Surviving Influenza A in Pregnancy

I’ve contracted Influenza only a few times in my life. It’s never fun. But the sickest I’ve ever been (I think?) was last month; fighting Influenza A while 27 weeks pregnant.

My husband and children were the first ones to show symptoms, with fever, headache, and extreme fatigue. After the first day, a cough and snotty nose were the residual symptoms, but fever was gone in 12-24 hours. As soon as the first child was sick, I rubbed everyone’s feet with essential oils, put some on their chests and backs as well, fed everyone vitamin C and a high loading dose of D and A drops.

And then the next day, I became sick. Fever of 102 (which is pretty high for me). Tachycardia (racing heart; mine was 108-125 bpm), which is not uncommon with fever. Fatigue which kept me in bed from the time I woke up. Beginnings of a cough, and congested sinuses. As the cough progressed, the muscles around my ribs suffered severe soreness. I just hurt everywhere.

Midwife Care/Naturopathic Care

One of the great things about having a midwife is that my calls are returned 24/7 by the caregiver. My midwife, Catherine Schaefer, is a Naturopathic Doctor, in addition to being a Certified Nurse Midwife, so I felt very confident in her ability to advise me in the best treatments during my illness.

In addition to speaking with my midwife twice, I had previously scheduled appointments at my MD/ND’s clinic for iron IVs to treat anemia; these were on days 3 and 9. The nurse checked my vitals on day 3 and the Dr. did an exam on day 9 (see below). If you are ill in pregnancy, it is important for your and your baby’s health to contact your health care provider(s).

I normally allow fevers to take their course, as they serve the purpose of killing the pathogens causing the illness. But when I spoke to my midwife, Catherine, she advised that I really should not allow my fever to exceed 102 for the sake of the baby, and that it would still be effective against the virus below 102. She also advised that I should stay in bed because she was seeing pneumonia develop even after a week of illness if the patient did not reserve all their energy for healing. Since I’ve had pneumonia twice I’m already at higher risk for developing it, so I was motivated to take all measures I could to avoid it. We also discussed several natural medicinal therapies. In addition to several of the therapies which I did follow, she offered homeopathic therapy for Influenza, but homeopathics and essential oils cancel each other, so I felt like it was best to stick with what I had already begun.

Pregnancy Complication

OK, so if I gave this to you in a blow by blow, it would be a long story of misery, so I’ll summarize. I was sicker for longer, much longer, than anyone else in my family. I assume this is because I am pregnant. My fever and tachycardia lasted for 5 days/nights without breaking, then returned for a few hours on days 6 and 7. I am new to Essential Oils, but I was very impressed with the use of Peppermint for fever (see below).

The exhaustion was so profound, I stayed in bed from days 1-9, except to go to the bathroom. Days 10-12 I spent mostly in bed, with a few trips to other parts of the house for food and other needs. Days 13- 18 I had to take a long nap or two. During my days in bed, my husband and children rose to the occasion and cared for me, prayed for me, brought me water, food, and whatever else I needed (mostly I slept). Several dear friends brought chicken soup and juice-jello for me and other meals for my family, prayed for me, and watched my children during several days when my husband needed to work. Thank you dear friends! What would we do without community? I’m so grateful.

My cough developed quickly during the fever so that on the third night, although the mucous in my lungs was loose enough, there was so much of it I felt that I couldn’t get oxygen from my breaths. This was a scary thing to realize at midnight. Again, Peppermint saved the day…I began to apply it each hour (when I woke gasping for air) and it allowed me to breathe. I am certain it kept me out of the ER that night.

My Pregnancy Influenza Protocol

[I am not a health care professional nor licensed to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Please consult with your healthcare provided before beginning any health protocol, especially during pregnancy.]

Essential Oils
As I said, I’m new to essential oils, having only begun using them therapeutically (vs. as aromatics or in cleaners) in October. I am currently using Young Living oils since they are the only company which seemed to have a completely safe track record and the most data on use in pregnancy.

