‘Tis the season. Colds, flu, sniffling, sneezing, fever, and muscle aches. No fun. Do colds and flu have to accompany cold winter temperatures? Why are some people afflicted and others aren’t?
Scientific knowledge in this day and age recognizes that your immune system plays a significant role in whether you get sick or not. A strong immune system doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t succumb to colds or flu, but it certainly helps your “resistance” to viruses and bacterial illnesses. So, what are some ways that you can strengthen your immune system?
Getting plenty of sleep is one of the primary ways to boost immunity. Our culture encourages us to be constantly on the go, and that adversely affects immunity for many of us. Especially in the winter, which in nature is the season of rest. Look at the trees. Look at the plants. They are dormant, deeply resting, at this time of year. If you are in tune with your body, which is linked with all of nature, you may start to feel quiet and inwardly focused when the sun goes down. You may feel that you want to go to bed before you usually do. This is your body’s way of getting the rest it needs during the winter season.
Ancient Chinese wisdom tells us that if we rest during these months, we will have plenty of energy for the rest of the year. Otherwise, we deplete our deep reserves of energy and are prone to all sorts of illnesses. Some people even postulate that winter sicknesses are our body’s way of forcing us to get the rest that we need. Interesting theory.
Eating warm, nourishing food is another way you can boost your immune system. Because the weather in winter is cold, you can help your body stay warm and thereby more “bug-resistant” by feeding it warm foods. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the digestive system is the foundation of health in the body. The stomach, which is the critical first stop in the digestive process, works best when its contents are a “100 Degree Soup.” This means that, especially in the winter, when your body is naturally colder than in the warmer months, feeding your body warm food will keep your stomach and therefore your whole body functioning effectively.
The Chinese eat nothing cold or raw in the winter and early spring. Instead of salad, try cooking warm, nourishing soups. Instead of eating raw fruit, increase your intake of sweet cooked root vegetables such as winter squash and sweet potatoes.
What are other ways you can boost your immune system? Here’s where acupuncture and Chinese herbs come into play. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese modality that gently balances the body, mind, and spirit. Many people seek treatment for physical ailments, but they soon find out that acupuncture causes them to simply “feel better in themselves.” When you feel centered and peaceful inside yourself, the stresses of daily life roll off more easily. You are more in touch with your body’s needs and are more able to satisfy them in healthy ways. You come to understand, and to know on a deep body level, that constantly running around, doing one thing after another and stuffing some junk food into your mouth for a little energy, just doesn’t feel good.
Acupuncture also increases the circulation of what acupuncturists call “Protective Qi.” Qi is a Chinese word that can be translated as “life force” or “vital energy,” and according to Chinese medical theory, Qi flows throughout your body, or it should. Qi can become blocked or weak for one reason or another. Depletion of the body’s energy reserves, as mentioned above, can cause Qi to weaken, thereby leaving the body more open to becoming sick. Acupuncture not only stimulates the flow of Qi in the entire body, it strengthens the Protective Qi, which [in acupuncture theory] protects you from getting sick.
How do we know that this theory “works?” Throughout the years I have been in practice, I have heard numerous patients say, “I don’t seem to get as sick as I used to.”
People receiving acupuncture treatment report increased vitality and energy levels, as well as a sense of wellbeing they didn’t have before.
Although acupuncture is a wonderful booster of the immune system, Chinese herbs can be even better. This is because numerous medicinal substances used and tested by the Chinese for thousands of years have specific antiviral and antibacterial properties. Not only that, when a Chinese herbal formula is prescribed by a knowledgeable practitioner, the entire body can function better. I find that I simply don’t get sick when I take my daily dose of herbs during the winter. One of my patients, who has had acute hepatitis twice and who used to get sick often, has been amazed that she hasn’t become ill once since she has been taking Chinese herbs for the past year.
Both acupuncture and Chinese herbs have protective, preventive effects. What about once a person has become sick? If you seek treatment right at the beginning of an illness, both acupuncture and herbs can make the illness leave more quickly than it otherwise would have. Both modalities support the body’s innate healing mechanism as it fights the disease. And both acupuncture and herbs can help if you experience any lingering symptoms after the main illness has passed.
Coupled with good sleeping and eating habits, and attention to the body’s needs, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help you withstand the annual onslaught of winter colds and flu. Not only that, you may well find that you feel better overall!