This winter has been a cold one and the flu epidemic has been hitting hard. The flu shot has been highly ineffective this year and the strain of the flu that’s going around is particularly rough. I have received a number of calls from new clients and folks in the community concerned about their health and supporting their immune systems during the winter months. Below are some tips to help keep you healthy this winter.
1) Eat Well and Eat with the Season
This one is important. Our diet effects our overall health in so many ways. The more processed foods you are eating, the more chemicals you are putting in your body. These chemicals are foreign to your body and can often trigger the immune system as they are not recognized and can be identified as a pathogen. Your body isn’t going to have this reaction with whole foods so I recommend as much as you can eating whole foods. The energy of the winter is that of turning inward. The plants draw their energy down into the earth and into their roots. Root vegetables are great to eat this time of year. It’s also rainy season up the coast and eating mushrooms this time of year can go a long way in supporting your health. They’re seasonal and they support your immune system!
2) Cut out Sugar
Cutting the sugar in your diet can do wonders for your health. I’ll spare you a long tirade about the impact of sugars on our bodies as I’m sure you can find that elsewhere. Sugar triggers our bodies inflammatory response which is a part of our immune system. When we eat sugar, we are increasing inflammation in our bodies and increasing the work that our immune systems need to be doing to keep us in balance. Cutting out the sugar means that our immune system has more energy to direct towards fighting bugs like colds and flus. I have seen cutting sugar support clients who were struggling with overall immune health bring folks back into balance. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is.
3) Quit Stressing
According to a recent report at the University of Maryland Medical Center, stress can have significant impacts on immune function. Stress can trigger our sympathetic nervous system’s response or our “fight or flight” response which serves to protect us in times of danger. This response directs blood and energy away from our less critical body systems such as digestion and immunity and redirects the blood and energy out our outer limbs and extremities to help us get away from danger. Think of yourself as a caveman who just met a saber toothed tiger and needs to get out of there quick–you want the blood in your legs so you can run like the wind and fight like you-know-what if need be. This body response is what kicks in during times of stress. Chronic stress means that our body is constantly redirecting energy away from our immune system and hence makes you more susceptible to colds and flus.
If you’re wanting to improve your immune function, you might want to consider ways to seriously reduce the stress in your life. Check out a recent blog post I wrote about coping with holiday stress for some suggestions about ways to decrease stress in your life. Also, make sure you’re getting enough sleep! Rest is a key to how our body restores itself each day. Make sure you’re sleeping enough. If stress is impacting your sleep you might want to seek help around getting your sleeping patterns back on track.
4) Take Herbs that build Immunity
I wrote another recent blog post about this with herbs and recipes to support immune health in the winter. These are some suggestions you may find helpful. If you’re on the edge of getting sick, you might also want to try one of my favorite herbs for immune support, Elderberry. The Elder tree grows throughout the Pacific Northwest and throughout the world. The berries of this tree are a powerful anti-virals and helpful at keeping colds and flus away. I have found it to be helpful in boosting the immune system right at the beginning of a cold. I suggest 30 drops of tincture three times a day at the beginning of a cold or 10 drops three times a day if people around you are sick. This plant is great for acute situations as well as a tonic to take daily to support your immune system. I suggest everyone have some of it in the winter medicine cabinet. You can order some today on sale from my apothecary by clicking here
5) Don’t Beat yourself Up
If you do get sick, it’s not because you did anything wrong or because you are weak. There are some pretty virulent bugs going around this year and they are taking down even some of the healthiest people. I often hear people giving themselves a hard time when they get sick. “I must be out of balance to have caught this bug” or “I’m just not a healthy person” are things I have heard from folks this year. No one’s immune system can beat back every cold and getting sick is no fault of your own. Instead of giving yourself a hard time, I invite you into an opportunity to take care of yourself. Don’t be a hero–get into bed as quickly as you can and be gentle with yourself. Colds and Flus are most contagious at the beginning of symptoms, so stay home! Give yourself plenty of time to sleep, rest, drink fluids, and reach out for support. The faster you can rest and take it easy, the faster your body can begin to heal.
A note on Cleansing: Are you thinking of cleansing this January or possibly renewing efforts to shed a few pounds? Please be careful! While the winter can be a great time to commit to a new exercise routine and move away from unhealthy eating, it’s not a good time to go on a juice fast, master cleanse, or another radical cleanse that the gym and diet industry is promoting. Cleanses can be a great way to support healing and balance although it’s important that they are timed well with the seasons and support your overall health and wellness. A juice fast or master cleanse during the winter can be a fast track to a weakened immune system. If you are thinking about committing to a cleanse this New Year, please be careful and make sure it’s a gentle cleanse.
Take Care and Be Well this winter.