The seasons are changing once again and the colder, shorter days of fall and winter lend themselves to certain health challenges and issues for all of us- colds, respiratory/sinus problems, flus, etc.. So, how to stay healthy during the midst of our long, cold winters and is there more to be done other than receiving a flu shot? We have all heard of the importance of hand washing and trying to avoid or minimize exposure to certain germs and yet there can be so many more simple and practical options to consider in order to keep ourselves and our families in good health this time of year.
I am excited and inspired to share a few practical concepts and practices with you from the natural health and functional medicine viewpoint that I have worked on and evolved with myself and patients over the years to maintain relative robust health and resilience, especially during challenging times. Even though we appear to be exposed to more challenging germs/viruses this time of year, the truth is that we are almost always exposed to some types of germs, viruses, bacteria, etc. on a daily basis. And yet we don’t always get sick as a result. Why is this? The short answer is because of our immune system, which is our major” internal defense” against illness and in maintaining our overall health.
Without a doubt, our immune systems are complex and yet so important in keeping us healthy. A strong & vital immune system is the cornerstone for successfully dealing with various types of seasonal colds, flus, & illnesses, not to mention helping us to maintain overall health and well-being. So, an important issue to look at is: HOW to keep our immune systems balanced, strong, and active.
There are a number of natural, safe, and effective methods and practices to strengthen our immune systems. Let’s discuss a few important ones:
- Rest and managing stress – It is so vitally important to get healthy, high quality sleep (7-9 hours/night) and short naps can also be helpful here. Managing our stress levels, through various ways & means (exercise, music, meditation/prayer, being creative, having fun, setting appropriate boundaries to avoid being too busy, etc) can all be beneficial.
- Stay hydrated – Another simple and yet important concept – drink lots of non-chlorinated water, herbal & green teas, etc. . Try to avoid or minimize sugary drinks. (Excess sugar can be a challenge to our immune systems).
- Exercise & sweating – Movement and exercise of many types can also be good for our health and immune systems in so many ways. The goal here is to do things that are practical, appropriate, and fun for you. Some examples might be: various cardio/aerobic workouts, walking, swimming, skating, yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, etc.. Raising our core temperature through exercise and sweating can be so beneficial for our health and one of my favorite ways to accomplish this is through sauna. Taking saunas (especially with warm steam) can be a great way to reduce toxins in our body, relieve stress, and to enhance circulation. I’ve been told that over 90% of people living in Scandinavian countries take saunas at least once a week and this is one of their cultural secrets of health, happiness, and longevity. Please consider this simple option (YMCA, health club, motels) and remember to drink lots of water!
- Diet & Nutrition – Highlights would be to emphasize nutrient dense foods: lots of organic fruits & veggies, including berries of all types (these can be used fresh or frozen and are a great addition to a protein-based smoothie shake), wild caught fish, farm raised meats, organic grains, lots of nuts (Brazil, almonds, pecans, macadamias, pistachios, etc), mushrooms (most mushrooms are very healthy for us – Shitake varieties are tasty and are also powerful immune tonics), healthy oils like olive and coconut. Spices can be practical and appropriate in many ways: garlic, cinnamon, ginger, oregano, rosemary, and many other spices can add taste to our food as well as have healthy properties.
- Try to avoid or minimize: foods and drinks with too much sugar, artificial sweeteners (aspartame/Nutrasweet), and preservatives. For some people, dairy products can be challenging, as they create more sinus related mucus and phlegm. Try to use organic butter, yogurt, etc. when possible and check out some dairy alternatives (milks, yogurts, etc) : coconut, almond, rice, for example, especially if you are ill with a cold, sinus, or respiratory issue.
- Nutritional & Herbal Supplements – Our immune systems function best with optimal nutrient status. Some of the most important nutrients to help in this time of year are obtained from eating healthy and yet taking high quality nutritional supplements in addition can help support this whole process in safe and effective ways. Many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are important and yet in our bodies they work together and not in isolation, so it’s a good idea to keep up with these: Carotenoids (Vitamin A precursors), Vitamins: C, B12, E, D, zinc, selenium & magnesium. Probiotics (healthy intestinal bacteria) are also vitally important for our immune system at any time of year.
- Vitamin D is an extremely important nutrient for many body systems, especially our immune system. It is important to be at optimal levels and testing to assure this is important and allows for an individualized approach to appropriate supplementation. Vitamin D testing is very cost-effective and can be done through Lotus Healing Arts. Additional functional tests are also available at our office to determine each person’s nutrient status: Spectra Cell Nutrient test, the ION test, and RBC mineral tests, to name a few.
- Immune Strengthening Herbs – Herbal medicines and therapies are the oldest organized system of treating and preventing human illness and scientific research continues to validate many therapeutic benefits to various herbs. There are a number of wonderful herbs available now from the Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic, and Western/European models. Herbal therapies and medicine can be a complex topic and one that I will address in future newsletters, however, let’s look at a few to consider for seasonal use. There are those category of herbs that are considered to be “immune tonics” and these can be taken longer-term throughout the winter month. Some examples are: Astragalus, Echinacea, Mushroom Extracts: Ganoderma, Shitake, Cordyceps, Maitake. Adrenal or “energy tonics” might also be considered: Rhodiola, Eleuthero, Ashwaghanda, Ginseng, etc.. Other herbs and herbal formulas can be used in more specific ways to prevent and/or treat various types of seasonal illnesses. Examples of these would be: Elderberry, Andrographis, Isatis, oregano, olive leaf, and a wide range of various Chinese herbal formulas (Yin Qiao San, Gan Mao Ling, Cinnamon Twig Decoction).
- Herbs, like nutrients, can be used by themselves but usually work best in appropriate combinations to obtain a therapeutic effect. Herbs can also vary in terms of quality, potency, etc, so I recommend knowing your source and using the highest quality herbs and at the proper dosages. NOTE: Most herbs and herbal formulas are very safe and yet certain herbs can interact with Western pharmaceuticals, so it’s good to consult with Dr Ensweiler to discuss these issues, if needed.
We maintain a wide variety of high quality, immune strengthening nutrients, herbs, and herbal formulas at our natural pharmacy at Lotus Healing Arts AND the clinical knowledge and experience as to how and when to use them. We are highlighting a few simple formulas from our natural pharmacy this month and these are available for the next 2 months at a 10% discount when you mention this article. Even though getting sick is an unavoidable aspect of the human experience, we can certainly look to prevent and/or shorten the duration of seasonal illnesses by using time-tested principles and practices from nature and natural medicine.