Are you tired of getting sick all the time? When you get sick do you end up on antibiotics for a sinus infection or on asthma medications for a nasty cough? Are your kids running around all winter with runny noses or a cough? You might be surprised to learn that there is a lot that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can do AND a lot that YOU can do to reduce the length and severity of colds, coughs and flu and prevent complications.
Your body’s own immune system is ultimately fighting and curing every cold or flu that comes your way. Your body has the cure for common colds, coughs and flu. This is a pretty important point to remember when you are looking to get healthy and stay healthy. Your body has the innate ability to heal itself. However, it’s inevitable that stress, lack of sleep, overwork or poor diet will at one time or another compromise your immune system so that you or your kids end up sick. Also, some bacteria and viruses are so virulent that it’s hard for even the strongest among us to escape them or you may have a constitution which is more susceptible to colds and flus. Similarly, children’s immune systems are still maturing and therefore kids are also more susceptible to colds and infections.
If you are looking to get the upper hand on coughs, colds and flu you’ll need to optimize your body’s own defenses and natural healing potential. You may not be able to avoid every cold or flu that comes your way but you can definitely stack the odds in your favor and avoid complications. Here’s what you can do:
1. Get acupuncture
Acupuncture boosts your immune system and relieves stress. For many, regular acupuncture treatments alone are enough to keep them healthy all year long. When I first started getting weekly acupuncture treatments, over 20 years ago, this was one of the first “side-effects” that I noticed. Without even trying, I was getting sick less often and my allergies disappeared. This is because acupuncture has a modulating effect on the immune system, helping it function at its full potential.
Once you or your child does get sick, all can benefit from treating their colds, coughs and flu symptoms with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. You’ll suffer less and the illness will not last as long if you follow the common sense suggestions below and get regular acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine treatments while you recover. We’ve helped children and adults get off the hamster wheel of antibiotics and steroids by treating their colds, earaches, fevers, sinus congestion, and coughs. If you can come in for treatment at the very early stages of a cold, we may even be able to prevent it altogether. Also, if you find that you are getting sick a lot, then regular acupuncture combined with an appropriate herbal formula can help boost your immune system, in between each cold, so that illnesses become less frequent.
Acupuncture boosts your immune system as well as clears sinuses and ear congestion, relieves body aches, sore throats and headaches and treats coughs and chest congestion. Also many Chinese herbs have antibacterial, antiviral, antihistamine and immune boosting effects, which prevent and treat infection, reduce fever and resolve sinus congestion and coughs. In fact, one area that Chinese herbal medicine really shines is in its treatment of respiratory illnesses such as congestion, coughing and wheezing. We have had many patients that no longer need asthma medications during and after their colds because they are getting acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine treatments.
Getting regular acupuncture or herbal treatments allows for the most tailored and effective approach to preventing and treating your colds, coughs and flu. Regular treatments allow your practitioner to get to know you and the finer points of your constitution so that they can most effectively determine what is needed to get you healthy and keep you healthy.
2. Eat lightly and avoid sugar and dairy
It’s important to remember that 70-80% of your immune system is in your gut. Although modern science has confirmed this relatively recently, Chinese Medicine has viewed the digestive system or gut as the foundation of health for over 3000 years. When you eat sugar, you feed the bad gut bacteria in your body. This doesn’t help you get better. Eliminating sugar, along with a healthy diet, allows beneficial gut bacteria to thrive and work to help get you better more quickly. Probiotics can also be a helpful for this same reason. We carry a great evidence-based probiotic line in our clinic. Ask us which item and dosage is best for you next time you are in. But remember, probiotics are going to work best alongside a healthy, low sugar diet.
If you have nasal or chest congestion, both sugar and dairy are going to make the congestion worse. If you suffer from lots of congestion, do yourself a big favor and eliminate both sugar and dairy, at least until your congestion has cleared up.
Another way to take care of your digestive system, when you are fighting or recovering from an illness, is to not over burden it too much food or rich foods that are hard to digest. You want to keep meals warm, light and easy to digest, so that your body can spend its energy getting you better, rather than digesting a heavy meal. If you are overweight or have a slow metabolism, then you may even want to fast for a day or so. If you have a fast metabolism, weaker constitution or don’t have too much congestion, then simply eating easy to digest foods such as homemade chicken broth with rice porridge would be a light, nourishing and curative meal.
