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. Nope, I'm boosting my immunity naturally with holistic methods. I find that many of the things that work best for keeping me and my patients healthy are 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?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, everyone should be drinking bone broth! It has so many amazing benefits and you can make it yourself at home. People have been consuming it to stay healthy for countless generations.
During the fall and winter I make a big pot of bone broth at least once or twice a week. I 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's great for recovery too. I also add extra immune boosting herbs to my batches of broth, like reishi, astragalus, and Siberian ginseng.
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 have one or two more cups later in the day, but I’ll also drink the occasional herbal spiced chai, chamomile, peppermint, dandelion root, gynostemma, raspberry leaf, licorice, nettle, 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.
Socks & Scarves
What your mother and grandmother 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? Yes, really.
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 penetrates 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. Especially if you know your immunity is low, make sure you bring your scarf with you when you leave the house and ditch the flip flops!
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.
Start where you're at right now and find something sustainable. 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.
Real Food Diet
I mentioned above that I don’t take a multivitamin and explained why in the past, it’s because I get all the vitamins I need from the food I eat and don’t trust the quality of most vitamins and synthetic supplements.
I try to get most of my produce, meat, and dairy from local sources, which means visiting the farmers’ market several times per week. Lower transit time from farm to table means more nutrients retained and fresher food that keeps longer in my fridge.
I also focus on nutrient-dense foods like grassfed meat and dairy, organ meats, local bee products, bone broth, and organic seasonal produce. 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 brands that are food-based rather than synthetic, for example MegaFood or Garden of Life.
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 any other season. Since our bodies rest and reset for the next day at night, winter is when our bodies need to rest up for the busier, 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 of restful sleep per night. If you’re missing out on a full night sleep try to supplement by taking naps, try to get to bed earlier, or 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 it's time to be awake.
Turn down the lights, diffuse some relaxing essential oils, put on a sound machine or some calming music, 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.
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.
Acupuncture can boost the immune system on it's own, as well as regulating other systems that may be draining your immune system. For example, if your metabolism is slow, digestion is poor, stress or inflammation is high, or you're not able to sleep through the night, acupuncture can help to balance your whole system, get your feeling better and start rebuilding your immune system.