Viral victory can come naturally
Victoria Mary Clarke explains how she decided to stop worrying and get some practical advice on how we can beat the bug
Sunday July 26 2009
I have been going out of my mind worrying about swine flu. Unfortunately, I am blessed with a vivid imagination. I only have to think about getting a cold and, sure enough, I get a cold. Obviously I try to imagine myself perfectly healthy, but it just seems that every time I pick up a newspaper or turn on the television, there is more ammunition for the worrying part of my mind.
So rather than just worry, I decided I would ask the advice of a man who is an expert on the prevention of illness, Dr Donn Brennan, Ireland’s first GP to also qualify as an Ayurvedic doctor.
“Think of the virus as the seed and your body as the field,” Dr Brennan suggests. “Modern medicine focuses on the seed, but Ayurveda focuses on the field. If the field is not suitable for the seed, the seed won’t grow. So we have to think about what makes the field suitable for the seed to grow in.”
I ask him what we can do to prevent our bodies from becoming suitable environments for a virus to thrive in.
“A toxic environment is perfect for a virus to take hold in. What creates a toxic environment? Eating rubbish foods. Eating at inappropriate times. Rushing the food, and disturbing our digestion. All of this creates a weakened immune system,” he says.
What, I ask, should we do instead?
“If we nurture ourselves very well and give ourselves good quality foods and eat at appropriate times, in an appropriate manner, then we will create a strong immune system,” he advises.
The appropriate time to eat, he says, is when you are genuinely physically hungry.
“Good digestion is all- important for a strong immune system,” he says. “Hunger makes for good digestion. If you eat when you are not hungry, you are asking your body to do something it is not prepared for — and the outcome of that is a feeling of sluggishness and heaviness.”
The second most important thing about eating is to sit down and relax, rather than to eat on the run. I ask him why this is, seeing as I often eat in a hurry and read my emails at the same time.
“Because we have a sympathetic nervous system and a parasympathetic nervous system,” he explains. “And, if we are in a rush when we are eating and the body is full of adrenalin, then the blood is all going to the muscles and the brain and none is going to the digestion. Then very little gastric juices or pancreatic juices are flowing. So the fast-food culture is a ripe field for a virus.” Apparently if you do sit down and relax at meal times, you switch from the sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system, which means the blood is heading towards your gut and you produce the necessary juices for good digestion.
“But”, I argue, “most people are under the most amount of stress in the mornings.”
“Maybe they have a few kids, and they have to get them fed and ready and take them to school. So they don’t have the time or the opportunity then to sit down and have a relaxed meal.”
Dr Brennan agrees that this is probably the case. “I think it is true that we live in a culture which prioritises making money and does not prioritise health, but it would be a marvellous thing if people would take the time out from all that madness — even if it means getting up 15 minutes earlier — just so that the family can have a proper breakfast,” he says.
He suggests that people who live in a constant state of panic are creating an environment that a virus can thrive in.
“Tearing about the place, always under pressure, is the surest way to leave yourself vulnerable,” he says.
The other thing that can either help or harm the immune system is the actual food itself. “If you eat too much heavy food, it takes hours for the digestive system to get on top of it. Beef and pork and very oily meals are not a good idea, especially late at night,” Dr Brennan advises.
The ideal foods to eat are fresh, organic vegetables and oily fish that has been freshly prepared, rather than convenience foods that have been microwaved.
“Fresh, organic fruit and vegetables are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants help our immune system so that even if you do get the virus, the immune system can go to work more efficiently,” he says.
Dr Brennan understands that most people are overwhelmed by the thought of trying to change their ways.
“You don’t need to do everything to perfection,” he stresses. “Even if you make small changes, they will leave you feeling more resilient, so that if you do get the bug, it will be a minor thing.”
Meditation is another great way to strengthen the immune system. “The profound rest that meditation provides is very healing and it resolves the effects of stress in the body which raises the immunity,” he says. “It provides a balance to the crazy life, if you can have sublime serenity for 20 minutes.”
Also, getting a little bit of exercise clears toxins from the body and invigorates our metabolism, Dr Brennan says.
It is important not to panic about the whole idea of swine flu, he emphasises. If people are getting adequate rest, taking reasonable care of their digestion and getting some exercise, they shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
Later, I read in the paper that the new flu pandemic website is getting 9.3m hits per hour. A lot of people are clearly very worried. But after talking to Dr Brennan, I am no longer one of them.
Article posted in independent.ie on Sunday July 26, 2009