched on this in your book on healthy cooking. Do you agree?

WEIL:
I absolutely agree, and this is a regular part of my diet at this season.

MODERATOR:
We are almost out of time. Before we wrap things up for today, do you have any final words for us, Dr. Weil?

WEIL:
Please don't be too paranoid about flu. This is an ordinary flu season coming up and the shortage of vaccine is not a reason to panic. There are many things you can do to reduce your chances of getting it and many things to do if you do.

MODERATOR:
Can you please give everyone your web site address again?

WEIL:
Yes. It's www.drweil.com. I invite you all to check it out. For those with other questions, please go to my site and use the search engine. There's a great deal of information there. There's a great chance the answer to your question is there.

MODERATOR:
Our thanks to Andrew Weil, MD, for joining us.



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