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Complementary Corner

Cold and flu prevention

Renee Lehman

(11/2014) Aaachooo!

The person next to you has just sneezed. Now what? Are you concerned about "catching" a cold or the flu? There are many ways to support your immune system to have a healthy cold and flu season! Here are ways to be able to answer the above question with a resounding NO!

Wash your Hands. Probably the single most important measure you can take to prevent getting a cold or the flu during the cold season is to wash your hands often and keep them away from your eyes and nose.

Get enough sleep. A study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night impairs the immune system.

So, if you have been burning the candles at both ends, your body might just put the brakes on for you - in the form of a bad cold or flu that puts you down for the count. Another study out of the Netherlands found that severe sleep deprivation caused reduced white blood cell counts. The cells, specifically granulocytes, offer broad-based immune activity.

Sleep is the time when our body detoxes, repairs and renews. So if you are not getting enough sleep, you are going to be compromising your body's ability to do the important work of sweeping up free radicals and dealing with viruses (from

Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated is important in every season, but it is particularly useful in the winter. Itís easy to forget to drink enough water in the cold weather, as weíre not sweating as much as we do when itís warmer outside. Keeping well-hydrated is very important because parched mucous membranes are more susceptible to inflammation and irritation, and then they donít do their job of acting as a primary barrier against infection. Try drinking water and herbal teas.

Eat dark berries. Blueberries and other dark berries strengthen your immune system. They contain anthocyanins, which have been proven to decrease inflammation.

Eat chicken soup. Chicken soup (especially the kind made from organic chicken bones) is very good for our immune system. Studies show that it reduces inflammation and supports our immune system. Cooking organic chicken bones over a long period of time extracts the collagen from the bones, which boosts the immune system. The longer it is simmered, the better.

Refrain from foods that weaken your immune system. Foods such as alcohol; dairy products; processed, greasy, or raw foods inhibit the immune system. One of the worst kinds of foods for our immune system are sugary foods and drinks. Studies have shown that ingesting a sugary solution reduced white blood cell effectiveness by 40%, thereby reducing the body's ability to fight infection. Sweets also increase systemic inflammation in the body, and create imbalances in our gut bacteria, which as we know, are both important players in the immune system.

Meditate. Take a vacation. Anything that you can do to create an inner calm and a recharged nervous system will help to keep your immune system in tip-top shape.

Use saline spray. Use a saline nose spray several times a day to flush out the bacteria and viruses. Nasal sprays are sterile, take seconds to use, are inexpensive, and have been shown to be safe and effective for preventing cold and flu symptoms.

Take Vitamins/Minerals, and Probiotics. Take Vitamin C, Zinc, and Vitamin D daily. They are important for your immune system and help to prevent a cold or the flu. Foods high in Vitamin C and Zinc are winter squashes, broccoli, kale, collard greens, mushroom, and brussel sprouts. Foods high in Vitamin C are papaya, bell peppers, and strawberries.

Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a pre-hormone produced in the skin after exposure to the sunís UVB rays. So vitamin D levels typically drop in the Fall/Winter months when we get less sun exposure. A study published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that 70% Ė 97% of Americans have insufficient blood levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is known for its role in building strong bones, but it also plays a significant role in our immunity.

Probiotics, so-called "good bacteria" in your gut, have been shown to help fend off colds and the flu. It can rebalance the bacteria we need in our bodies that can be destroyed by antibiotics. Probiotics come in pill form and a typical dosage is in the billions of CF units, but you can also introduce probiotics into your diet through yogurt, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and sauerkraut. As Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said, "All disease begins in the gut."

Now we will turn to Traditional Chinese Medicineís (TCM) and other complementary forms of healthcareís approach to preventing a cold or the flu.

Receive Acupuncture. Acupuncture is now recognized for aiding in the production of our "natural killer cells" which are our primary defense against organisms that make us sick. Acupuncture supports and boosts the immune system. Many individuals receiving acupuncture on a regular basis report that they get fewer colds once they began acupuncture!

Protect the Back of Your Neck. Wear a scarf or turtleneck to protect the back of your neck from the wind, cold, and rain/snow. According to TCM, the back of our necks is where we are most susceptible to an "invasion" and cause colds and flu.

