Tomorrow will be our first day of snow in New York City this fall, so this is a good time to share with you some of my favorite strategies to stay healthy during the cold and flu season. Colds and the flu are caused by a variety of viruses that we’re constantly exposed to. When we’re stressed and exhausted, our resilience is often compromised and our immune system is less effective keeping infections at bay. The result: we develop a cold (rhinoviruses), or worse, the flu (Influenza viruses). In Chinese medicine we describe this as an invasion of an external pathogenic factor that overwhelms the protective Qi, the energy that circulates in the surface layer of the body. It sounds a little more poetic but boils down to almost the same thing.
Our goal is to keep our immune systems in tiptop shape this time of year. The number one strategy—and the one most often ignored—is to get enough quality sleep. A lot of important house cleaning and repair happens in your body during sleep and if those processes are impaired, your immunity suffers and you’re more likely to get sick.
Next up is spending time outside. Playing in the outdoors when the weather gets colder will stimulate your body to become more adaptable to temperature changes and improve your resilience. Don’t avoid exposing your body to colder temperatures by wearing too many layers. Keep moving and just make sure you don’t sit around when you’re sweaty because you will get cold faster than if you’re dry.
As you may know, good nutrition plays an important role in Chinese medicine. In fact, we don’t even think that herbs and acupuncture can accomplish much in the long run if our patients will not also make necessary improvements to their eating habits. One general rule for the colder season is that you should increase the proportion of cooked, warming foods relative to raw, cooling foods in your diet. This is the time of year when teas, soups and stews are preferable over juices, fresh fruit and salads. You can also be more generous in your use of fats, especially olive oil and coconut oil, because they will help keep you warm in the winter.
Regular acupuncture treatments and moxibustion, the burning of mugwort at suitable acupuncture points, can improve the functioning of your immune system. You can also make saunas and dry brushing part of your routine.
Another popular form of energy medicine, at least where I am from, is homeopathy. You can use Oscillococcinum to help prevent catching a cold when everyone around you starts sneezing. A number of other homeopathic medicines are used to relieve symptoms of the cold, such as sinusitis and cough. Homeopathy is especially safe and suitable for children.
Finally, I use two strategies of Chinese herbal medicine to prevent and treat colds and more severe respiratory infections. For prevention I recommend the famous herbal preparation called Jade Screen to many of my patients who’ve had recurrent issues in the past. One of the main ingredients, astragalus, is also widely used in Western botanical medicine and recognized for its ability to support immune resilience. Jade Screen, however, is not the appropriate approach to treat an acute infection. In this case, you have several choices of classic herbal formulas from the Chinese medicine tradition that have been used for centuries to treat the various manifestations of respiratory infections safely and effectively. To choose the appropriate formula and know how much to take, I recommend that you visit your Chinese medicine practitioner as soon as possible when you develop symptoms. Starting herbal therapy without delay is your best chance to avoid prescription antibiotics and get back on your feet quickly.
Lastly, make sure to get enough vitamin C, preferably from your diet but if that’s not enough, consider adding a whole foods supplement. I usually recommend 500mg daily for most people. I increase this to about 2000mg per day (or more) when I’m fighting off a cold. People with kidney stones need to be careful, though, and higher dosages often just result in “expensive urine” because your body doesn’t store vitamin C efficiently and excretes what it can’t use right away.
I hope this is a useful reminder of general strategies that can be useful to keep you and your family in good shape as we’re heading into the cold and flu season.
© 2017 Christiane Siebert