It’s that time of year, when many of us feel like targets for colds and the flu. While there may be no sure fire way of staying clear of viral infections, also known as “Wind Invasions” in Chinese medicine, there may be some things we can all do to reduce the chances of getting sick.
Vitamins. We need certain nutritional elements to support our immune systems. These include vitamins B6, B-12, folic acid, copper and iron. Also, vitamins A, C, E, zinc and selenium are also helpful, and can be found in Airborne, for example. The good news is that most of us get enough of these vitamins in the foods we eat, but some higher risk patients may not (smokers, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and the elderly). Therefore, a multivitamin is probably sufficient for most of us this time of year.
Green tea. A potent plant derived antioxidant, polyphenol, is contained in green tea. Some studies show one type of polyphenol may actually kill flu viruses, reduce inflammation that can promote disease, and boost cells that help fight off infection. To maximize the benefits, steep the tea in just-below-boiling water, let steep for no more than 1 or 2 minutes, and don’t add milk (proteins bind up the polyphenols rendering them inactive.
Probiotics. So called ‘good bacteria’ found in yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other foods can help protect your immune system, promote digestion, and reduce the chances of developing an intestinal infection. Consuming probiotics regularly can help bolster the ‘good guys’ in the colon by lowering the pH, which also inhibits the disease-causing bacteria. When buying yogurt or kefir, always choose those labeled “Contains live and active cultures”.
Reduce stress. Your body’s ability to fight off an infection goes down as mental and physical stress increase. It’s important to try to ‘drain the stress tank’ every day, through deep breathing exercises, exercise, yoga, meditation, and many other ways of taking time out to slow down, and ‘unplug’, even if for only brief periods through the day. Reducing stress is a topic in and of itself, but it deserves an emphasis here in order to promote a healthy immune system.
Ayurvedic herbs. Indian ginseng (up to 1000 mg twice daily after meals) and tumeric (1000 mg up to 3 times a day) can help bolster your immune system to prevent a cold.
Avoid excess caffeine. Though tempting this time of year, ‘jump starting’ your day with excessive amounts of caffeine can actually stress the adrenal glands, as well as the Kidneys (in Traditional Chinese Medicine). Part of the job of these organs is to nourish the body’s vitality and immune system. Also, cold weather temperatures that winter brings act to weaken Kidney, thereby adding to this immunity ‘drain’. Sticking to ‘decaf’, or at least limiting caffeine, this time of year, may keep you healthier.
Wash your hands. Simple, huh? Cold viruses are spread through the air (think of somebody sneezing without covering their nose), and from contact with contaminated surfaces. Remembering to wash your hands periodically can help reduce the latter. A former Pediatric Infectious Disease professor of mine used to call our fingers the “Ten Vectors of Disease Transmission”.
Acupuncture. Yes, acupuncture. Treatments that help to strengthen, or tonify, the Wei Qi, or Defensive Energy, benefit the immune system by bolstering the ‘first line of defense’, in acupuncture terms. For my clients prone to seasonal respiratory infections I include a regular acupuncture input (dubbed a winterizing treatment) to strengthen the Wei Qi, sometimes combining this with Chinese herbs. I find this approach helpful to bolster a person’s immune system especially before traveling, or in situations where the person has historically become ill (e.g. family gatherings, conferences, where germs are more easily ‘shared’). Treating a person within the first 24-48 hours of an upper respiratory infection onset with acupuncture and herbs can also be an effective way of shortening the duration and reducing the severity of symptoms.