The Natural Medicine Cabinet: Preparing for Cold and Flu Season

By CNY Healing Arts -
Nov 27, 2010

As the days grow shorter and colder many of us often find ourselves surrounded by potential exposure to colds and flu. There are many things that we can do to prevent getting sick and there are many things that we can do to shorten the length of an illness and provide symptom relief once a pesky cold has taken up residence in our bodies.

  • Water – For prevention of illness, keeping hydrated is a must. Drinking sufficient water allows for the proper flow and function of your primary elimination pathways. Oftentimes, increasing fluids helps to ease constipation and allow toxins to move out through your digestive tract. Sweating, vomiting and diarrhea can all be present with illness and this can easily lead to dehydration. When dehydrated, our bodies are impaired and will have greater difficulty winning the fight against an illness and then repairing and returning to a feeling of “normal” after the acute stage of illness passes.
  • Probiotics – Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that live in your digestive tract. Their presence allows for better digestion and they play an important role in immunity. In fact, studies have shown that those taking therapeutic doses of probiotics experience at least 50% fewer colds and the duration of illness, when it occurs, is less. There are many different strains of probiotics. And, probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt and kefir. But, supplementing with a multi-strain probiotic (meaning something that contains more than just acidophilus) at this time of year can only be a benefit. There are a great many choices available now for probiotics and some do need to be kept refrigerated to ensure the presence of live bacteria. However, these days there are many that do not require refrigeration so check labels carefully to make sure that it is kept in the fridge if needed to ensure proper potency. Additionally, if we do find ourselves sick and antibiotics are taken, we can use probiotics to lessen the side-effects of the antibiotics, re-establish healthy intestinal flora and make sure yeast infections do not occur. I often recommend at least doubling the therapeutic dose (what it says to take on the bottle) during your course of antibiotics and for two weeks after finishing taking them. Once feeling well, it is appropriate to lower the dose back to therapeutic levels.
  • Vitamin D3 – This vitamin has been getting a lot of press lately for many reasons. We actually do produce our own D3. It is called the sunshine vitamin because we make it when our bodies are exposed to sunlight. However, it is felt that we do not produce adequate amounts, particularly during fall and winter when there is more darkness than daylight. D3 is also essential for proper assimilation of dietary calcium. Its role in immunity has been studied in both adults and children. Vitamin D3 seems to have a particularly positive effect in the prevention and treatment of respiratory illnesses. For the winter months, 5000 IU daily is recommended for adults and children can take between 1000 and 2000 IU daily. Of course, Vitamin D levels can be checked by blood test and your doctor may recommend a different dosage. If levels are low, it will often take 5 or 6 months for improvements to be seen in blood work.
  • Plenty of rest – Because we live highly stressful lives, often the only times our bodies are able to repair and regenerate is while we sleep. So, it is particularly important that we get adequate rest this time of year. And, if we do find ourselves sick, taking a day or two off and spending more time on the couch or in bed will allow our bodies the ability to regenerate and have us feeling better more quickly.
  • Keep the sugar intake low – With the holidays upon us, one of the most difficult things to avoid this time of year is sugar. But, sugar has been shown to significantly reduce our immunity for up to 8 hours after its consumption. Of course, enjoy your holidays and indulge in moderation. But, if you feel a cold coming on, it is probably best to avoid sugar for the duration of the illness.
  • Herbs – There are a great many herbs that can help to prevent illness or assist in shortening the duration of illness. One formula, carried at all CNY Healing locations, called Yin Qiao San, is a staple among acupuncturists during cold and flu season. We use this formula at the first signs of cold and flu to stop the illness before it starts or to greatly shorten the duration of the illness. Yin Qiao San treats the sore throats, headaches, body aches and fevers often seen with colds or with the flu. It is advised to consult with a properly trained herbalist before taking this formula as in some people it can cause digestive upset and it is best not to use it if pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
  • Acupuncture and Massage – Acupuncture and massage can both be used for prevention of illness. By keeping lymph and blood circulating properly and by keeping your energy in balance your body will less likely be affected when presented by a potential infection. Additionally, acupuncture can be used to help alleviate symptoms of colds and flu by helping with headaches, sinus congestion, sore throats, digestive upset, etc. Acupuncture and massage sessions are offered seven days a week in most CNY Healing Arts locations and convenient evening hours are also available.
  • Exercise – Keeping your body moving with exercise is also important this time of year for many reasons. With shorter days, many of us want to hibernate and with this we often see a drop in energy. Exercise will keep energy levels up during the day and improve quality of sleep at night. The better we are able to sleep, the stronger our bodies will be and better able to fight infections. Also, regular exercise keeps lymph and energy circulating and improves bowel function, thus we are better able to excrete pathogens once they show up in our systems. Yoga is a great way to gently improve energy levels and circulation and its stress relieving properties often allow for better sleep. CNY Healing Arts offers many yoga classes at an array of times to fit within your schedule.

While most of us dread getting colds or the flu this time of year it is important to remember that there are a great many options for prevention and for easing symptoms and shortening the duration of an illness. And, the staff at CNY Healing Arts is always available to answer any questions you might have regarding your particular health needs.

Kari Gardner, L.Ac.
CNY Healing Arts, Syracuse
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