10 Cold and Flu Prevention Tips
Many people dread the winter with its cold days, long nights and the onset of cold and flu season. While you may not be able to change the weather, there are certain steps you can take towards improving your health throughout the winter and avoiding getting ill.
Everyone has suffered from a cold or flu at some point during their lives, and while they are usually not serious, the symptoms of muscle aches, sore throat, cough, and runny nose can make life a real pain. Over the counter (OTC) medications can help with some of the symptoms of colds and flu but do nothing to address the root cause. Worse still, some of these seemingly harmless remedies contain ingredients which can cause unpleasant side effects and even be dangerous for some patients.
Traditional Chinese Medicine offers an alternative to these medications. Acupuncture and herbal medicine work holistically to strengthen your constitution and give you added protection against cold and flu viruses, as well as helping to relieve the symptoms.
Get an Herbal Consultation Before You Get Sick
Right now, at the start of cold and flu season, is a good time to come in to see your acupuncturist for an herbal consultation. I recommend bringing the whole family as everyone can benefit from a customized herbal prescription. Treating everyone in the family will also reduce the chances of germs making their way into your home and minimize the risk of getting sick.
During your herbal consult we can discover what your constitutional weaknesses are and prepare appropriate herbal preparations, tailored to your needs. You will then have something to take at the onset of any symptoms that you may experience. This can reduce the length and severity of an illness to help you recover quickly and enjoy winter. If you do get sick, your herbs will also help you to stay comfortable without resorting to dangerous OTC medications. These are important for everyone to avoid but particularly children and expectant mothers.
As well as boosting your immune system by using Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are plenty of simple steps you can take to stay healthy this winter and protect your family from colds and flu:
Drink Plenty of Water
Staying hydrated is important at any time of year, and winter is no exception. Constantly switching between the cold air outside and the warm indoors can be very drying for your skin, lips, nose and throat.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, it is also important to drink plenty of fluids in order to keep your Lungs moist. Your Lungs are responsible for your immunity, forming a barrier between your blood and the outside world. By drinking plenty of fluids, you help your Lungs to effectively protect you against invading pathogens like colds and flu. Click here to find out more about how much water you should be drinking.
Keep Your Environment Clean and Clear
Keep your home clean and free from contaminants. Do laundry regularly, especially sheets and towels. Wipe surfaces down with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to kill any bacteria or viruses and reduce your risk of infections.
Keep your air clean and moist by using a humidifier with a HEPA filter to remove dust and other particles. Always check to make sure the air ducts are clean a the start of winter.
Pay Attention to Hygiene
Make sure that you wash your hands regularly using soap and water. We tell our kids to sing the ABC’s at least once while washing their hands to make sure they have done it or at least 20 seconds. This is especially important before handling food, after using the bathroom, or after coughing or sneezing. Avoid sharing towels with others, especially if someone in the family is sick.
Boost Your Digestion
When your digestive system is happy and healthy, the rest of your body will be too. Help your digestion with probiotics and fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchi or sauerkraut. These foods help to increase the levels of “good bacteria” in your gut which aid the digestive process at any time of year.
Eat a healthy diet suitable for the winter months. Reduce your intake of cold, raw foods and eat warming soups and stews instead. Include plenty of healthy fats and proteins in your diet and avoid sugar, alcohol, gluten, greasy and processed foods. Ensure that you are getting enough essential vitamins and minerals and if necessary, take a supplement. Magnesium, iron, zinc, vitamin a, c, e, and b complex are especially important.
Get Plenty of Sleep
It is natural to feel more tired during the winter, so listen to your body and make sure you are getting enough sleep. Go to bed earlier than you would in the summer. Try dimming the lights in the evening, and avoid looking at electronic screens before bed to prepare your body for sleep.
Make sure that your bedroom is cozy and comfortable without being too warm. This might mean keeping a few blankets by your bed so that you can get the temperature just right for a good night’s sleep.
