Tips and Tricks for Cold and Flu from a Naturopathic Physician and Chinese Medical Practitioner
Its that time of year... the holiday's! Along with that it also means that there is a rise in cold and flu. I first started writing this article because a couple people in my life became affected by head colds and sinus infections....and then days later I found I was starting to develop a sore throat.
While the holiday's bring us joy with the gathering of family and friends along with that it can also bring increased stress due to the preparation for guests and traveling. Don't worry this Naturopath has got you covered with the tips and tricks to help prevent and manage cold and flu symptoms.
How can Cold and Flu be Prevented?
Exercise/Movement: Moving the body moves our lymphatic system, and the lymphatic system is one of them main store houses to our immune system. When the lymphatic system is not moved it becomes stagnant, this stagnation allows for stored bacteria and viruses to stay there and become latent. This in turn can lead to chronic fatigue and chronic infections. If those latent bacteria and viruses become reactivated this could potentially lead to autoimmune conditions, like hypothyroidism or arthritis. So its best to keep moving and keeping that immune system healthy on a daily basis.
Healthy Digestion: About 70% of our immune system is found in our digestive tract. Maintaining optimal digestive tract function can be done by; drinking adequate water, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in fiber, and maintaining healthy flora through eating probiotic rich foods, like yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, or miso.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is being extensively researched these days as it is continuing to prove beneficial for a broad spectrum of health conditions. It is being used for everything from, autoimmune conditions, chronic infections, osteoporosis, cancer, fertility, and even to skin conditions. Vitamin D plays a role our immune system by assisting macrophages in the immune system to mature and multiply, which allows them to do their job of eating and digesting bacteria. Asking your Doctor to check your Vitamin D level at least once per year isn't a bad idea, especially if living in the Pacific Northwest or Canada where we see a lot less sun.
Airline Travel: I swear some of the most potent or virulent pathogens I have been exposed to I have acquired from airplanes! One of my favorite products that I use for cold and flu prevention during air travel or in the office after seeing sick patients is a product made by Herb Pharm called Breath Refresher. It contains spearmint or peppermint essential oil and extracts of cloves, ginger and cinnamon, all of which have potent antiviral & antimicrobial properties that coat your mouth and respiratory passages.
Avoid Exposure to the cold.
When your parent or grandparent told you "put that coat on, it's cold outside", it turns out that this belief has some merit. According to Chinese Medicine, it is commonly thought that the way we acquire cold and flu is by "cold causing pathogens" that enter the body through the back of the neck or through the nose. Therefore, we educate our patients the importance of keeping our necks covered with scarves or a furry hood when entering extreme winter conditions. The same is true for leaving the house with wet hair, it increases your succeptability to getting a chill.
What do I do when I feel it coming?
Rest: Maybe it starts with a sore throat, or frequent sneezing....when you start to feel a cold coming on, the sooner you take the time to rest the better the outcome. Skip the exercise routine and clear your schedule. Taking time to rest allows the bodies immune system to focus on fighting the infection.
Immune system support: One of my favorite go to products for knocking out a cold is called Bio-vegetarian. This product contains things like vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc and additionally, contains strong antimicrobial herbs like garlic, berberine, ginger, and echinecea. Combinational herbal anti-microbials are shown to be more effective and synergistic than a stand alone herbal product, like the commonly used echinacea. Before I discovered this product I was utilizing strong herbal antimicrobial blended tinctures and supplementing with vitamins seperately, which is also very effective.
What do I do for headache and sinus congestion?
Wet socks: This is one of my favorite treatments to recommend to patients that experience headaches or have sinus congestion when they are sick. The instructions go like this... before going to bed take a hot shower, bath, or do a warm foot soak. Then take a pair of cotton socks and run them under cool water and wring them out well. Then put them on your feet, and then place a pair of wool socks overtop and then head to bed. When you wake up in the morning your feet will be completely dry and things should feel less congested in your head. This treatment works by causing a dilating and constricting effect on to the blood vessels in your feet which not only draws that pulsating feeling in your head out but also facilitates lymphatic movement which activates the immune system.
How to treat a Sore throat?
Licorice: From both a western and Chinese herbal perspective, licorice is great for soothing a sore throat. I personally like to make a strong licorice tea with two bags to sip on all day to help soothe my throat.
What should I eat when I'm sick?
Its actually best if you maintain hydration with tea, broths, and water when sick as this gives your body more resources to focus on fighting the infection.
Not into fasting... simple soups can be great as well. Foods to straight up avoid when sick are dairy, alcohol, processed foods, and sugar, as these are inflammatory provoking foods.
When the cold and cough doesn't go away...
For those out there with conditions that affect the lungs, like asthma, allergies, and COPD, you are more vulnerable than others to getting respiratory colds and flus. Additionally, recovery can be longer as well. For these folks I recommend Cupping from an Acupuncturist.
What is cupping you say?
It's the therapy that Michael Phelps popularized during the Olympics with all of those dark circles along his shoulders and back. There is a difference here though, Michael Phelps was treating his muscle pain and releasing tension, but they are also great when applied over the lungs on the back for acute stages of a cold or for a lingering cough.
Additionally, the use of specially selected Chinese herbs can be a very targeted approach to treating a chronic cough or lingering cold.
Hope these tips and tricks get you through the winter and the holiday season.