by Dr. Craig A. Maxwell
Cold and flu season is right around the corner. If you’re susceptible to getting sick as the weather gets colder, you may go to your doctor for antibiotics. This clinical approach to chronic cold and flu often leads to a weakened immune system and increased vulnerability to other infections.
This vicious cycle can be broken when you treat flu naturally with garlic. After all, if it is a cold or the flu, it is a caused by a virus and antibiotics will not work as they are only effective against bacteria.
Before we get into the health benefits of garlic, let’s talk about why antibiotics are over-prescribed and what you can do naturally to strengthen your immune system.
Is it Really the Flu?
In 2009, CBS released a controversial study stating most of the “flu-like” symptoms that send patients to their doctor are caused by other viruses or bacteria, not the flu (influenza virus). Only 3-17 percent of symptoms such as chills, fever, runny nose, fatigue, and muscle aches are caused by a true influenza virus.
It’s important to understand that although the flu is more widely talked about during the fall and winter months (as flu shots are being advertised) these pathogens are here year-round.
The prevalence of viral and bacterial infections in colder months as opposed to warmer is simple: In the colder months, our vitamin D3 levels drop dramatically and we spend more time indoors, breathing recycled air. The amount of pathogens don’t change from season to season, it’s your body’s ability to respond that is affected by changing environment, and closer proximity to those who are ill.
Many Doctors Too Quick to Prescribe Antibiotics
According to studies, many doctors are quick to prescribe antibiotics for flu-like symptoms due to patient expectations and demands for a “quick-fix.” The Centers for Disease Control has recently attempted to convince doctors from over-prescribing broad-spectrum antibiotics which can destroy both good and bad bacteria, and have the tendency to lead antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotics are not only ineffective in treating viral infections, they can cause severe and lasting side effects when over-prescribed.
Some Examples Of When Antibiotics Should Be Used
- Sinus infections lasting 10 days or more
- Some ear infections
- Strep throat
- Bladder/kidney infections
- Staph infections
When Antibiotics May Not Be Needed
- Colds (viral)
- Minor coughs (often viral)
- Flu (viral)
- Sore throat (often viral)
- Gastroenteritis (often viral)
- Mild bronchitis (often viral)
The Real Cause Many Infections
Everyday you are surrounded by bacteria and viruses. Your immune system is designed to protect you against these pathogens so you don’t become ill. If you frequently come down with infections, it means your immune system is compromised in some way.
A weakened immune system is commonly caused by:
- Poor Diet
The Standard American Diet of highly-processed foods is detrimental to your immune system. Refined flours, sugar, chemicals, and additives not only depress your immune system, they have been shown to alter the structure of your DNA! A lifetime of genetic mutation can contribute to the development of immune system abnormalities that may put you (and even your children) at risk for chronic disease.
Gradually weaning off processed foods and trading them in for healthier fare such as organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, meat, poultry, fish, and healthy fats like butter and coconut oil will do wonders to improve your immune system.
- Lack of Sleep
Most adults need 7-9 hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep per night in order to function optimally. Excessive sleep loss has been shown to lower granulocytes, the types of white blood cells that fight off pathogens and protect you from disease.
According to a study published by The National Academy of Sciences, lack of sleep alters the activity of 444 genes, which leads to increased susceptibility to diabetes and obesity.
If you’re having difficulty sleeping, you may have a magnesium deficiency. For my patients struggling with insomnia, I recommend adding a chelated magnesium supplement. Deep, restful sleep means a stronger immune system naturally.
- Chronic Stress
Regular everyday stress is normal but when stress becomes chronic, it can tax your adrenal glands and lead to adrenal fatigue. Your adrenal glands are responsible for producing chemicals such as cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which are necessary in critical situations. When stress is ongoing, however, the adrenal glands begin to malfunction, leading to both adrenal and immune system distress.
If chronic stress is interfering with your health, taking steps to reduce it by engaging in recreational activities and relaxation exercises can help fortify your immune system.
- Vitamin D3 Deficiency
Vitamin D3 deficiency is a leading cause of immune system depression. Up to 85% of the U.S. population is deficient in this critical nutrient. The most common reason for this deficiency is lack of exposure to sunlight.