Being stressed has a negative effect on your immune system, so try to stay calm and relaxed throughout the cold and flu season. Experiment with different relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga and tai chi to find out which suits you. Delegate work to colleagues and ask your friends and family for help if you need it.
Take time out for yourself to do something you enjoy or treat yourself to a relaxing massage or acupuncture treatment.
You might not feel like exercising during the cold winter months, but staying active is important at any time of year. Aim to do around 30 minutes exercise, five times a week. Any exercise that increases your heart rate is fine, even a brisk walk. Regular exercise can give your immune system a much needed boost as well as reducing stress and helping you to maintain a healthy weight.
Sweat it Out
According to TCM, we get sick when a pathogen invades our system. The best way to get rid of this pathogen quickly is by sweating it out. Drink hot tea or hot water daily – more often if you know you have been exposed to an illness or already feel sick. You can also add some ginger to boost the warming effects. Take a hot bath for 15 minutes and dry yourself well when you get out.
Cover Your Great Yang Meridian
The Great Yang meridian covers your shoulders and neck. When it is cold and windy we clench our jaws, tighten our traps and bring our shoulders to our ears. This closes our chests and leads to stiffness, headaches, tension and restlessness. It also stops us from using our diaphragms to breathe properly leading to weak Lung qi and reduced immunity. Therefore it is important to keep your Great Yang meridian warm and protected from the wind. Use a scarf or hoody to cover your neck, especially the acupuncture point UB 12 (Wind Gate) which is described below.You should also wear long socks as your leg has three yin and three yang meridians, which need to be protected. These include the Kidney meridian which is where your life fire is stored. Wearing long sleeves and gloves will help to protect your Lung, Large Intestine and Triple Warmer meridians which are easily weakened by wind and cold.
Massaging the following acupuncture points can help to boost your immune system to avoid a cold or flu and relieve the symptoms of one in progress.
GB 20 (Wind Pool):
Time needed: 1-2 minutes
Benefits: Relieves headaches and stiffness in neck and shoulders, relieves cold.
How: Standing, sitting or lying on your back. Put your hands on your head and use your thumbs to locate the depressions at the base of your skull, about 6cm (2 inches) out from the middle of your neck. The points are just to the outside of the large muscles running down the side of your neck. Press your thumbs in and slightly upward in the direction of your eyes. Press until you feel no more than a comfortable pain, then hold the pressure while you knead the points in very small circular movements for 1-2 minutes.
LU 7 (Broken Sequence)
Time Needed: 3-4 Minutes
Benefits: Relieves chills and fever, nasal congestion, headaches and stiffness. Aids removal of pathogens.
How: This point is on the inner side of the forearm, around three finger widths from the wrist crease, in the space between the tendons of the wrist and the fingers. Place your left thumb on the point on the right hand side. Apply firm but gentle pressure and massage in small circles for 1-2 minutes then release. Repeat on the left hand side.
UB 12 (Wind Gate)
Time Needed: 1-2 minutes
Benefits: Relieves chills and fever, headaches, stiffness, nasal congestion and cough. Aids removal of pathogens.
How: Find the most prominent vertebra at the base of your neck. Use your fingers to feel and count down two more vertebra until you find the gap between your T2 and T3 vertebra. The point is around three finger widths out from this gap on both sides. Use your index or middle fingers to apply firm but gentle pressure and massage in small circles for 1-2 minutes, then release.
By taking these few simple steps, you can help to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy this winter. So visit your acupuncturist, prepare your home, and get the whole family on board to boost your immunity the natural way.
Dr. Marlena Siroki, DACM, L.Ac. is an Acupuncturist in Chicago at Ravenswood Chiropractic & Wellness Center in Andersonville. Dr. Marlena, DACM, L.Ac., received her Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago. She is a Nationally Board-Certified Acupuncturist and Herbalist and Diplomate of Oriental Medicine, certified by the National Certificate Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.