3. Drink homemade chicken broth
Chicken broth isn’t just good for you when you get sick. You can make and drink homemade chicken broth throughout the entire cold and flu season in order to help boost your immune system.Homemade broth is one of the most nourishing foods that you can eat—it heals your gut and boosts your immune system. Due to our hectic and busy lifestyles, not many people take the time to make their own soup broths anymore. However, bouillon and prepackaged broths are lacking in both flavor and nutrition.
Our Immune Boosting Chicken Broth recipe is a lovely primary broth that is rich and flavorful enough to be served to guests. It’s immune boosting effects are enhanced by the addition of the herb huang qi (astralagus root), which is great at strengthening your immune system in between colds. Our slow cooker friendly Chicken Bone Broth is high in minerals, collagen and amino acids. It’s an easy and frugal way to add the curative power of homemade broth to your busy week. Those struggling with frequent colds and flus will notice a significant improvement when they drink a cup of homemade broth every day.
4. Rest and de-stress
There is absolutely no substitute for rest when it comes to preventing and fighting off colds, coughs and flu. You can take all the herbs and supplements in the world but if you don’t take time out to rest, you are going to compromise your immune system. Your body is not getting sufficient rest when you are under slept or on constant overdrive due to chronic stress.
One of the main ways that stress and lack of sleep affects our immune system is by stimulating the increased production of cortisol. Cortisol acts as an immunosuppressant by reducing the number of white blood cells in your body, (specifically T cells and macrophages). White bloods cells are the foundation of your immune system and are the cells responsible for producing antibodies and destroying viruses and bacteria. So if you are looking to prevent colds and flu, you need to work on getting sufficient sleep and reducing stress.
How much sleep is right for you will vary from person to person. On average we say 8 hours per night is enough, but you could need as much as 9-10 hours per night depending on your constitution and depending on the season. Children often need anywhere from 9-12 hours per night depending on their age and constitution.
Although there is no way to totally eliminate stress from our lives, there is a lot we can do reduce and manage it. Regular acupuncture treatments can be an invaluable tool in helping you manage stress and reverse its negative health effects on your body. Acupuncture takes you out of “fight or flight” mode and puts you back into “rest and digest” mode. It’s like a downshift or reset for your body. Also practicing mindfulness meditation, exercising regularly and gentle stretching and yoga are a must if you want to reduce and better manage stress.
If you do succumb to a cold or flu, stay home from work or school, get off the computer and smart phone and take some extra time to rest and de-stress. When you rest and de-stress, your body does its best healing. For busy parents or those traveling for work, getting enough rest can be really difficult. Just do your best. Don’t make your stress worse by beating yourself up over not being able to rest enough. Ask for help and do your best. Prioritize your rest whenever you can. The messy home or sink full a dishes can wait until tomorrow (they unfortunately aren’t going anywhere, I promise).
5. Drink ginger and scallion tea
Ginger and scallion tea can help knock out a cold in the very early stages. If you’re feeling chilled and sneezing a lot, make yourself a cup of this simple elixir and bundle up in lots of warm clothing until you break a sweat. For those that run cold and suffer from frequent colds in the winter, you can enjoy a cup of fresh ginger tea every morning instead of coffee. Just add 3 slices of fresh ginger to a cup of water and gently simmer for a few minutes. Pour the tea into a mug and enjoy!
6. Clear your sinuses with a neti pot & gargle
If you tend toward sinus infections or just have a lot of nasal and sinus congestion you could benefit from using a neti pot to help rinse the congestion away. You can buy a neti pot at your local pharmacy or online. Be sure to follow all cleaning and sanitary instructions that come with your neti pot. Alternatively, if you have a sore throat, gargle regularly with salt water.
7. Supplement with vitamins D, vitamin C and zinc
In addition to rest, proper diet, acupuncture and Chinese herbs, other supplements that can be helpful in boosting your immune system and fighting off colds include zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C. We carry a great liquid zinc that actually tastes great and several different forms of vitamin D, including cod liver oil which is a natural source of vitamin D. As always, a lot of research goes into the herbs and supplements that we carry so that you can be confident that you are getting only the highest quality products.
This is how we keep ourselves and our family healthy. These simple and commonsense suggestions are time-tested and effective. How long it takes you to get over a cold, cough or flu will depend upon the strength of the virus or bacteria that you caught, your constitution and how well you are able to follow the above suggestions. You don’t facilitate the healing process when you put time limits on how quickly our body heals. The time it takes for you to heal is not something you can fully control. Your best prevention and recovery will occur when you listen to your body, follow the above suggestions and be kind and patient with yourself.