October marks the start of what seems to be the season when everyone who comes into the office has a nose faucet that won't stop running.
Outside of the standard "wash your hands" advice, there are a whole host of things you can to do to stay healthy between now and spring. The best vaccine against cold and flu is a robust immune system. With so many novel herbs and supplements on the market, however, it's easy to lose sight of the basics.
Maintaining one's health through seasonal variability means shifting daily habits so your diet and behavior are aligned with your environment. It also means giving your immune system the resources it needs to keep up the good fight no matter what may come its way.
You can help your body by taking simple daily supplements, by avoiding certain foods, and by having a few basic essentials on hand to tackle the tickle in your throat before it blows up into something bigger.
A Daily Dose of Love
By adding a few simple supplements and an easy homebrew to your daily diet, your immune system will have the resources it needs to keep it working like a champ.
- Optimize your vitamin D level: The vitamin D blood levels needed for a healthy immune system are between 50 and 80. If your blood test shows anything below 50, the minimum needed to get your levels back up is 4,000 IU a day. Over the winter months, it's generally safe to take higher doses of vitamin D because of our lack of exposure to sunlight. Click here for the full article on how to properly supplement and where to buy the good stuff.
- Take your probiotics: 80% of your immune system is in your gut – keep it strong! You can check out my vintage blog post on how to properly take probiotics and find one that’s right for you.
- Add some zinc: 15mg a day for adults is all you need for daily maintenance. Zinc increases your production of white blood cells and helps them fight infection more effectively. It also helps your immune system release more antibodies and supports wound healing. Zinc deficiency is a commonly undiagnosed issue with a wide variety of symptoms, including insomnia since the body needs zinc to make melatonin. The best food sources for zinc come from animals; therefore, it's especially important for vegans / vegetarians to supplement. You can take up to 50mg of zinc a day if you're sick, but long-term over-supplementation can lead to anemia and other health issues. Be careful to take zinc with food so it doesn't upset your stomach.
- Oil of oregano: A few drops a day keeps the doctor away. Oregano is proven to be anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, and a strong anti-histamine. Depending on the brand, all you need is 3–4 drops in a cup of warm water; drink daily through cold & flu season. Be careful which brand you choose to use as most products do not contain pure oil of oregano. They are instead a combination of oregano oil with a dilutive oil such as olive or flax. Organol is my preferred brand because the plants are wild non-GMO and the oil is guaranteed as high potency.
- Sneaky Yogi Black Pepper & Pomegranate Home Brew: Yogi Bhajan brought Kundalini Yoga to the US and started the Yogi Tea company as a way to get black pepper into his students to keep them healthy. I was recently able to get my hands on Yogi Bhajan's Black Pepper and Pomegranate Juice recipe. It's simple to make and uses pomegranate juice, which has an antioxidant called punicalagin that kills the flu virus' ability to replicate and spread. You can make it in large patches and drink a little bit every day.
KEEP CALM & CARRY ON
One of our most famous Chinese medical texts advises "...just as the weather in autumn turns harsh, so does the emotional climate. It is therefore important to remain calm and peaceful, refraining from depression so that one can make the transition to winter smoothly."
- Manage Stress: You have full permission to cut 20% of your social / volunteer / extended family / other obligations from your calendar between now and the spring equinox. The word "no" can be your best friend – use it wisely. Stress is a proven immuno-suppressant, and you're the only one who can manage your own levels. Meditation is an awe-mazing way to manage stress. If you've never tried it, you can start by downloading a guided meditation to help get you focused. See my article on mediation for recommendations on downloads and how to start.
- Hibernate: Sleep is one way our body restores itself, and you should be setting with the sun. As we move into longer winter nights, you should be conking out a minimum of 8–9 hours and are officially absolved of any guilt for following nature's call to bed. Sleep more than you think you need to.
What to Avoid Like the Plague
If you want to avoid the plague, there are several foods you should minimize in your diet until at least spring because they either create phlegm or inhibit vitamin C absorption. If you wind up sick, these are non-negotiables to get rid of until you're 200% back on your feet.
- Dairy, Orange Juice, and Vinegar: The body produces phlegm not only to trap pathogens, but to protect the digestive tract from acidic substances. Dairy, OJ, and vinegar are all acidic substances that cause the body to produce mucus. If you're sick and phlegmy, avoid eating things that will cause more mucus. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) works as a home cold remedy for some people who absolutely swear by it; this is one where I suggest you try it to see if your body creates mucus since ACV is something that should be approached person by person.
- Sugar: White blood cells need vitamin C to destroy bacteria and viruses. Because sugar and vitamin C are similar in their chemical structure, when you eat sugar it directly competes for space in your immune cells with vitamin C. The more sugar in your system, the less vitamin C can get into your white blood cells.
Dooms Day Prepper
Should the Flu Apocalypse hit your home, here are a few things to keep on hand since the last thing you'll want to do is peel yourself off the couch to go the drugstore. There are a few Chinese herbal patents such as Gan Mao Ling that you can keep on hand, but you need to take them the second you have a tickle in your throat.
- Zinc Lozenges: It's important to have these readily available to take these the second you start feeling sick. They need to have a minimum of 23mg of zinc to kill the rhino virus in your throat. Nature's Way is a decent and accessible brand. Make this a splurge to buy the good ones from the health food store since most drugstore brands don't have enough zinc so you need to take 4–5 at a time.
- Mullein Garlic: There a few things in the world that are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and stop pain. Garlic happens to be one of them. Mullein garlic is an oil you can purchase in health foods stores that's used for ear aches or infections, and it works amazingly well as soon as your ear starts to hurt. This is especially good for those of you with children since, if the problem is caught early enough, this can save a trip to the doctor.
- Soup: A temperature is not a bad thing – it means your body's immune system is fighting the good fight and trying to burn out the viral or bacterial invader that found its way in. If you're sick but have a low-grade fever that won't spike or stop, it means your body doesn't have the full resources to burn out the pathogen. A temperature that goes on for too long starts to do tissue damage so it's important to watch it carefully. Here's a soup recipe that will make you sweat from the inside-out and help your body finish the job. It freezes amazingly well; if you make it at the beginning of the season and stock it in the freezer, all you need to do when sick is defrost and eat.
- Green Tea: During flu outbreaks in the elementary school I was teaching at in Japan, the teachers would have the children gargle with green tea 4–5 times a day. The result was that the virus would often wind up localized to a single classroom rather than spreading throughout the entire school. Ito-En has some of the best green tea available in the US market that you can order online.
The Bounce Back
Sometimes no matter how healthy you are, how much sleep you get, how well prepared you’ve been – if the virus is strong, you can still get hit. Welcome to being human. However, if after 10 days you're still struggling, see your practitioner! Chinese medicine excels at the bounce-back; there are at least a dozen formulas to help you recover. What I often see is someone get sick in winter, recover to about 70%, and then get hit with the same flu strain later on in the year because their body was never able to fully kill the virus. If you're struggling in your flu recovery, schedule an appointment so we can help your body get rid of the latent pathogen so you can enjoy your next summer without the leftovers of this winter.