  • “Thieves” oil blend (immune system/antibacterial/antiviral). I used this liberally on my children, and by the time I was ill, realized I was running out. I was able to use it at least once on my feet (2-3 drops) and twice or so as a drop in my cheek. I felt it truly did boost my immune response, and wished I wasn’t running out! I made an oils order, but with the weekend and 3 days of shipping, it didn’t arrive until after my fever/the worst was passed. I did begin taking it a couple times in my cheek each day after receiving my new bottle, through the remainder of my convalescence.
  • “Oregano” oil (antibacterial/antiviral). I used this liberally (3-4 drops) on my feet, perhaps 4x day, against the virus and to ward off bacterial pneumonia.
  • “Peppermint” oil (fevers/airways/sinus). I used this liberally on my feet, over Oregano, to reduce fever and clear my airways. It consistently reduced my fever by 2 degrees; 102 to 100, or 101 to 99. For this use, I applied it about every 3 hours. My mother (sick with Influenza a few weeks before) reported that Tylanol (Acetaminophen) did not reduce her fever (103 and higher) at all, but that Peppermint oil on her feet reduced it by 2 degrees, as it did for me. Additionally, I used peppermint liberally on my feet about every 1-2 hours on the night when I had difficulty in breathing/lungs. I took it as a drop in the mouth to help ease/drain my congested sinuses.
  • “Lemon” oil (loosens and thins mucous). To avoid pneumonia, it was important for my cough to be as effective as possible. At one point I felt that the phlegm was too thick to cough out of my lungs, so I began to put a drop or two of lemon oil in my water. It was very helpful in thinning the mucous. I began to run low on the lemon, so alternated between the oil and drinking the juice of a whole lemon or lime plus a TB or so of maple syrup in a 12oz glass of water. At this point, it was difficult for me to eat much of any food, and this drink is a good nourishing drink.
  • “PanAway” oil blend. I used this liberally on my rib area to relieve the muscle pain associated with coughing and with strain from laying on my sides for so long (pregnant belly pull!).
  • “Frankincense” oil (antibacterial) and “Purification” oil blend (antibacterial). When most congested in my lungs, I used 3-4 drops of Frankincense over my lung area, then covered with Purification. And I made myself cough whenever the urge arose, regardless of the pain to my ribs and head which was suffering a splitting headache. Like a fever, a good cough is your friend during illness.
  • “Joy” oil blend (cardiac/calming). I used this (2 drops) with Frankincense over my heart to help end the tachycardia (see below).
  • “Eucalyptus” oil (sinus). This oil was one I had on hand from years ago when I had a sinus infection. It was not from Young Living so I did not want to take in internally/topically, and after several years it has likely lost it’s potency, but I diffused it in my room for whatever benefit it may have given my congested sinuses.

Breaking the Fever

After 5 days/nights of fever and tachycardia I was exhausted. I just felt like I needed to break the fever and let my heart calm down. Those that are not pregnant can do the “cold sock therapy” or the “wet sheet therapy” but I did not feel that these kinds of shock would be good for me/baby. After consulting with my midwife who advised that Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is safer for the fetus than Ibuprofen (Advil), I took a single 500mg Acetaminophen and took a warm Epsom Salt bath with clove oil (again, my clove is several years old and not therapeutic grade, but I used it for whatever residual help it may have given). Epsom salt baths are helpful in drawing toxins out of the body, relaxing the muscles, and providing the body with some magnesium which is an immune stimulant and helps clear lungs, among other things.

After the bath, and an hour after taking the Acetaminophen, the fever had only lowered a slight amount, and the tachycardia was still present. I reapplied the peppermint oil on my feet, and used a few drops of Joy and Frankincense on my heart. Finally, the fever broke and my heart rate slowed to about 70bpm. I woke in the middle of the night and felt that my heart rate was beginning to speed up…this is odd, but by just reaching out and touching my sleeping husband with my hand, it calmed down again.

The following two afternoons I again had a fever, this time low grade (99). I used the peppermint again, and it did not seem to reduce it immediately, but the fever only lasted about 2 hours.

