School has started and the weather is starting to change. Cold and flu season is approaching fast. Now is a really good time to take good care of yourself so that you may stay healthy this winter. Here are a few good Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tips on staying healthy this season, and what to do if you get sick.
- Cover your neck, shoulders and head from the wind and cold. In TCM wind is the “carrier of 100 pathogens” and it likes to invade at the area of C7 (where your neck meets your shoulders). Keeping this area covered is a great first line defense in preventing wind invasion aka common cold. This also applies to fans in the room (especially above the bed) and air conditioning vents that blow directly on you (this goes for the summer also). This is especially relevant if you have a tight neck and shoulders, or get frequent headaches.
- Get plenty of rest. In the winter the natural flow of energy is to go within and rest. You can observe nature doing this. The leaves are falling from the trees, plants are retreating underground and animals are preparing to hibernate. We should do the same (as best as we can in our busy society).
- Stay warm. This is just general good advice from all cultures. I have heard many people say that it is the pathogen that gets you sick, not the cold. While this may be true, keeping warm and getting plenty of rest is great support for your immune system, and helps keep our defenses up.
- Eat appropriately for the season. Nature knows what is best, and it is advisable to eat what is in season. Root veggies will be harvested soon, and most are high in vitamin C, as well as vitamin A, vitamin B, and many antioxidants. These are all very appropriate for soups and stews. It is good to make your own bone broth as well. From a TCM perspective soups and stews are very nourishing and warming, which can be beneficial for most people going into the winter season. In general, cooked food is best and is recommended all year for people with digestive problems. This also includes drinking room temperature water. Adding cold/ice water to your body can make the body work harder by slowing the digestive process.
- Acupuncture has been shown to regulate numerous systems in the body. It can improve digestive and respiratory function, regulate hormones and reduce stress. It helps the parasympathetic nervous system regain control of our bodies. This is the “rest and digest” side of the nervous system associated with relaxation and recovery. When everything is functioning correctly your immune system is stronger and your body is more resilient to illness.
- Chinese Herbal Medicine can offer assistance as well. There are many herbal formulas directed at regulating the immune system. Huang Qi (Astragalus) is a well known immune tonic. It is usually combined with Bai Zhu (Atraclyodes), and Fang Feng (siler) to make up Yu Ping Feng San, a popular formula for preventing illness. A trained Chinese medicinal herbalist may use this formula as a base formula to address frequent illness. These herbs can be combined with other herbs that are specific to the individual needs of the patient based on TCM diagnosis. A great point to stimulate/rub is Stomach 36 (ST36). It is located on the front side of the leg, about 4 finger widths from the bottom of the kneecap and 1 finger width (to the outside) of the tibia (shin bone)
- Avoid Sugar. Much of our immune system is dependent on a healthy gut. Eating too much sugar will disrupt the bacteria balance in the gut by feeding the bad bacteria. This can make it harder for the immune system to do its job.