Lifestyle and diet are major players in cold and flu prevention. It is all too easy to get into poor habits and stay up too late or choose a less nutritious meal, but these choices can take a hefty hit on your immune system. A healthy lifestyle begets a healthy body. If you are getting adequate sleep, exercise, daily sunlight and eating a healthy diet, you are off to a great start for cold and flu prevention. Hand washing is another no-brainer. Refraining from touching your face and not smoking are other ways to help improve your resistance. A less obvious preventative tip comes from Chinese wisdom, wearing a scarf!
The importance of sleep is not overrated. Studies show that people who do not get enough sleep - or quality sleep - are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. While everyone may have a different amount of sleep needed. Generally, it is best to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night for an adult. Infection fighting antibodies reduce when you don’t get enough sleep. When you sleep is also important. Those who work night shifts and sleep in the day have less functioning immune systems from internal clock disturbances. In Chinese medicine, it is important to sleep during gallbladder and liver hours for the body to best “repair.” Gallbladder time is 11pm to 1am, and liver time is 1am to 3am.
Regular moderate exercise is shown to strengthen the immune system. Too much intense exercise, however, has been linked with lowering immunity. Aerobic exercise, which is activity that gets the heart pumping, increases virus-killing cells.
Sunlight = Vitamin D
Vitamin D supports a healthy immune system. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased susceptibility to infection. One of the reasons the “flu season” is when it is is due to a decrease in the amount of sunlight during the day. Reduced sun exposure increases the number of cases of colds and flus because of the populations lowered immunity. It is important to spend time outdoors daily, and without sunscreen or completely covered skin for at least 10 minutes a day in the middle of the day. In many climates this is not possible due to the cold. In these climates it is essential to take a vitamin D supplement throughout the colder and darker seasons.
Eating a healthy diet is imperative for being healthy. A fresh, balanced, varied, seasonal diet of whole foods keeps us well. Eating nutrient-rich foods help to prevent illness and fight infection. Antioxidants, phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, glutathione, and protein are some of the most nutrient dense foods. Antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables. Phytochemicals are found in all plants. Bioflavonoids are found in citrus fruits, cherries, grapes, broccoli, red and yellow onions, and green peppers. Glutathione is found in cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower, as well as spinach. Protein helps fight viral and bacterial infections. Some foods are superior immune boosters, including: garlic, shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms. Eat these in generous quantities during cold and flu season and when you feel your immune system start to crash.
Sugar suppresses the immune system. Unfortunately for my fellow sugar lovers out there, I have some bad news - sugar has been proven to reduce the amount of antibodies produced and destroy the virus fighting ability of white blood cells for up to 5 hours following ingestion. Simply avoiding sugar is a major way to keep your immune system well.
If you have the beginning of or have fully succumbed to the cold or flu, it is especially important to avoid dairy, grease, sugar, alcohol and other dampening foods. These foods increase mucus production and lengthen the duration of your illness. There is something behind chicken soup and hot tea for helping you through your sickness. Chicken soup has a compound called carnosine that helps fight the early stages of the cold and flu. It also helps to thin and expel mucus, and is immune boosting. Hot tea is comforting, expels mucus, and is full of antioxidants. Green and black teas contain the amino acid L-theanine, which is a powerful immune enhancer.
Viruses and bacteria live everywhere, on everything you touch. Washing hands frequently, especially after using the restroom, touching objects in public places, and before touching your face, is very important for keeping the cold and flu away, especially during “flu season.” Cold and flu viruses can live on surfaces or in the air for between a few hours and up to two days. Other viruses and bacteria can live even longer. During colder weather the viruses can live for longer periods.
Cold and flu viruses enter your body through mucus membranes - the eyes, nose or mouth. Do your best to not touch your face. If you must, wash your hands immediately before, and after.
Simply being around smoke lowers the immune system, so you can imagine why heavy smokers get more frequent and severe colds. Smoking cigarettes damages the cilia, which are protective fine hairs that line the nose and lungs, helping protect you from viruses.
The Wind Gates are a couple of acupuncture points located just below the base of the neck. These points are indicated for treating acute colds and for preventing colds and infections by tonifying the lungs and aiding the immune system. The immune system, or “defensive Qi” can be impaired, however, by wind directly hitting and entering this area. Chinese wisdom advises to wear a scarf in windy weather. Wearing a scarf is very helpful in keeping you well.
Acupuncture can help in preventing colds and flus by supporting the immune system, relieving stress and promoting relaxation. Studies indicate that when the body is relaxed, the immune system revs up!
People who catch frequent colds and are already following a healthy lifestyle with a healthy diet often have Wei Qi deficiency. Wei Qi is the “defensive” Qi that helps keep us well, similar to the immune system in Western medicine. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help these individuals by creating balance in their body, supporting Wei Qi, and the lungs, spleen and kidney Qi, which help support immunity.
Acupuncture is also helpful for moving you through seasonal transitions more smoothly. As fall approaches, be proactive in your health and protect your body from succumbing to the cold or flu with acupuncture, and a healthy diet and lifestyle.