Lifestyle

  • I stayed in bed to use all energy for fighting the virus and symptoms. I feel this was vital.
  • I drank water or herbal tea. My goal was the same 75oz I had been drinking, but it became really hard for me to drink more than 6oz at a time, and I know I probably didn’t drink my goal on any given day. A few times I took a TB of liquid chlorophyll in my water.
  • As I stated, several dear friends brought homemade chicken soup (the kind made with the whole carcass so it is very nourishing) to our home, and one made juice-jello. For the first 5 days or so my husband brought the soup to me pureed in a mug so I could drink it, which takes less effort than spooning; after that time he brought it in a bowl. The juice-jello is made by adding pure gelatin to juice, honey, and in this case pureed strawberries. It makes for a protein rich snack which goes down easily. There were several times during my fever where I felt like my body/baby were truly hungry, although I couldn’t imagine eating anything more than broth and jello. It was really important for me to continue to supply protein and calories to my growing baby. My breakfast meals were either the jello or kefir/flax oil/banana/strawberry smoothies. Still, I lost 7lbs the first week.
  • I coughed, as often and as effectively as I could.
  • I took a total of 3 Epsom Salt baths, starting on the day after I began waking at night drenched in sweat, which is a sign the body is trying to clear all the toxins created by the virus dying off. Upon waking in sweat, I stripped off the wet clothes, scrubbed my skin vigorously with a dry terrycloth towel (which helps to remove toxins), dressed, and went back to sleep.
  • I blew my nose gently and snorted and spit often into tissue while in bed. And I used a Netti Pot with sea salt flush to clear my nose once during a shower. I also used a whole dropper full of my eucalyptus oil in the shower (floor) as a steam inhalation (only had strength for 1 shower during those two weeks). I used the Xlear nasal spray often to loosen nasal mucous and moisten the irritated/dry sensation in my sinuses.

Nutriceuticals

Vitamin A (Palmitate)

Vitamin A is contraindicated in pregnancy. The original study upon which this recommendation was based was quite flawed, asking women to remember after pregnancy what their supplemental and dietary intake had been. Since that time, some studies have established birth defects associated with excess intake during the first trimester.

However, vitamin A seems to be the most effective agent for avoiding the cytokine storm reaction in certain Influenzas; it has immune modulating properties, and is quite specific to mucous membranes (lung tissue cells).

[Beta Carotene is often confused with vitamin A; most people convert beta carotene into vitamin A, but some do so poorly, in which case eating animal foods where it has already been converted, like eggs, butter, and liver, is a good idea nutritionally. I know I’m one of those people who poorly convert (one symptom of poor conversion is keratosis pilaris; bumps on the back of the arms). Beta Carotene is considered safe in pregnancy at moderate levels in prenatals, and of course can be obtained through eating yellow, orange, and green fruits and vegetables. But for use during illness, you need a higher dosage than is available in food. ]

I weighed these risks and benefits with my midwife, and chose to take a high dosage of vitamin A for 3 days, then discontinue. I took 50,000IU drops (Biotics Research) in one dose during each of those 3 days. I was 27 weeks pregnant, well beyond the first trimester/fragile genetic reproduction time.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D is recommended in pregnancy, and I had been taking 10,000IU in drops (Biotics Research) daily. When ill, I increase the dosage to 25,000 IU of vitamin D3 for 3 days, then dropped back to 10,000 IU daily.

NAC

In my first phone conversation to my midwife, she recommended I take NAC, which she said has some evidence of protective effect for a fetus during maternal virus/fever. I took 500mg NAC immediately following the phone call. I forgot to take this after the initial dosage, but probably should have taken it each day I had fever.

Prenatal/Cal/Mag/Zinc/B12/Folic Acid/Vitamin C

I was pretty out of it, so although I planned to continue to take my prenatal and other daily supplements while sick, I’m not sure I got them in each day. It was also an issue of remembering to ask someone to bring them upstairs to me . . . I know I did take my prescription thyroid and adrenal insufficiency medications . . . any other supplements were just for good measure. I know I drank several glasses of water with Vit. C/Magnesium powder. It was pretty random.

