Cold and Flu Season is upon us, but fret not, as Natural Health Care has lots to help you through! Imbolc, or as acknowledged by many in modern times, Groundhog Day, marks the mid-point of the Winter season. We are deep in the season, and looking for Spring but are not there yet. And so we have to take care in Winter ways for a bit longer. There has been an awful lot of noise surrounding this year’s flu season. We have had concerned patients coming in asking how to keep themselves and loved ones safe in the face of this hype. First off, it is the flu, it happens every year, and while some folks get very sick and even die from the flu, most of these folks are very tiny or quite weak or ill to begin with. In general, your body and the earth have the tools you need to stay healthy and to beat anything that catches you off guard, if you prepare ahead and apply what you know in a timely manner.
Of course, prevention is our first aim. This requires that you listen to all those wise things your mother told you, and her mother told her. Wash your hands ALL the time, and yes, with hot water AND soap. This is more effective than the anti-bacterial hand sanitizers that kill some of the bacteria on your hands, good and bad, but mostly move them around, and leave behind dry skin that cracks more easily and smelly chemicals and perfumes to which many environmentally sensitive people may react. It is best to rely on the hot water to kill the bugs and the soap to wash it away. Using a good moisturizer that soaks in quickly rather than leaving a greasy residue after washing will help keep your skin in good shape while offering a safety barrier as well. Try using your sleeve over your hand when turning an often touched door handle, holding bannisters, and picking up items with which sick people have been in contact. Cough into an elbow and in general, be aware of who is around you and may be broadcasting germs. Get plenty of regular sleep drink lots of non-sugary fluids (i.e. water and herbal teas) and eat a nutritious and low sugar diet, especially if you think you are coming down with something. Sugar feeds fatigue and lowers your immunity substantially, giving the germs a clear field in which to take over.
The strain of the flu changes each year, but in general, classic flu symptoms run the gamut: muscle weakness and aches, headache, fever and chills, runny nose and sore throat, lung congestion and cough and definite fatigue and malaise. The best time to combat the flu is at the first sign of a scratchy throat or lowered energy. If you start really paying attention to your body’s early warning signs and acting on them right away, you have a much greater chance of chasing off a cold or flu before it gets its claws into you. Very often the first thing you will sense is a “funny or dry feeling” at the back of your throat. You have a small and critical window of time in which to act once this starts. It is a challenge to train yourself from “that feels weird…back to what ever I was doing” to react more like “that feels like a cold coming on, I’d better do something right now”! But over time you’ll get better and better at making the switch.
Zinc, Echinacea and Elderberry are some of the first things to apply. Lozenges and tea containing these plants and nutrients can be very helpful in elevating your immune system’s fighting capacity. Zinc, according to a Cochrane review, “is beneficial in reducing the duration and severity of the comon cold in health people when taken within 24 hours of onset of symptoms”. It strengthens the response of the immune system, in part, by activating certain types of white blood cells to come to the site of infection and attack. Elderberry, in the form of tea, syrup, lozenges has great antiviral activity and is useful to take daily as an immune tonic, and multiple times daily when you are actually fighting something off.
Echinacea, while not advisable to be taken all winter to prevent cold and flu, as it may wear out your immune system’s ability to respond by keeping it on “high alert” all the time, is very appropriate to take at the onset of the same concerns when you want to crank up your immune system’s response. Astragalus, on the other hand, is a great immune booster that will strengthen, not wear down, your immune system. Starting on Elderberry and Astragalus and keeping up with it during the cold and flu season is a great way to ward off the creeping crud.
And, also remembering to keep Vitamin D levels from dipping too low in the winter when our skin is not exposed to the Vit. D enhancing rays of the sun is important. Dosage depends upon your levels, and many folks will take a maintainance dose in the winter and then drop it and rely on the sun to fill the coffers in the summer months. Be in touch with your practitioner to see how your Vitamin D levels are faring in the winter, and be healthy so you can enjoy all the outdoor winter activities that you can’t access in the warmer months…get out there and skate, sled, cross country ski…what ever you can, as we know that exercise is another great boost to your immunity and mood! Have a happy, healthy Winter!