Eat foods that support your LUNGS. From a TCM perspective, these foods include honey, mushrooms, and garlic. There is more research than you may think about the cold and flu prevention benefits of eating honey. Research suggests it might reduce the risk of the flu by flushing bacterial and viral pathogens. A recent clinical trial involving the eating of one to two teaspoons of honey in the evening compared to taking dextromethorphan (a cough medicine ingredient in most conventional over-the-counter cough products) found that honey may be more effective at preventing and treating nighttime cough.

Mushrooms, such as, Reishi mushrooms, Maitake mushrooms, and Shiitake mushrooms boost the immune system to defend against a number of viruses. Reishi mushrooms are usually not used as a food. Reishi is usually taken in capsule form. Maitake mushrooms arenít easy to find fresh, so try ordering them dried. Finally, Shiitakes mushrooms are scrumptious, so eat your fill!

Garlicís long and storied history of healing includes earning high marks as an antiviral, and itís particularly valuable for warding off colds and helping open sinuses. Crushing or cutting garlic cloves generates a sulfur compound known as allicin, which has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and is credited as the star component that gives garlic its all-around stellar healing repertoire. Allicin is available only from raw garlic; however, so choose a preparation that calls for it raw, or add garlic at the end of cooking to tap its full medicinal power.

Other spices that are known to be great immune system boosters, and can easily be added to your diet include: cinnamon, turmeric, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and onions.

Consider Using Herbs. Herbs such as echinacea, astragalus, ginseng, and elderberry may help to support your immune system. Also, consider using sage and/or eucalyptus steam inhalations.

Echinacea (aka, Coneflower), contains several chemicals that play a role in its therapeutic effects. The root and upper part of the plant offer different benefits. The combination of these active substances is responsible for triggering the activity of the immune system.

In Germany (where herbs are regulated by the government), the above-ground parts of Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) are approved to treat colds, upper respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, and slow healing wounds. The root of the Echinacea pallida (Pale Purple Coneflower) plant is also approved for the treatment of flu-like infections.

In a review of 14 clinical trials, the University of Maryland Medical Center found that echinacea reduced the odds of developing a cold by 58% and the duration of a cold by 1 - 4 days.

Astragalus is an antiviral and immune-strengthening herb that has been an important herb in TCM for thousands of years. In Herbal Antibiotics, author Stephen Harrod Buhner recommends a daily pot of tea containing 2 to 3 ounces astragalus root. Or, use astragalus along with garlic as part of an immune-enhancing soup broth, Buhner suggests.

In a 2005 study on the herb ginseng, Canadian researchers gave 279 adults either a daily placebo or 400 milligrams a day of ginseng. Four months later, the ginseng group had contracted considerably fewer colds. University of Connecticut researchers repeated the study and arrived at the same conclusion, deeming ginseng "a safe, natural means for preventing acute respiratory illness." In his book The Green Pharmacy, James A. Duke, PhD, suggests a daily dose of about 1 teaspoon ginseng steeped in a cup of boiling water to make a tea.

Elderberry syrup is not only packed with vitamins A, B and C, but it also stimulates the immune system, has been shown to prevent colds and the flu, and tastes delicious. If you feel a tickle in your throat, soothe it with some elderberry tea.

Sage discourages bacterial growth, while eucalyptus is known for its antiseptic properties. Research has shown that by using these herbal oils via steam inhalation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-stimulating responses occur. A study published in the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection, in 2006 by M. Salari, et al., noted that eucalyptus had successful antibacterial activity against bacteria that caused strep throat, pneumonia, meningitis, skin infections, sinusitis, MRSA, and others.

Use essential oils. Essential oils are restorative, curative and natural antibacterial agents. They also happen to smell pretty great. Apply some oregano oil to your back, chest and bottoms of your feet. Aside from being a natural antibiotic, it also has bacteria-fighting properties and is a powerful antihistamine.

Juniper berries boast a powerful antiviral compound known as deoxypodophyllotoxin. For upper respiratory tract infections, Buhner (in Herbal Antibiotics) advises turning to the woodsy-smelling essential oil of juniper. He says to place eight to 10 drops of juniper essential oil in water in a 1-ounce nasal spray bottle. Use four to six times per day, shaking the mixture before each use.

Practice Yoga and Qigong. These gentle movement exercises can activate your immune system by balancing your energy, and decreasing stress levels.

Hereís to a healthy winter!

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist and physical therapist with over 25 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA. She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

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