Modified Myer’s Cocktail

On day 9 I kept a previously scheduled appointment for an iron IV at the office of my MD/ND, Daniel Newman. I was fortunate that I was there during his lunch break and he was able to listen to my lungs. He noted I had not developed pneumonia, but because of my wheezing and continued weakness, he recommended I take a high potency vitamin/mineral IV immediately following the iron infusion, which I did. I don’t know exactly what he prescribed for it, but it did include magnesium, vit. C, and B12.

Elderberry/Royal Jelly Syrup

When I became ill, my mother quickly ordered a fantastic Elderberry Syrup to be shipped to me. It came around the same time as the Essential Oils which I had run out ; after the fever and the worst was passed. Nonetheless, I began to take 2tsp. 2 or 3 times per day, and felt that it helped me to recover. It’s delicious, so you won’t have trouble if you need to give it to a child!

And I lived.

Vegetable Cleanses

[This is the second post in a series. Check out the introduction post on cleansing diets here.]

Now let’s take a look at some specific cleanses. These are all cleanses I have tried, or a close family member has tried, so what I share is just my personal opinion and experience, is not medical advice, and should in no way replace the recommendation of your trusted physician.

Vegetable and/or Fruit only Cleanses, including:

  • Vegetable juicing: using a juicing appliance to extract the juice from vegetables and fruits. A great deal of vegetable nutrients can be consumed in a small amount of juice, however the tendency to use sweet veggies and fruits (i.e. carrots and apples) can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes and exacerbate candida overgrowth.
  • Raw Vegetables: mainly a raw vegetable  cleanse, can include raw juices. Some people eat “raw” as a lifestyle, and often include nuts and raw dairy, which are often avoided for a cleanse. The idea is to benefit from the live enzymes in the raw veggies, which help to break them down. However, raw vegetables can still be difficult to digest in persons without sufficient supply of enzymes for breaking down fiber and other plant carbohydrates.
  • Vegetable soup cleanses: another variation on vegetable cleanses. More vegetables can be consumed than in a raw cleanse, but enzymes are destroyed in cooking. More fiber than a juice cleanse.
  • Grape cleanse: when only grapes and water are eaten. The high sugar content may exacerbate candida or other fungal overgrowth.
  • Seneca Indian 4 day cleanse: a combination of all the above: day 1 raw fruit only but no bananas, day 2 herbal teas with maple syrup only, day 3 vegetables of all kinds: juice, raw or in soup, day 4 rich vegetable broth only.

Unless you are using organic vegetables, you can forget it as a detox. Other than the detox properties of the cleanse (with organic only), vegetable cleanses seem to focus cleansing on the colon. Since this organ stores and then moves waste out of the body, it would seem a logical organ needing a periodic cleaning. A few days to a week has been more than sufficient in my experience, however every body is different. Note that “cleaning out the colon” does not mean that flora imbalances are corrected: if you have overgrowth of Candida (fungal) or harmful bacteria, this kind of cleanse will not correct that (you will likely need a combination of herbal and/or pharmaceutical medicines and probiotic supplements supervised by a doctor, with follow-up testing to confirm efficacy). Vegetable cleanses are excellent for breaking food cravings.

Cleansing and/or detoxing while pregnant and breastfeeding is not recommended, since toxins will be mobilized and could harm a baby in the womb or at the breast. This can be very frustrating for women in the middle of childbearing years, especially when they plan to nurse beyond a year with each baby, and find breastfeeding and pregnancies come back to back. I have been told by a Midwife whom I trust that the only “cleansing diet” she recommends to her moms is a raw vegetable/salads with lemon diet for one week while nursing (not pregnant). However, this should only be done after the milk supply is well established (perhaps after 6 mo. postpartum of full-time nursing). I did try this with my first baby, but had a hard time feeling satiated/getting enough calories, so I gave it up after 2 days.

