Colds and Flu… Friend or Foe?

It’s the end of the holiday season and my Facebook News Feed reads like this:

“Little Johnny has strep again.”

“It’s another antibiotic for Suzy.”

“The whole family is vomiting.”

“The flu, the flu, the flu.”

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And it looks like this every year around this time.  When I read these posts and the comments that follow I wonder if we have it right when it comes to colds and flu.  Do they exist just to make our lives miserable or do they actually have some benefit?  Does the way that we treat them alter the effect that they have on our bodies?

The body is wise.  It REALLY knows what it is doing.  The lungs breaths air, the heart pumps blood, the detoxification and elimination systems create waste, entire babies develop in wombs, and the brain wires memories all without you doing or thinking anything.   And, the immune system is wise as well.

When did we develop such a mistrust of the body?  Let’s take a fever for example.  A common thought is that the rise in body temperature helps to fight off and kill pathogens.  Hmmmm?  Sounds like a winner to me.  I believe another purpose of fever might be to help burn off trash.  Yep!  Just like we incinerate the worst garbage in our communities, a fever helps to burn toxic waste accumulated in the body.

Early on raising my kids, I suppressed every fever that they had.  No child of mine was going to suffer any pain, any discomfort.  What I later discovered is that I was suppressing their natural ability to fight infection and clean themselves.  My daughter with an autoimmune condition actually lost the ability to fire up a good burn.  Her fevers were mild and never lasted very long.  This struck me as odd since my older daughter has a typical fever of 102 that was able to last for days.  After years of healing work, my younger daughter is able to burn hot as well and I treasure it as a sign that her system is working properly.

I learned to let a fever burn.  It was so frightening at first.  I slept in their rooms at night, changing wet cloths on foreheads and pulse points and losing sleep.  They burned hot and long, but with each subsequent illness, the fevers were shorter.  Today, a typical fever in our home is 12-24 hours.  This is quite manageable without fever suppressants.  This year, I have heard of many children whose fevers go on for weeks and weeks.  The advice that parent gets from their pediatrician is to alternate Tylenol and Ibuprofen…  yet the fever persists.  I can’t help thinking that this child’s very strong system is trying to do what their body needs but is being shut down at every turn.  Will their body be able to mount as strong a defense the next time?

How about the lovely discharges that accompany colds and flus?  Snot, mucus, diarrhea, vomit.  Yummy.  Western medicine would have you suppress these as well.  After all, they are uncomfortable.  They are also the body’s trash removal system.  A homeopath taught me that the body invites viruses in to help it clean out the trash.  Viruses mount their best attack in already weakened cells that are loaded with waste and toxins.  When a virus is over, weak and ineffective cells have been killed paving the way for the body to create new, healthy cells.  Once a virus has packed the trash up and it is ready to leave, the trash enters the bloodstream and needs to find an exit.  How does it get out?  You guessed it…  coughing, sneezing, runny noses, and upset stomachs.  What is the effect of suppressing this garbage removal system?  Where does the trash go?  Not convinced that your body does need to clean itself out?

Think of it like the trash can in your kitchen.  You haven’t emptied it…  for years.  Every time that it starts to gas off and smell, you suppress it with an air freshener.  Does the air freshener fix the trash problem?  No.  What starts to happen in the can?  It festers and becomes the perfect home for nasty bacteria, fungus, mold, and parasites.  It’s the same for us.  Strep, flu, and other viruses and bacteria love to come live in a body whose trash hasn’t been emptied in some time.

I see the same things happen when clients start a clean diet and lifestyle.  I had a client who was just amazing.  She very quickly started eating organic, removed hidden allergens from her diet, and started using all natural products.  She felt great for a couple of weeks and then called me to tell me that she had the worst cold of her life.  I gently explained that it was unlikely that she had a cold but that her body was using it’s chance to “take out the trash.”  The liver is one of our most important detoxification organs.  It has many critical functions in the body.  Two are the collection and removal of waste and toxins from the bloodstream.  I think of the liver as a person who takes orders over the phone and then has to pack and ship the order out.  For many of us, the liver is so busy all day pulling waste from the bloodstream (taking orders) that it never has a chance to get to the second part of it’s job (packing the orders to ship out).  When clients clean up their bloodstream, the liver has fewer orders to take and happily starts packing up and sending out the trash.  That trash enters the bloodstream looking for an exit.  For this particular client, exits included rashes, acne, and copious amounts of snot.  I met her at the health food store and we got her some natural remedies to help make her more comfortable during the cleanout, but agreed that she would not suppress what her body was doing.  When it was finally over, she had lost weight, her skin was clear and glowing (she was on acne medication when we started working together) and she was full of energy.  It’s amazing what living without the burden of trash in the body feels and looks like.

This is a lot of the reason that people who live a healthy lifestyle get sick less often.  There is less trash in the system.  Cells are healthier and therefore resistant to the work of the virus.  And when it is time to clean out, these people respect the body’s natural desire to clean and are more resilient when the next illness floats around.  This may also explain why some people who have suppressed illnesses for years and years become so devastatingly ill from the same pathogen that causes a mild illness in others.

It was my understanding that mucus, vomiting, and all other lovely symptoms of colds and flu were just the evil deeds of a virus.  I did not understand that it was the body’s perfect way of cleaning out the havoc or the help from the virus (however you choose to look at it.)  Living with this new understanding of sickness can be difficult at first.  When we started making drastic changes to our diet and lifestyle both of my kids got very sick.  I never knew that little people could make so much snot.  And they got it out.  They still get sick, but here is the difference.  Illnesses are much shorter.  My oldest who used to consistently be sick for 7-10 days is never sick more than 3-4 and usually only for a day or two.  When they get sick there is minimal congestion.  Meaning that they and I sleep at night!!!  Their congestion is not so thick and copious to keep them up stuffy or coughing all night.  Fevers are hot and short-lived.  Now I am learning how to use essential oils and homeopathic remedies to further support their bodies and make them more comfortable but my strongest instinct any time they are sick is to make them comfortable, provide time for them to rest, and then to back off and let the body do it’s thing!

Why isn’t this knowledge shared by our pediatricians?  My own experience is that many western physicians rely heavily on pharmaceuticals in their practice.  They know how to match the pharmaceutical to your symptom and that is the advice that they will give you.  I am hoping that we are at a point where the population will recognize this and only use physicians when they are looking for pharmaceutical management and look to Naturopaths, Integrative Physicians, Health Coaches, Acupuncturists, and other healers who understand the wisdom of the body for their healthcare needs.

Disclaimer:  I am not a physician or other medical professional.  I am a Health Coach.  Depending on your child’s medical history, starting to manage illnesses without pharmaceutical suppression can be more or less difficult.  I did a lot of my own research and was working with skilled alternative health care practitioners when I started letting fevers run and snot flow.  I encourage you to work with a Health Coach or other alternative care practitioner as you learn how to manage illnesses in a new way.  This is not an instructional post on how to manage fever and depending on your child’s age and health history, a fever may require medical attention.

Sarah CusackColds and Flu… Friend or Foe?

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