Staying Healthy in Cold & Flu Season
by Deanna Tasi
With the days getting colder and the nights getting longer, we are officially entering cold and flu season. It’s important that we pay attention to our lifestyle as a preventive measure. Keeping a small arsenal of herbs on hand in case we do feel a bug creeping in can also be helpful. First, some reminders of what we can do everyday to stay well. You can also skip ahead to check out herbal recommendations to keep on hand.
Our immune system works best when we are getting enough sleep. Now that the nights are longer, you may find that you’re needing more sleep than you did during the Summertimes. When we are fighting off a cold or feeling sick, it becomes even more crucial that we let our body get the sleep that it needs.
Eat nourishing/cooked foods:
It’s the time of year when we shift our diets from salads to soups; cooked foods are preferred over raw vegetables. Our digestion is intricately linked to our immune system, when our diet follows the seasons our body is better able to adapt to our environment. Eating with the seasons means that we eat what’s being harvested in our region. As we move through fall and winter, root vegetables and squashes come to the forefront; dark, leafy greens are more easily digested when cooked- even if they’re just blanched or quickly sauteed. If we do keep a bit of raw foods in our diet, fermented foods are especially good. Any raw or fermented foods we do consume should be kept at a smaller proportion to the rest of our meal.
With the holidays around the corner, lots of folks find that their stress climbs as more family responsibilities and stresses get layered onto ongoing daily activities. Regular acupuncture treatments are a great way to keep stress tamped down- providing a reset with each treatment. When stress is high, we recommend weekly treatments; when it’s more moderate, every other week is helpful.
Limit sugar and alcohol intake:
We know processed sugar and alcohol both suppress the immune system. When we follow the above lifestyle recommendations, we’re also less likely to overindulge in processed sugar. But we know that with the holidays comes an uptick in sugar and alcohol intake, so just be sure to keep your regular meals nourishing and you may find your intake and cravings are easier to manage.
Wear a scarf:
This is a common folklore followed around the world. In Chinese medicine we emphasize this precaution when it’s cold and windy outside. From a “western” view of how our bodies work- keeping this area warm by wearing a scarf prevents the muscles in the area from getting cold and tensing up, while helping to keep good circulation in the area. Circulation is always fundamental to good health. There are an estimated 600 lymph nodes in our body and at least a third of them are in our throat and neck! By keeping your neck warm and protected from the cold-wind, you’re helping your lymph nodes do their never ending work of trapping and destroying invading pathogens.
Unfortunately Covid is still around and in recent years there’s been an uptick of other respiratory infections such as RSV, HMPV, etc. One of the best and easiest protections from respiratory infections is to wear a well-fitting mask in crowded indoor spaces. And of course when gathering indoors sans masks, make sure to have good air ventilation and/or filtration whenever possible.
HERBAL FORMULAS TO KEEP ON-HAND
Most folks can tell pretty early when their body is fighting something off; oftentimes we feel it in our throat. We know that the same illness can have varying symptoms in different people. For prescribing herbs, it’s good to know how your initial symptoms typically show up and always keep these herbs on hand. Oftentimes we either get a “scratchy” throat often with some sneezing, OR a sore throat. Although both formulas I’ll cover will help with either of these patterns, it’s good to take a dose of herbs as soon as you experience any signs that your body is fighting something off – the earlier the better. When caught early, you may only need a dose or two of an herbal formula to ward it off. Two formulas that are excellent for this are Gan Mao Ling and Yin Qiao San. With a quick differential, you’ll know what’s best for you to always have on hand:
Gan Mao Ling:
This is the best formula for a “scratchy” throat that may come with some sneezing and a runny nose. When caught early, often just one dose can help get you back on track again. This is my go-to formula that I always have with me.
Yin Qiao San:
This is THE formula for sore throats. Folks with this pattern may also develop some congestion with yellow phlegm. For a sore throat, often we need a few doses of Yin Qiao San for it to resolve again. But you can also keep taking it as long as your throat is sore.
As with most herbal formulas, it’s good to take these formulas between meals; neither should upset your stomach if taken on an empty stomach. I personally travel with both of these formulas in my medicine bag and recommend taking a dose of Gan Mao Ling while you’re traveling if you’re someone who always gets sick when you travel. We carry both of these formulas in the clinic and we’re happy to answer questions and talk about dosing in more detail during one of your visits.
If you still end up getting sick and your symptoms progress, we have other excellent formulas in stock that will help you recover faster. Simply email your regular acupuncturist with your symptoms and we’ll leave herbs outside for pick up.
And for the continued safety of everyone in the clinic, if you do have an appointment scheduled and you’re not feeling well, please call the clinic or email your acupuncturist ASAP to cancel your appointment. We can reschedule your appointment when you’re back on the mend again. And if you have lingering symptoms after a couple of weeks, make sure to let us know, acupuncture is often very effective to help clear them up.
Wishing you a safe and healthy holiday season!