The holiday season is fast approaching, unfortunately so is flu season. Between the months of November and March over 100,000 Americans are hospitalized each year for flu related reasons. The flu (or influenza) is a highly contagious respiratory infection. Colds and flus share some symptoms, but usually the flu is more serious compared to the common cold. Common cold symptoms are nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, and light headaches. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, extreme fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, runny nose, and watery eyes.
A few years ago a group of distinguished Chinese scientists visited the US. At the end of their 2-month stay they were asked one significant thing they noticed from their US visit. One of the Chinese scientists replied, “The number one thing that has impressed us the most about America is the common belief by the common person that there is no cure for the common cold.” (Acupuncture Today, May 2004).
Chinese medicine classifies colds and flus as wind disorders. There is a reason we were told as children to bundle up when we went outside during windy cold weather. The neck, back of the head, and shoulders are the most exposed to the wind pathogen. You may have noticed your neck and shoulders become tight and achy after being outside on a cold or windy day. This is a classic example of wind invading your muscles. Usually this will go away quickly once you go inside, but sometimes the wind goes to a deeper level and combines with other External Pernicious Influences (EPIs) including heat, cold, and dampness. This is when you start experiencing the classic cold and flu symptoms such as sneezing, chills/fever, sore throat, and body aches. Sometimes you’ll feel so cold that nothing you do will warm you up.
If you are generally in good health your wei qi (immune system) will be able to fight off the invaders. There are many ways to boost your immune system. Acupuncture is a great way to keep yourself healthy and balanced. There are many Chinese herbal formulas to boost your immune system and relieve cold and flu symptoms because of their anti-bacterial and anti-viral qualities. Vitamin C can also boost the immune function.
Regular moderate exercise (enough to warm you up but that doesn’t induce too much sweating) has been found to boost the immune system. TaiChi, Qigong, and Yoga are also beneficial. Eat a healthy diet full of fresh vegetables, especially carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, garlic, and tomatoes to keep the body healthy. Limit sugar intake. Sugar, especially the refined form has been found to depress the immune system. Drink lots of water and get plenty of rest. During sleep your body can really concentrate on fighting off invaders and healing itself. Most importantly set aside time to have fun and relax.
Start an immune boosting, flu prevention Chinese herbal formula before flu season. Stay on this formula until the flu season ends. Your practitioner will decide which formula is best for you. This is especially important for adults and children with a weakened immune system, a history of frequent illnesses, fatigue, and stress.
Get plenty of sleep every night. Aim for at least 8 hours. Fall is dominated by the metal element (Lung and Large Intestine meridians) and winter by the water element (Kidney and Bladder meridians). You can support them through light exercise, meditation, rest, and by being gentle with yourself.
Stimulate Stomach 36 often by rubbing or pressing the acupoint. It is located a hands-width beneath your knee and on the outer edge of your shin bone. Often you can feel a slight depression in that area. You can also talk to your acupuncturist about a warming technique called moxibustion, which is a treatment you can do at home to boost your immune system.
Eat root vegetables, beans, whole grains, soups and stews to keep you strong and warm.
Be aware that food sensitivities (gluten, soy, eggs, nuts, etc.) can add to general inflammation in the body. It is best to avoid these all year, but especially during the cold and flu season.
Avoid sugar, which reduces your ability to fight infection.
Avoid dairy if you are prone to excess mucus or cysts.
Wear a scarf to protect the body from a Wind Invasion (common cold, influenza, or sore throat). Keep your upper body covered to prevent tight and achy muscles.
Wash your hands often and avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
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