West meets East: 10 tips to prevent illness from our naturopathic physician, Dr. Laura Dr. Laura Wollman N.D. and acupuncturist Jon Conant LaC.

“Give your immune health a good fist bump!”

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The best way to prevent illness during the change of weather is to make sure your lifestyle habits are in line with promoting optimum health and vitality.  This includes sleep, diet, exercise, stress reduction and others.  Naturopathic physicians are trained to help people remove what are termed "obstacles to cure," essentially, what is preventing you from being as healthy as you can be?  When you visit a naturopathic doctor, they look at all aspects of your health including your physical, mental, emotional and social health to investigate which areas could use some support.  Here’s a quick checklist of natural and lifestyle remedies to maintain your health this winter:

1. Sleep

Is sleep listed #1 because it’s the most important? Possibly! You are three times more likely to contract a cold when exposed to a virus if you sleep less than seven hours compared with people who sleep eight hours or more. This may be because when we sleep we produce more T cells and cytokines, which are cells that help our immune systems and fight infection. Sleep also helps our bodies mount a fever, which is an important defense mechanism against bacteria and viruses.

2. Probiotics

There are numerous systems in the body that benefit from a healthy probiotic flora, including boosting your first line defenses against sickly invaders. Probiotics decrease the incidence, duration, and severity of respiratory illnesses as well as the duration and severity of the common cold. It also helps with the treatment of diarrhea in cases of gastroenteritis. Probiotics are found in supplement form as well as in fermented foods such as yogurt or kefir, raw sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and tempeh. If you suspect you have any dairy sensitivities you may want to stick with non-dairy sources.

3. Chicken Soup

Chicken and vegetable soup, particularly when flavored with particular medicinal herbs. 'The Science of Chicken Soup' is another example of science catching up with tradition. Chicken soup is full of nutrition from foods that can fortify a person and their immune system, and certain herbs and veggies can be added to clear the sinuses and throat, ease digestion, and boost energy.

4. Food

Naturopathic medicine suggests we avoid sugar, simple carbohydrates, and trans fats -are particularly important during the winter months when our immune systems need to be in top form. Sugar both has the ability to inhibit immune cells that help fight infection while at the same time feed the bacteria and viruses that cause them. When the weather starts to turn, go with soups, stews, and stir-fries with lots of fresh herbs, mushrooms, and garlic. Brightly colored fruits and veggies also contain many antioxidant compounds that can help our body’s function their best.

Eastern medicine tells us to keep your Lung and Spleen Qi happy. Some of the best things for these organs and the qi they contribute to your immunity are what NOT to do.  Alcohol, sweets, greasy, carb-rich, or excessively spicy foods can bog down these organs and your defenses, so pass on them as much as possible during this season.  Light and easy to digest foods keep this type of qi strong and moving fluidly.  A touch of spice, such as from peppers, can stimulate your Lung Qi; however too much can harm it.

Focus on warm foods for the fall and winter. Keeping your body and digestion warm and percolating will keep the cold, damp Pacific NW weather from weakening your immune health.  In Chinese Medicine, it's been observed that cold and flu can ride into the body with the cold damp weather, and protecting yourself from it will prevent the pathogens from entering your system. Stay warm and reasonably dry, including on the inside from the digestive system's perspective.

5. Garlic & other herbs

Garlic has been termed “Russian penicillin” because it was used to fight infections in Russian soldiers during WWII once the actual penicillin ran out. This herb has powerful antimicrobial activity and has been shown to reduce the likelihood of catching a cold. All forms of garlic are encouraged during the winter months weather it be cooked in soups, stews, and stir-fries, or even eaten raw. Chopping up and taking one as if it were a pill each day of the winter months or when you feel a cold coming on is a terrific way of boosting your immune system.

Add garlic, ginger and green onions to at the end of cooking a dish or soup, and you'll have a powerful way to open your nose and sinuses and elevate the clarity of your senses. Ginger and garlic in particular have great antimicrobial effects. Oregano, sage, and rosemary are antimicrobial and antioxidant.

6. Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy involves using water of different temperatures to affect blood flow and, in regards to immunity, increase our white blood cell count. The simplest way to do this is ending showers with cool or, if you can stand it, cold water. The colder the water the greater the effect it will have. The application of cold constricts blood vessels on our bodies surface and sends it to our core acting as a secondary pump, the primary pump being your heart, and getting that blood flowing. Start slow if you aren’t used to this, even ending with slightly cooler water than your normal shower temperature will help.

7. Practice good hygiene

Frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, mouth and ears, the easiest points of entry for germs. Contrary to what you may hear conventionally, it is not necessary to use antibacterial soaps to rid your hands of germs and in fact many of these soaps contain triclosan, which is a toxic ingredient that has detrimental effects on the endocrine system. Studies have shown plain old soap and water should do the trick. Just make sure you wash for a full minute or two. Be sure to wash your hands after shaking hands (if a fist bump won’t do) and especially after sneezing or coughing.

8. Chinese Herbal Medicine

Depending on your constitutional state and symptoms, your acupuncturist/herbalist can share the formula that suits your particular needs.  Whether it's a foundational boost to your immune system, or clearing symptoms and germs, herbs prescribed specific to you can offer you protection and relief, without the side effects and toxicity of common over the counter medications.  The Chinese herbal pharmacopeia is vast and can offer much help.

Panax or Asia Ginseng is often used in herbal medicine for states of fatigue, high stress, or adrenal burnout. It also decreases our susceptibility to come down with illnesses. The recommended dosage is 100 mg per day for 6 months starting in October. Don’t take this herb if you have a fever or acute infection. Talk to your doctor if you have an autoimmune disease, diabetes, or are pregnant before taking this herb.

9. Natural Supplements

While each body is different and no two prescriptions are alike, here are a few natural supplements known to support a healthy immune system.

NAC

N-acetyl cysteine is a slightly modified version of the amino acid cysteine. It is a precursor to glutathione, one of the most potent antioxidants in our body. It is commonly used as an antidote to Tylenol overdose as well as in lung infections to break up and thin out mucus. However, there has been some great research on its ability to help prevent and reduce symptoms of the flu. The recommended dosage is 600 mg twice a day during the winter months.

Andrographis

This herb is also known as “Indian Echinacea” and has commonly been used as a cold and flu preventer. This herb is best taken before peak cold and flu season, so start in November and take it until March. The recommended dosage is 200 mg per day for 5 days of each week. Talk to your doctor if you have an autoimmune disease or are pregnant before taking this herb.

Vitamin D

The effects of vitamin D on our body are varied and numerous, but in relation to our immune systems, studies have shown those deficient in vitamin D are more likely get infections. 2000 ius per day during the winter months are safe for most adults. If you have never had your vitamin D tested it’s a good idea to do so as you may need a higher dosage.

10. Get some old wisdom from your your Acupuncturist or Naturopathic Physician

Get your tongue and pulse checked!  Acupuncture boosts the immune system to prevent illness, and shortens its duration if it happens to manifest.  It also excels at treating the pesky symptoms associated with cold and flu, such as fatigue, congestion, headache, cough, and sore throat.  Other treatments, such as cupping and moxa, can also help stop illness in it's tracks.  Historically, it's been used for centuries to prevent or relieve infectious illnesses, and modern research shows it increases activity of the immune system, particularly in the action and proliferation of many types of the cells involved with preventing/clearing infections.

When visiting a naturopathic doctor or acupuncturist before cold and flu season, you can fortify your immune system to protect you for the upcoming winter - and will ensure you are prepared to tackle life stressors in every season.

Comments? Questions? Email Acupuncturist Jon Conant jonc@rootwholebody.com or Naturopathic Physician Laura Wollman lauraw@rootwholebody.com.

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