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Cold And Flu Season: 5 Ways To Naturally Boost Your Immunity, Not Including Hand-Washing

Patients frequently ask me how they can increase their immunity this time of year. Everyone knows to wash their hands more frequently, so I won’t bore you with that lecture!

In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, our bodies have a type of Qi, or energy called “Wei Qi”. Wei Qi is our protective Qi and is located on the surface of the body. You can think of Wei Qi as the immune system- its job is to keep out invaders such as harmful viruses and bacteria. Here are a few things you can do that you may not have realized can improve your immune system…

  1. Exercise. The New York Times recently ran an article about this study which examined the relationship between regular exercise and healthy immune response.  Although mice, not humans were used in the study, it showed that mice who exercised regularly were better able to fight off infections. However some studies have shown that overexercising can actually harm your immunity, so remember that moderation is key.
  2. Wear A Scarf. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the nape of the neck is believed to be particularly susceptible to invasion by the wind element, which means colds and flu. Therefore, covering your neck is important, especially on cold, windy days or when you are sitting close to an air conditioning vent or fan.
  3. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate! Your body produces nasal secretions, tears and skin oils as a physical barrier between you and germs.  This process only functions correctly if the tissues are hydrated.  So, drink tons of water. Try a saline nasal spray several times per day and/or a humidifier. Using a nasal spray also helps flush out viruses that are already within your nasal passages.
  4. Sleep. Your body produces substances called Cytokines during sleep. Certain types of cytokines play a role in immune functions, so it makes sense that the less sleep you get, the fewer cytokines are produced. Studies show that people who don’t get 7-8 hours of sleep per night are more likely to catch a cold and take longer to recover from colds.
  5. Take a Chinese Herbal Formula. There are Chinese Herbal combinations which are very helpful for people who experience recurrent colds and respiratory infections. You must always see a trained herbalist, since there is no one herb which is good for everyone’s situation. It must be individually tailored to your health history and constitution. Herbs can also be helpful if you do come down with a cold or the flu.

If you do get a cold or the flu, Elderberry Extract is worth trying. In studies it performed similarly to antiviral formulations such as Tamiflu in shortening the duration of the flu. It’s available commercially in products such as Sambucol. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before taking Elderberry Extract as it is contraindicated with some medications. And, it’s important to note that Elderberry Extract has been shown to be helpful in treatment of colds and the flu, but not in prevention.