By Dr. Jon Conant, LAc
Even if you’re embracing the ‘yin’ spirit of winter, you can still have a weakened immune system due to various illness spreading from those around you. So, how can you best support your immunity during this time? I’ve rounded up my top ten tips drawn from oriental medicine to get you through the season.
1) Visit your Acupuncturist! Get your tongue and pulse checked by a pro. Acupuncture boosts the immune system to prevent illness, and shortens its duration if it happens to manifest. It also excels at treating the pesky acute symptoms associated with cold and flu, such as fatigue, congestion, headache, cough, and sore throat. Historically, acupuncture has 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. Other treatments, such as cupping and moxa, can also help stop illness in its tracks.
2) 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 pharmacopoeia is vast and can offer much help. Goji berries, a traditional medicine staple for immune enhancement, are shown to boost antibody production at a higher rate when in response to a viral exposure, reduce weight loss and lung damage during flu, and improve T-cell count.
3) Chicken and vegetable soup, particularly when enhanced with particular medicinal herbs. 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) Probiotics through fermented foods or supplements. There are numerous systems in the body that benefit from a healthy probiotic flora, including boosting your first line defenses against sickly invaders. Fermented foods such as live sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kefir or yogurt are excellent to add to your daily intake. 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.
5) Keep your Lung and Spleen Qi happy. They, and the qi they contribute, are the most important organs in your system for the maintenance of a powerful immune system. 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 deplete it. There are also herbs within the Chinese pharmacopoeia that enhance the function of these particular organs to ensure strong defense from invaders. Also, 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. 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, so pass on them as much as possible during this season.
6) The G triad. Fresh ginger, garlic, and green onion. This punchy herbal combo which you can add to broths, stir fries, or your favorite dish at the end of cooking, are powerful herbs to open your nose and sinuses and elevate the clarity of your senses. Besides these benefits, ginger and garlic in particular have great antimicrobial effects. Garlic has also been coined ‘Russian penicillin’, as it has been used throughout history for respiratory infections, as well as treatment for infections in soldiers during WWI and II, and even at times when penicillin was also available. Garlic was highly revered in ancient Egypt to ensure vitality, even valued enough to be entombed with King Tut. Other common household herbs such as oregano, sage, and rosemary have great antimicrobial and antioxidant effects as well.
7) 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, to keep the cold and damp from dragging you and your immune system down.
8) R & R. Sleep is vital. According to Chinese Medicine, it’s healthy to follow the flow of the energy of the seasons, hence it’s great for you to surrender to your body’s impulse to rest as the sun sets. I’m sure the ancient medicine masters would agree that curling up with some warm soup, a blanket, and an early evening of binge watching your favorite tv show, would be a regular necessity to maintain your immune health. 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.
9) Watch those hands! Wash your hands on a regular basis, and try to keep them away from your face. The eyes, nose, mouth, and ears are the easiest points of entry for germs. Offer up a fist bump instead of shaking hands or high-fiving. Not just a long running fad, but an essential to slow the transmission of illness in a community. Bugs tend to dwell in the folds, creases, and warm dank surfaces in the webs of fingers and palms of hands. Fist bumps allow the love, but minimizes sharing bugs. Check out the following articles:
10) Vitamin D. Amazing stuff. Not technically a vitamin, but I digress… Vitamin D is one of your best friends, and has your back to ensure healthy vitality. It can improve mood, help fight cancer, promote bone strength, and of course has immune enhancing benefits. Deficiency of this important…ahem…hormone… is implicated in autoimmune disease, hypertension, heart disease, chronic pain, sleep disorders, and diabetes. It’s challenging to get the recommended 30 min of direct, noon-time sunlight in the depths of Pacific NW winter, so a daily supplement is your best bet; check with one of our experts for a dose that is right for you. We have a great quality version at clinic, we would be happy to hand some off to you and give you a friendly fist bump.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to contact me anytime with thoughts/question, or schedule a treatment.
-Dr. Jon Conant, LAc
Acupuncturist, Oriental Medicine
Jon’s lifelong discovery of medicine and treatment has stemmed from over two decades of continued education and nearly 10 years in health care. His fascination with healing and medicine is shown in his kindness and commitment to his patients, supporting them on their path to health using the transformative wisdom of Asian medicine. Read more about Dr. Jon Conant.