A few days ago, I participated in a Fall Health Panel at BINI Birth in Sherman Oaks, along with Dr. Lauren Feder, MD and homeopath (of Center for Natural Family Medicine) and Rachel Myers (of Green Hugs). The following is adapted from the material I presented at the panel. Thanks to SoCalMOMS for inviting us to speak at this panel!
Do you want to stay healthy through cold and flu season? Are you overwhelmed by the amount of Tylenol and antibiotics you take every year? Read on for some holistic tips on thriving through cold and flu season…
1. Wear a scarf
Grandma was right! It is crucial to cover your neck, especially the back of your neck and the occipital ridge. There is a saying in Traditional Chinese Medicine, “wind is the leader of a thousand diseases.” Cover your neck (and head too, when it’s really cold) so the wind doesn’t whisk pathogens into the body via the acupuncture points along the back of the neck and head. Even during summer, it’s important to keep our necks covered and away from drafts when we are constantly in and out of air conditioning.
2. Get Acupuncture
It is especially important to get acupuncture at the change of the season. Acupuncture helps boost immunity, regulates the endocrine system, reduces inflammation in the respiratory system (and elsewhere), and is excellent at bringing your immune system into high gear when you are fighting a cold or virus. If you think you’re coming down with something, see your local acupuncturist, and get her to prescribe some herbs for you to take home. This time of year, many of our patients call us for a treatment at the first sign of a cold; we often get a call the next day letting us know they are once again feeling 100%.
3. Take adaptogenic tonic herbs to help fend off colds and flu
Adaptogenic herbs are plants that have a regulating, normalizing effect on the body; in other words, they stimulate our body to do what it should in order to restore us to optimal health. One single herb may cool down your mother’s night sweats while it warms up your cold hands and feet. Adaptogenic herbs are useful for reducing stress as well as keeping us healthy through the Cold & Flu season. The best way to determine the best herbs for you is to see a Licensed Acupuncturist & Herbalist. We can prescribe stronger, medicinal herbs to treat illness and we can also prescribe more gentle, tonic herbs to boost immunity and keep you healthy.
4. Get as much sleep as you can!
This may seem impossible if you have young children (as I do), but if you want to stay healthy through the cold and flu season (roughly October through March), sleep is worth prioritizing. Getting restful sleep is more important than having a clean house. It’s more important than keeping up with social media. It’s more important than dashing around “trying to get stuff done” as soon as your kids are asleep. When we sleep, we build new cells, our Nervous System and brain regenerate. Nighttime is Yin Time; we need a balance of yin and yang each day, and if we do yang activities (such as working out at the gym, cleaning the house, catching up on email) during the yin time, we drain our yin substances and make ourselves more open to getting sick. So go to sleep already.
6. Take Fermented Cod Liver Oil (liquid or capsules)
The best source of Vitamin D in food form, FCLO helps boost immunity through cold and flu season, improves foggy headed-ness, and is an excellent source of essential fatty acids during pregnancy and nursing. You can find it here.
5. Eat Real Food that is in season
Salads are for summer! In the colder months, when the days are shorter and the nights are longer, we are supposed to eat food that is grown locally and in season, and that warms our body. Check your local farmer’s markets: right now, in Southern California, the markets are full of root vegetables, pumpkins, dark leafy greens, apples, pears, pomegranates, and fermented foods such as pickles and saurkraut. You’ll also find organic grass-fed beef, bison, pasture-raised chickens, local eggs, goat cheese. You won’t find a lot of lettuces, cucumbers and spinach: even in Southern California, the cold raw veggies don’t like the colder nights. In the Fall and Winter, the best thing you can feed your body is a variety of freshly prepared COOKED vegetables, warming slow-cooked soups and stews, organic cooked grains such as barley, oatmeal and rice, fermented foods, and good fats. Locally grown organic fruits in moderation are also helpful.
7. Eat your meals sitting down
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, meals should always be eaten sitting down, with both feet on the floor. This encourages better digestion and absorption of our food. Try to resist the easy quick meal eaten in the car or while chasing your kids around. Take time to enjoy a meal with your family. When you’re at work, don’t eat at your desk, in your car, or while shopping at Target. Please.
8. Eat Nature’s probiotic: fermented foods
80% of your immune system is located in your digestive system. “You are what you eat” has never been more true! Probiotic foods (such as fermented veggies, saurkraut, pickles, beet kvass and kombucha) can modulate your body’s immune response via your gut’s mucosal immune system. Avoid cheap commercial brands with added vinegar, and make your own or buy them at your local farmer’s market, a good health food store, or my favorite local “food club,” Culture Club 101 in Pasadena.
9. Sit in a Salt Room
If you are prone to chronic colds, allergies, or you or your child has a history of asthma, spend time relaxing in a salt room. According to Salt Studio Pasadena, halotherapy (also known as salt therapy) is “an all-natural, drug-free treatment that benefits the lungs and skin with the use of dry sodium chloride (salt) aerosol…salt therapy reduces inflammation in the respiratory tract and aids in mucous clearing, leaving patients breathing easier.” Some traditional Korean spas also have salt rooms. 45 minutes spent chilling out in a salt room will leave you refreshed and feeling like you had a 3-hour nap!
In a recent study at Harvard Medical Center (May 2013), Dr. Herbert Benson reported that “a range of disease-fighting genes were active in the relaxation practitioners that were not active in the control group.” (Citation.) So, meditation is not only for stress relief: it keeps you healthy. I enjoy doing mini-meditations with my kids (who are 3 and 5) on weekend mornings when we’re not rushed, and in between patients during my busy days at the clinic. I also wake up before the rest of my family a few days a week so I can do 20-30 minute meditations by myself when the house is quiet. I am convinced that meditation helps keep me healthy, especially when I’m treating sick people every day.
If you’ve never tried meditation before, check out Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Experience.
Or try sitting in a quiet spot outdoors, closing your eyes, and listening to the birds. Focus on your breath, count to 100 and back to 1 again. But if it’s chilly, wear a scarf.
(Post by Abigail Morgan, L.Ac, owner of FLOAT: Chinese Medical Arts; all photographs by Abigail Morgan or Dave Clark, all rights reserved.)