In Part I of our series on avoiding colds and flu, we outlined the shortcomings of the flu vaccine in preventing illness. In this installment, we’ll discuss practical ways to stay healthy as the weather turns cold. Whether you get a flu shot or not, these immune-boosting strategies will undoubtedly serve you well and help you recover faster if you do come down ill.
Slow Down & Stay Warm
The best way to set the stage for overall health is to listen to your body and give it what it wants. If you feel tired, get extra rest and allow yourself to have more downtime at home than you usually do throughout the rest of the year. Overexertion will weaken your immune system and make you more vulnerable to sickness. Care for yourself and others by staying home if you are sick with a cold or the flu.
That said, you should continue to exercise during winter when you’re healthy. Exercise increases your circulation which helps the body adjust to the colder weather. Just be sure to dress appropriately for the elements if you’re exercising outside. The ancient Chinese school of thought is that wind enters your lungs from the back, so it is especially important to keep your upper back and neck covered.
Practice Optimal Hygiene
Washing your hands before meals and after using the restroom is crucial to curbing the spread of germs. If possible, you should also wash your hands after sneezing or coughing. Be sure to regularly wipe down surfaces and doorknobs, especially if you spend a lot of time in a school, medical premises, and other places that expose you to viruses from others.
Maintain a Healthy Diet of Whole Foods & Herbs
Though there are plenty of sweet and savory treats available during this time of year, your chances of avoiding sickness increase substantially by maintaining a proper, balanced diet. Sugary foods, refined carbohydrates, and excessive dairy all reduce immunity. They form mucus in the sinuses and respiratory system which, according to the Chinese, creates an unhealthy dampness in the body.
You should also consume herbs, medicinal mushrooms, and other whole foods that promote immune system tonification, such as honey. Tonification is the name for the various strategies we use to restore and maintain a well-functioning immune system. Of course, every body is different, and that is why we meet with our clients in person to recommend the right blend of herbs for them specifically. We can identify what you need to put in your body this season to stay well. (Please note that if you do become ill, you will need to stop taking your tonification herbs, and a different herbal formula will be prescribed that stimulates the immune system and relieves symptoms. See the section below.)
Offset the Lack of Sunlight with Vitamins & Supplements
Though the CDC doesn’t push this narrative, there is an abundance of research that shows that a vitamin D deficiency may be one of the underlying causes of influenza. In fact, people with deficient levels of vitamin D report being sick from colds, respiratory infections, and the flu far more often than those who consume more vitamin D. Portlanders don’t receive much natural sunlight during the fall and winter, so it’s essential to get the benefits of vitamin D elsewhere.
We also recommend taking a cod liver supplement. Cod liver oil contains both naturally-occurring vitamin D and essential omega-3 fats which boost immunity and reduce inflammation.
Stimulate Your Immune System
There are two parts to maintaining a healthy immune system. Immune system tonification (mentioned above) is vital for preventing illness, and immune system stimulation is critical for fighting off disease when pathogens enter the body. One of the best ways to promote stimulation is through acupuncture. Acupuncture clears energetic blockages and restores the body’s ability to heal from within.
There are also herbs that specifically support immune system stimulation and relieve symptoms. These herbs differ from the ones used for tonification. When you begin to feel sick, come in for a session and we will prescribe you a short-term blend to take in place of your everyday seasonal immune-boosting herbs.