Here are some simple things you can do to boost your immune system, stay strong and help prevent colds and flu’s naturally.
The following are some simple, yet highly effective immune boosters and some common TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) herbs that we use to prevent or at the early onset of a cold or flu to help you fast track it and recover faster.
Eat a whole food based diet.
Yes, we know for so many reasons that fruits and vegetables are good for us…but they really really are! All the micro-nutrients found in whole foods give your body all the little things that it needs to get and stay strong. Certainly focusing on foods naturally high in bioflavonoids and vitamin c (rosehips, blueberries, lemon, bok choy, lightly cooked broccoli, bell peppers, strawberries, garlic, green tea etc.) are helpful to boost your immune system. As are foods naturally high in zinc (pumpkin and squash seeds, oysters, lamb, sesame seeds, dark chocolate, etc.).
Try to get a rainbow when you eat going for a mix of colours and eating organic when ever possible (look to the ‘clean 15 and dirty dozen’ list for the fruits and veggies that are best to organic because of pesticide use).
Unknown to most people, sugar actually decreases your immune system for up 5 (yes FIVE) hours after you have it. If you’re feeling like you’re fighting something or have a full on cold or flu, best to step away from the sweets.
Dairy is one of the biggest culprits for producing mucus in the body. So if you’re one who is chronically congested or coughing up phlegm or if you’ve got a cold, best to lay off the dairy.
As much as you can, make sure you’re getting adequate rest and sleep. Your body recovers, recharges and repairs when you sleep. By missing a few hours regularly, our bodies get stressed and run down. It’s easy to say and harder to do in our culture I know, but when you’re faced with a choice of being busy or perhaps taking a night to yourself, it’s wiser to rest. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, winter is actually the time to take extra time to rest, decrease activity and recharge for the activity that will come from the warmer seasons. Our culture doesn’t seem to listen to the nature ebbs and flows present in nature as much as we often maintain the same pace year round. But, if we can just take a bit of time to check in, most people will probably notice that cozy days curled up by a fire and watching movies, might be more what the doctor ordered than anything else!
Manage your stress
Yah yah, we know. Although all stress isn’t bad (lots of things happen when there’s a bit of a fire under our behinds) but our bodies aren’t meant to exist in a CONSTANT state of stress. When we’re stressed, our bodies go into survival mode, just doing the basics to survive. When we’re in this state, our cells don’t repair, our adrenaline and cortisol levels are high and our bodies unable to heal and recover adequately. By taking more time or making choices as to what you DO with your time can be helpful. And believe it or not, something as simple as taking 5 DEEP belly breathes actually helps your system switch from that ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic nervous system being engaged, to the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system being engaged. Little things really DO make a big difference.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym and sweating it out for hours at a time. Believe it or not walking is one of the best exercises going. Moderately moving or stretching can increase our immune system and decrease stress (which we know can lead to a depressed immune system). Getting bundled up and going outside can actually be one of the best things you can do to boost your immune system in the winter months. In a time of recycled air, underground and dry heat, our bodies react to the extremes in temperature instead of getting acclimatized to it. The key is getting properly dressed keeping feet and neck warm but bundle up and hit the streets for a 20 minute walk. It can be beautiful outside in the winter and when you get the fresh air and movement your immune system gets stronger and healthier too.
Other things to consider:
There are also a couple of herbs we use a lot in TCM to help boost the immune system and general (always check with your practitioner, particularly if you’re on an medications) can be used by most people.
Ren shen (Korean/Siberian Ginseng) or Xi Yan Shen (American Ginseng) – both these are natural immune boosters and can be taken as a preventative measure. If you’re someone who runs hot, is easily irritated etc., you’re best to stick to the American ginseng as it’s not so hot and is a bit better and more moderate for most. We always stock it in our office and can also be used if you’re a bit run down and want to get an extra boost
Huang Qi (astragalus root) – I mentioned this one in the ‘change of season soup’. It can be bought as an individual herb (although we mostly use herbs in a formula) or used as a cooking herb, adding it into soups or stew as you cook to help boost your immune system. We say it boosts your Qi (your vital energy) and works on the lung and digestive systems to help keep you strong
Dang Shen This herb is important in tonifying Qi energy (according to TCM principles). It detoxifies blood. It increases blood and the production of other immunity-important fluids. It is an adoptogen, helping the body to better manage stress. You can also add this one into your cooking to help boost your immune system daily
Gan Mao Ling – this is a patent formula that is easily found in china town and that we always stock at our office. This can be taken at the early onset of a cold or flu and helps to ‘fast track’ it through your system.
Make sure you have adequate levels of vitamin D
Check with a practitioner/your doctor to get your levels checked but the majority of people living in Canada and other darker winter climate need to supplement moderately over the winter months.
Mostly, try to listen to your body, eat well and rest when needed. Visit your practitioner for some support and supplement when needed and hopefully this cold and flu season will leave you alone and in good health.