There is no doubt: vegetables are good for us. However, I do not advocate vegan or vegetarian diets as healthy: they just haven’t held up to science or to my own experience. And don’t think that only vegetables help us detox; meat protein contains many amino acids not found in veggies . . . amino acids which detox certain kinds of chemicals accumulated or manufactured in our bodies. So (as I state in the intro post on this topic) the best cleanse is a long-term clean balanced diet.

Your body is detoxing every single day, whether you are on a special diet or not! Another way to approach the long-term detox lifestyle is to purposefully include more of the detox powerhouses into your diet:

Foods that enhance liver detox:

  • asparagus
  • grapefruit
  • artichokes
  • all dark leafy greens: kale, spinach, romaine, chard
  • onions
  • garlic
  • olive oil

Foods that enhance kidney detox:

  • cranberry
  • lemon
  • water, water, water (only purified)
  • cucumber

While systematically removing detox blockers from your everyday diet:

  • any kind of heated vegetable oil, such as found in fried chips, baked chips, french fries, box cookies
  • refined sugar
  • conventional dairy

Up next: some fasts and more specific cleanses.

Six and Twenty Blackbirds, Baked in a Pie

OK, so I didn’t have black birds, just a turkey. But turkeys have a lot of meat, so after the initial roasted turkey meal, I usually do a lot of soup, sandwiches, and an occasional casserole.

But after such success with my GF pie crust, I decided to make a turkey pot pie.

Oh Yum.

I sauteed onion in butter, added GF flour, salt and pepper, simmered with turkey bone broth and some leftover GF gravy. I layered this in a GF pie crust with cut up turkey dark meat and peas and carrots. Baked until golden and flakey.

That’s comfort food.

 

Bone Broth: Body Builder

Homemade broth has become a lost tradition of good cooking, and good health. Bullion cubes, with their dubious list of ingredients (hydrolized fat, lots of salt, chicken “flavor”?), and watered-down boxed broth, are in common use for instant flavor in soups and other recipes, but they boast none of the amazing health benefits of their predecessor, true bone broth.

Centuries of chefs have prized a good stock (their term for broth) as the basis for soups, sauces, and glazes, and centuries of mothers and grandmothers have prized it as the best immune-boosting food for the sick and invalid. Chicken soup used to be known as the “Jewish penicillin” as it was standard treatment for the ill in the Jewish community.

But bone broth is not just for the sick; it’s for building healthy bodies and strong bones. By slow cooking bones over several days, the mineral elements of the bones are leached into the broth and broken down for easy absorption by the human body. If the bones being cooked have cartilage attached to them, this is also broken down into easily absorbed gelatin, which directly nourishes the intestines, and then the joints of the body. Marrow inside the bones dissolves into the broth, providing nourishment for the immune system and building blood.

And the good news is, bone broth is easy to make in a crock pot, and is made from ingredients which you are likely already just throwing away!

Bone broth can be made from any bones: red meat, poultry, or fish. I have not made a fish version, but I plan to with the next “whole” fish I have (and then I’ll delve into oriental soup). Chicken and Beef broths are my staples, as these meats are the most common in my home (turkey broth only gets made once or twice a winter, when we have a holiday feast).

Obviously, the more nutrient-dense the animal that you are cooking, the more nutrient-dense the food will be. So bones from organic free-range poulty, and organic grass fed beef/lamb or wild shot game will yield a better broth.

Poultry Broth
Read my recipe for Poultry Broth, which is the basis for innumerable soups, or can be thickened with potato starch or wheat flour to substitute as “cream of chicken soup” in casseroles.

Beef Broth
Read my recipe for Beef/Game Broth, which is the basis for beef flavored soups, including my favorite, French Onion Soup, and can be used for sauces, glazes, and gravies.

Poultry Broth

Plan to make chicken (or other poulty) broth immediately after roasting a whole bird. I like to roast a chicken for dinner, and as each person cuts the meat off their respective bones, they put the bones back into the roasting pan (casual family dinner). After dinner, remove the roasting pan to the kitchen, and remove all the remaining meat from the carcass. If it was properly roasted, the meat should be sliding off the bones. Refrigerate or freeze the meat separately as an addition to a future soup or casserole.

