My Holistic Cold & Flu Season Routine
It’s the season for getting sick and it seems to be hitting everyone but me. Friends, family and almost every patient that I treat are complaining of symptoms, from common colds to stomach flus to sinus infections, plus everything in between. Even when I seem to be interacting with mostly sick people, I don’t get sick myself. How?
Well I have never had a flu shot, I don’t take a multivitamin and I’m not slathering antibacterial gel on my hands all day. No, I don’t believe in things like that.
I believe that we already have some of the most powerful knowledge about health that we’re going to get, it is not a mystery we are waiting to discover with modern science. I find that the things that work best are often the things that have worked for generation after generation. These are the tried and true methods that we know to be effective, so why fix what’s not broken?
#1 in my Holistic Cold & Flu Season Routine
I recently discussed on the blog why bone broth is so amazing and how to make it yourself, but I can’t emphasize it enough! People have been consuming it to stay healthy for countless generations and it has so many benefits that I think nearly everyone should be drinking it regularly.
At least once or twice a week I make a big pot of bone broth and drink it almost every day, usually 1-2 cups in the morning plus whatever else I can squeeze into lunch and dinner. I use it for soup, sauces, and for braising veggies, especially good for simmering with collard greens or kale.
The immune-building properties of bone broth are well known and I believe that is a huge contributor to the strength of my immune system. But if you’re already sick it is also great for recovery.
#2 in my Holistic Cold & Flu Season Routine
During the fall and winter I like to drink herbal teas all day long. Even when it isn’t a cold winter like here in LA, I still prefer warm beverages.
I like to start in the morning with ginger tea because it stimulates my digestion, is an immune tonic and warms me up. I often make it fresh from ginger I get at the farmers’ market, but I also have the the Yogi tea version on hand in a pinch. I love ginger so much that I often continue drinking ginger tea the rest of the day, but I’ll also toss in the occasional spiced chai, chamomile, fresh mint, gynostemma, raspberry leaf, licorice or other herbal blends.
Gynostemma is especially good for immunity and is packed with antioxidants. It is believed to promote longevity and has been proven to have a number of other benefits like reducing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and balancing blood sugar. It is one of the most popular teas in Asia and is often consumed daily. My favorite kind is made by Dragon Herbs.
#3 in my Holistic Cold & Flu Season Routine
What your mother told you is true! It’s important to keep your neck and feet covered and warm during cold and flu season. It all comes down to one thing: wind. Really? Wind?
In Chinese medicine wind is known as the cause of 10,000 diseases and common colds are just the tip of the iceberg. Depending on how deep wind has penetrated the body, it can cause allergies, arthritis, stiff neck, headaches, body aches, asthma, skin rashes, hives, dizziness, I could go on…
With a common cold, generally the body’s defenses (immune system) are low and the wind finds a way in through vulnerable spots like the back of the neck, which is known as the “wind gate” in Chinese medicine. It can be in the form of either wind-cold or wind-heat.
I see wind-cold in LA most often caused by strong air conditioning, but catching wind-cold from weather is much more common in colder parts of the world. LA climate mainly breeds cases of wind-heat, so get it out of your head that just because it’s not cold out you don’t have to cover up. Especially if you know your immunity is low, make sure you bring your scarf and ditch the flip flops!
#4 in my Holistic Cold & Flu Season Routine
There are many more reasons to exercise than just losing weight. It helps to circulate blood, speed up metabolism, strengthen immunity, detoxify the body, improve mental health and I have seen it help many forms of chronic pain. Even if you are limited by an injury, energy level or time, finding some form of regular exercise is paramount to your overall health.
It wouldn’t be very helpful for me to share the specifics of my workouts because you really have to find what works for you, and what works for you right now. Don’t try to push yourself too hard from the start or you might burnout.
If you aren’t in the habit of working out regularly then start with walking. You can do this nearly any time of day, almost anywhere and you can bring a friend or interesting podcast along to help distract you. After that you can start to add in other activities at your own pace, something like hiking, quick 15 minutes runs, yoga, light weight training, a dance class or whatever works.
#5 in my Holistic Cold & Flu Season Routine
I mentioned above that I don’t take a multivitamin and explained why in a recent post, it’s because I get all the vitamins I need from the food I eat and don’t trust the quality of vitamins in synthetic supplements.
I try to get most of my produce, meat and dairy from local sources, which means visiting the farmers’ market 1-3 times per week but it’s worth it. Lower transit time from farm to table means more nutrients retained and fresher food that keeps longer in the fridge. I also focus on nutrient-dense foods like grassfed meat and dairy, organ meats, local bee products, bone broth and organic seasonal produce. I only supplement my diet with a few whole foods that I can’t get locally, like fermented cod liver oil and blue-green microalgae. This gives my immune system all the nutrients it needs to stay strong.
If you are curious about eating a real food diet, I would suggest Nina Planck’s book, Real Food: What to Eat and Why. But I know this can be a huge shift in how some people think about nutrition. For those who still want to take something like a multivitamin, I suggest Juice Plus which is a real food supplement made from organic fruits and vegetables.
#6 in my Holistic Cold & Flu Season Routine
Sleep is important all year long, but especially in the wintertime. Winter is like the nighttime of the whole year because it is colder, darker and more quiet than the rest of the year. Since our bodies rest and reset for the next day at night, winter is when our bodies need to rest up for the busy warm months ahead.
In Chinese medicine too little sleep can be linked to anxiety, poor immunity, hormonal imbalances, stress and low energy just to name a few. Ideally adults should be getting at least 7-8 hours per night. If you’re missing out on a full night sleep try to supplement by taking naps, try to get to bed earlier, try to slow down a bit.
If you have trouble sleeping, it is important to still use nighttime to rest. Your body needs that dark, still and quiet time in order to balance out all the energy you use during the day. Start by putting away your phone and computer at night and avoiding the TV. Screens can be too stimulating and trick the brain into thinking its time to be awake. Turn down the lights, climb in bed and do something that relaxes you like light stretching, meditating, listening to soothing music or reading. Eventually, even if you still can’t sleep, turn all the lights out, lay down and rest.
Learn how to wind down and allow your body to relax or else you’ll quickly run yourself down. Your body will ultimately find a way to rest, but it may have to get sick or extremely fatigued in order for that to happen.
#7 in my Holistic Cold & Flu Season Routine
These are the “good” bacteria that live in our gut. They are essential to digestion, but did you know they also play a huge roll in immunity? They are one of our first lines of defense and help to compete with harmful bacteria that may invade the body.
Probiotics are naturally occurring in fermented or cultured foods, so I regularly get them from kombucha, raw apple cider vinegar, sour pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir or yogurt.
For those who aren’t as fond of fermented foods, I recommend Jarrow’s Jarro-Dophilus because they don’t require refrigeration, provide a big boost of live strains and I’ve never seen anyone have a side effect to taking proper amounts of good quality probiotics. Especially after an illness or taking antibiotics, it is important to build your gut flora back up by getting an extra boost of probiotics.
#8 in my Holistic Cold & Flu Season Routine
Stress can negatively impact so many aspects of our lives, so it is no surprise it’s been proven to weaken the immune system. That means cold and flu season is an especially important time to make sure we aren’t letting stress get to us.
I’m fond of a combination of meditation, massage, acupuncture and gardening to stay relaxed, but what helps you to de-stress will be very particular to you. Like I discussed above regarding sleep, our bodies need quiet and calm times to balance out more stressful and hectic hours in the day. So if you find yourself feeling frantic then focus on activities that slow you down, incorporate them into your schedule on an ongoing basis and find a routine that works for you.