Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season, Part 1


 It seems that everywhere I go right now, I hear people talking about being sick, recovering from being sick, or trying to avoid getting sick. There are many things you can do at home to treat a cold or flu, and we’ll go over some of them later, but first I want to talk about the best possible treatment, and that is prevention. When everyone around you is sick, don’t wait until you get the sniffles or a scratchy throat, treat the cold before you get it.

The best way to do this is to keep your digestion in prime condition. It is thought that up to 70% of the body’s immune system is in the gastro-intestinal tract. That’s right. The majority of your immune power lives in your gut. In Chinese medicine, healthy digestive Qi supports the defensive Qi, and a common treatment for the first stages of a cold is to warm the digestive system to induce a sweat. Keeping your digestive system healthy and warm (in most traditional healing cultures, the digestion needs warmth to function properly) is the first line of defense against any external invaders.

What can you do right now to keep yourself healthy?

1) Get lots of rest and drink plenty of water. When your body is fighting something, you use up more energy and need more sleep to recouperate. Winter is a restful time, and naturally compels us to hibernate, which is what most of nature is doing during this time of year. Now is not the time to party hardy or burn the candle at both ends. Replenish your reserves by getting a minimum of 8 hours of sleep each night. Drinking water throughout the day (not juice or coffee or soda either, just plain water) hydrates your cells and keeps them nice and resiliant. The body functions more smoothly when it is hydrated and is vital to healthy immune response. How much is enough? Most health professionals agree that 6-8 glasses a day is enough, though some purport that drinking half your weight in ounces is a better and more personalized system. For instance, someone who weighs 140lbs would drink 70 oz. of water per day, or 2 liters.

2) Take a probiotic. This helps keep your intestinal tract in optimal shape and ready to respond to pathogens. Taking an antibiotic is sometimes necessary and can be life saving, and it is important to remember that it not only kills the invading bacteria but also kills off the beneficial flora present in the intestines. The intestines are an amazing little ecosystem that do a tremendous amount of work. There is a delicate balance between the friendly bacteria which help to break down and assimilate food, produce vit. B12, fight fungal invaders, and assist in the body’s overall immune response.

3) Eat warm, cooked food. Some raw food is recommended, especially if it is fermented (more probiotic power), but in general, cooked food is easier to digest and assimilate. The Chinese system calls the digestive power the Spleen and Stomach, and the Spleen likes warmth and dryness. Soups are really the best at offering easy to digest nutrients, which is why they are given when we get sick. If you start eating more soups, especially soups made with homemade bone broth (which is the number one thing you can eat to improve all areas of health), your digestion will be so strong that you will shrug off any sneeze or cough aimed in your direction.

4) Take Jade Screen (yu ping feng san) before any symptoms show. This Chinese formula helps boost your protective Qi and keep you impervious to colds. However, it is important that if you do start showing symptoms of a cold or flu, you stop this formula immediately and start treating the infection. This formula essentially ‘locks’ the exterior of the body, where pathogens enter, but if one gets through it can “trap the robber inside”. Talk to your acupuncturist about this formula, as it is not appropriate for everyone, but can make a big difference for those who need it.

5) Eat lots of nutrient-dense foods. My favorites are kale, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, bone broth, and cod-liver oil. Yes, just like your Grandma used to use. Cod-liver oil is incredibly high in vitamins A and D, both of which contribute to a healthy immune system. Vitamin D is particularly important to the proper function of the immune system, and is shown to prevent auto-immune disorders and possibly even cancer. Kale is a nutritional powerhouse, full of Vit K, beta-carotene (the precursor to Vit A) and shares cancer-fighting compounds with its other brassica relatives. The energetics of kale is bitter and warm, and it helps to ease lung congestion. Mushrooms are powerful immune boosters, especially the shitake and maitake types. Garlic fights infections of all kinds, is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and supports the cardiovascular system. Ginger warms the digestive system and in high doses, induces sweating to relieve exterior invasions.

6) Cut out the sugar and reduce the dairy products. This is important for everyone, and I will go into the details of why at a later date. But for the purposes of colds and flus, sugar feeds bacteria. Sure, both colds and flus are viral, but they very easily cause secondary infections like sinusitis, bronchitis, or ear infections. Which I’m sure all of us would like to avoid. By reducing sugar, and this includes reducing fruit intake as well (even oranges and orange juice, which are more sugar than they are vit. C), you are denying the bacteria a good supply line that lets them multiply and take over. In Chinese medicine speak sugar, fruit, and dairy are all Damp forming and cause the body to produce more mucous.

Doing these  simple things at home can keep you well during cold and flu season, and should you happen to fall sick, can help improve your recovery time.

Next time we’ll talk about what to do if you’re already sick and want to recover quickly.

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