Chronic sun avoidance has become an epidemic in the past 30 years due to the belief that even short-term exposure to the sun’s rays can cause skin cancer. This is not true. Fifteen to twenty minutes of unprotected sun exposure three or four times a week can do wonders to boost your immune system and protect your health.
During the winter months, I advise those with vitamin D3 deficiency to take a vitamin D3 supplement. Though some clinicians recommend taking 200-400 IUs of vitamin D3, this number is not nearly high enough for those who are deficient. For my patients, I recommend 2,000-5,000 IUs of vitamin D3 to stabilize the immune system and keep chronic illness at bay.
The best way to learn if vitamin D3 deficiency is weakening your immune system is with the Vitamin D, 25 Hydroxy Test Kit. This test will reveal your levels so you and your doctor can decide the best supplement treatment plan for you.
- Poor Dental Hygiene
Chronic bacterial build-up in your mouth can cause a weakened immune system and lead to increased vulnerability to infection. Brushing and flossing regularly is important to lasting health and wellness. For those with chronic dental problems such as gingivitis or receding gums, I recommend a high-quality probiotic supplement. Probiotics improve your digestion, which, in turn, improves your overall health.
- Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to lower white cell count and lead to diminished immunity. In particular, excessive alcohol consumption impairs the normal function of the B-lymphocytes and depresses your body’s natural killer cells.
Limit your alcohol intake to 1-2 drinks per day, maximum.
Smoking decreases natural killer cells and leaves you vulnerable for the development of chronic disease. If you smoke, take steps to quit.
Obesity has been shown to depress the immune system by decreasing your body’s ability to multiply white blood cells, increase inflammation, and produce antibodies. Modifying your diet to include more whole foods and less processed foods will help slim your waistline and reduce your risk of chronic disease.
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
Increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome is an often misunderstood condition that can cause immune system malfunction. In leaky gut syndrome, the lining of the intestine is more porous than it should be. This allows undigested food particles and pathogens to leak into your bloodstream, causing a hyperactive immune response.
When your immune system is always protecting you from these pathogens, it is not as effective at keeping you safe from bacterial and viral disease.
For my patients with leaky gut syndrome, I recommend a gut-healing diet, probiotics, turmeric, and the use of digestive enzymes. Once your gut has healed, your body will be much better equipped to handle bacterial and viral onslaughts.
Garlic – A Powerful Natural Antibiotic Used for Centuries
Anyone struggling with chronic immune system malfunction could benefit greatly from garlic. Garlic is a bulb in the lily family that has powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Unlike prescription antibiotics, garlic kills off only the bad bacteria, leaving healthy gut bacteria intact.
The health benefits of garlic lie in an organosulfur compound called allicin. This compound has strong antibacterial activity against a wide range of Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, including multidrug-resistant enterotoxicogenic strains of Escherichia coli.
Thousands of years before the use of prescription antibiotics, a daily ration of garlic was given for stamina to those who built the pyramids. Its immune-boosting properties were known and celebrated long before bacteria and viruses were even discovered as a source of infection.
Garlic even has a history of being the world’s first “performance enhancing drug” as it was used to fortify the Olympic athletes of Greece.
The best way to use garlic to treat a bacterial or viral infection is to cut up two cloves of organic garlic, mix it with raw honey, and swallow it once or twice a day for one week. The antibacterial/antiviral benefits are much stronger when garlic is consumed raw and chopped. If you don’t like the idea of mixing garlic with honey, try juicing two cloves of garlic, two organic tomatoes, and lemon for a tasty antibacterial drink.
The health benefits of garlic have been shown to go beyond boosting your immune system and healing your body from disease. Garlic has been shown to reduce blood pressure, protect heart health, reduce cholesterol, treat chronic yeast infections, and even prevent cancer.
Many of my patients have asked me if they can substitute raw garlic for garlic pills. Unfortunately, the active ingredient, allicin, is destroyed within one hour of crushing the garlic so most garlic supplements are useless. In order for garlic to be effective, it must be taken in raw form.
The overuse of antibiotics has created many health problems. This is why it’s so important to boost your immune system naturally and use garlic instead of prescription medication in many cases of illness. This approach will give your immune system a chance to learn how to fight off infection itself instead of developing a dependency on antibiotics.