Place the rest of the carcass and the drippings from the pan into a large crock pot. (Wait, aren’t those drippings just a bunch of fat? No, there’s a lot of good gelatin in there too, and don’t worry, you’ll have a chance to skim the fat off later.) Add enough purified water (3-5 qts) to cover the carcass by 1 inch (you may break up the rib cage to fit in better; a turkey carcass may need to have one half frozen for a second batch). Add 2 tsp. of apple cider vinegar; this acidifies the water and causes more leaching of minerals from the bones.

Turn the crock pot on high. After an hour or two, when you notice that the water has heated thoroughly, turn down the crock pot to low, and let slow cook for 24-48 hours. If you see skum form on the top of the broth during cooking, carefully skim away and discard. If you wish, you can add spare ends of vegetables during cooking. . . a carrot end here, extra chopped onions there. This will add richer flavor, but is unnecessary.

When the broth is finished, you should be able to easily crush a chicken drumstick bone with a spoon. Remove chicken carcass with a slotted spoon, and discard. Place a sieve over a funnel fitted into a quart size glass canning jar. Ladle broth through sieve into jar, leaving about 1.5 inches at the top. Continue to fill additional jars until all broth is stored; cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, you will notice a hardened white layer at the top in each jar; this is fat, and may be removed with a spoon and discarded. As you remove it, you’ll notice that the broth under it is actually Jello-like in consistency. This is caused by the minerals and gelatin which are suspended in water.

Freeze all the jars of broth which you will not use within the next 2 days. Defrost in the refrigerator 1 day prior to use.

Poultry broth is the basis for innumerable soups, or can be thickened with potato starch or wheat flour to substitute as “cream of chicken soup” in casseroles.

Update January 2013: For the last year I have been using a single lemon, halved as a substitute for the apple cider vinegar, with a more pleasing end flavor.

Beef or Game Broth

Each year, we invest in a quarter of beef from a local ranch which humanely raises cattle on a grainless diet (grass fed). The butcher offers the bones to us, and I always say yes, as these “discards” are my little nutrient goldmine! The bones, all shank or knuckle/joint bones, are cut into 2-5 inch lengths and bundled in bags.

Maybe you’ve had similar bones in your freezer, and you’ve wondered what on earth to do with them. Here’s what you do:

Place one large, or two small, beef bones into a large crock pot. Fill with enough purified water to cover bones by 1 inch (3-5 qts?). Add 2 Tb. red wine (vinegar can be used, but I find that it fights the beef flavor); this acidifies the water and causes more leaching of minerals from the bones.

Turn the crock pot on high. After an hour or two, when you notice that the water has heated thoroughly, turn down the crock pot to low, and let slow cook for 24-48 hours. If you see skum form on the top of the broth during cooking, carefully skim away and discard. If the marrow of the bone is exposed from the bone cut, you will notice after a day that it has become soft. Scoop it from the bone, mash into the broth, and continue to cook it down.

When the broth is finished, you should notice that the bones have seemed to shrink slightly in size, and that they appear quite porous as so much of their minerals have been leached into the broth. Remove bones with a slotted spoon, and discard. Place a sieve over a funnel fitted into a quart size glass canning jar. Ladle broth through sieve into jar, leaving about 1.5 inches at the top. Continue to fill additional jars until all broth is stored; cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, you will notice a hardened white layer at the top in each jar; this is fat, and may be removed with a spoon and discarded. As you remove it, you’ll notice that the broth under it is actually Jello-like in consistency. This is caused by the minerals and gelatin which are suspended in water.

Freeze all the jars of broth which you will not use within the next 2 days. Defrost in the refrigerator 1 day prior to use.

Beef broth is the basis for beef flavored soups, including my favorite, French Onion Soup, and can be used for sauces, glazes, and gravies.