The H1N1 flu has now flared into an epidemic in many countries: almost 6000 deaths have been attributed to the virus around the world. This situation is worrying to many of us, and it's good to recall that several studies demonstrate the benefit of life-style changes, to permit the body to reinforce its 'terrain' and protect us from viral infections.

On his deathbed, Louis Pasteur, the man who discovered viruses and bacteria and who invented the first vaccine, is reported to have said, "Microbes are nothing - it's the terrain that counts!" What did he mean? Our "terrain" - our immune defenses, or antioxydant and anti-inflammatory capacity - is usually much stronger than viruses or bacteria. Currently we're being bombarded with information about swine flu: it's a good time to remember that essential message.
 
During the 1918 epidemic of so-called "Spanish Flu", some people resisted the virus much better than others. In his upcoming book on the subject (1), a French author, Thierry Souccar, recounts experiments that were made at the time (and which would be unthinkable today). Dr. Milton Rosneau, in Boston, reportedly infected more than 100 young US Navy recruits with secretions of patients who had fallen ill with the flu -- these secretions were directly injected into the nostrils, throats and eyes of the recruits. After ten days, none of them had developed flu! Their healthy "terrain" had vanquished the virus. Today, several studies demonstrate the importance of a number of factors that contribute to reinforcing the terrain against viral infections.

Sleep: Sleeping for eight hours or more every night decreases the risk of developing a cold following exposure to a virus to one-third of the risk encountered by persons who sleep seven hours or less (2). So if you can, sleep more - you'll benefit from it as if it were an antiviral medication.

Physical activity: moderate physical activity (for example, thirty minutes of walking, five days a week) stimulates the immune system and considerably increases resistance to infections (3).

Daily diet:

  • Reduce sugary foods and those based on white flour, as well as all fats. Prefer olive oil and canola oil.
  • Increase - by a factor of seven -- your daily rations of fruits and vegetables. "Anticancer" foods are also antivirals, for the same reasons (the presence of flavonoides and de polyphenols). Eat garlic, onions, and shallots - and remind yourself that during the First World War, smart soldiers ate two or three cloves or raw garlic every day to protect themselves from influenza.
  • Eat broccoli, cabbages and mushrooms (pleurotus, reishi, maitake, shitake, enokitake, crimini and portobello), which are employed as immune stimulants in Japanese hospitals.
  • Drink green tea -- three to six cups a day, if possible distant from meals, so as not to reduce absorption of iron. EGCG, the catechin of green tea, is very active against cancer and is also a powerful antiviral. An American study (4) has demonstrated that it reduced by one-third the risk of developing flu.
  • Add herbs and Mediterranean spices (oregano, thyme, turmeric) to your diet, in at least one meal every day, because of their antiviral and anti-inflammatory effect.

     It's encouraging to note that the elements that reinforce our terrain are indiscriminately effective against all the diseases we seek to keep at bay, from influenza to cancer. Pasteur was indeed a genius, and his intuition was right -- it's the terrain that counts.
    

1. "Protection and Cure of Influenza (Prévenir et guérir la grippe) by Thierry Souccar  (Thierry Souccar Éditions, 2009).
2. "Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold” by Sheldon Cohen et al., in Archives of Internal Medicine, 2009.
3. "Current perspective on exercise immunology" de David C. Nieman, in Current Sports Medicine Reports, 2003.
4. "Specific formulation of camellia sinensis prevents cold and flu symptoms and enhances gamma, delta T cell function" by Cheryl A. Rowe et al., in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2007.