Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tips for staying healthy in the last few weeks of flu season

Much of what can be said about boosting the immune is based on lifestyle changes, such as eating whole nourishing foods, sleeping more, reducing stress, drinking less coffee/alcohol/soda, blah, blah, blah.... We all know about these changes we can make and how we should have started them back when we we born. But that's not where we are now, and even the person who does these things gets sick. What we can do is look at where we are at and make some easy modifications that can help.

Basically, the things that depress the immune system are the same things that tend to make our bodies feel off or even just kind of blah. These feelings are often dismissed as getting older and not being a teenager anymore. Fatigue, illness, poor nutrition, stress, pain, are all signs of poor health, not necessarily signs of the dreaded aging. What tends to happen is that all of these stressors quite literally slow and cool the body down. They weaken the immune system and all normal body functions. Body temperature needs to be robust to keep metabolic function active and to ward off disease. Most of recommendations and personal practices reflect this.

  • Dress appropriately and comfortably for the weather and the inside temperatures where you live and work. Take specific care of the parts of your body that feel cold or stress most. If you have cold hands and feet take extra care that they are warm and protected. If you have neck or lower back pain (stress signs) take care to keep those areas warm, whether it's with a scarf or a longer jacket. Scarves are my favorite thing in the world! I have quite a collection. I will wear a warm one outside and a lighter one inside in the winter. I have been known to wear them in the summer as well because of too cold air conditioning. In TCM, illness often enters the body at the nape of the neck or via the kidney area, so protecting those areas and keeping them warm is important.

  • Eat warming foods. This is not the time for a quick lunch of a sandwich or salad. You want warming, dare I say hot, foods to get your temperature up. Soups are awesome here, especially ones made with rich bone broth. If you can get Pho, do it. You can often find chili and various stews at cafes. Hot foods are easy on digestion so your body doesn't have to dedicate lots of resources and blood flow to break down your meal. Meals with hot sauce or wasabi are also appropriate here. Skipping meals will also cool you down so avoid doing that. 

  • Drink hot things and not just coffee. Teas are wonderful and many have been shown to have antiviral effects (even you Lipton). You can go with what you have on hand with green or black tea, flavored, whatever. You can have hot ginger tea with lemon and honey. Use powdered ginger (1/4 -1/2 tsp) or fresh. Add a dash of cloves or cayenne. It warms you up and makes you sweat. Fever is how the body fights infections. If you're already warm you might not get sick if exposed or you may knock it out more quickly. If you already have an herbal tea stash add some elderflower to that ginger tea (AMAZING!), drink elderberry, peppermint, yarrow, monarda, echinacia, chai, reishi, astragalus.... But you already know this. The point is to drink something hot to warm you up and help to flush out any nasties that try to take up residence. Hot water also works. It helps the mucus membranes do their job. 

  • On that note, stop drinking iced things! I know, they're delicious and it's a habit that's hard to break. But bundling up while drinking a smoothie is not really helping anything. You want a smoothie? Make it with thawed or fresh fruit without ice. Still delicious but not a cold rock to your stomach or immune system.

  • If you can, sleep or rest a bit more. Everyone else is trying to give you the plague, so why not stay in instead of going out for drinks. If you do go out remember elementary school when we were all told not to share food or drinks. It's a good time to remember that. The vodka in your friend's drink won't be enough to prevent her from passing on her flu (that she's totally over) on to you. I don't care how delicious she says it is. 

  • Hot showers and baths can make a difference. If you've been out in the world it is good to feel the heat and get the blood moving. It also helps to wash off anything that may have followed you home. I need to remind my husband of this one all the time: please at least wash your face and hands when you get home, and damn well before you get into bed with me! 

To sum it up, stop freezing your immune system and you'll have a better chance. If you get sick, stay home, stay warm, and take time to recover. Kind of boring advice in a world when everyone is looking for a magic bullet. They don't exist. Sorry. I wish taking elderberry elixir everyday was enough, but it's often not. I know because my whole family got sick this year. They were down for days with fevers and aches. Me, I followed my own advice and never felt more than blah, which says to me I got sick too but was able to clear it fast.

Good luck.


  1. That is one mean looking bacteria! I will be sure to keep warm in this upcoming bug season.