An Acupuncturist's Tips for Staying Healthy this Cold Season

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Sniffle and cough season is upon us. Is there anything else we can do besides frequent hand washing to avoid coming down with every cold that comes around?

Yes! In fact, there is a lot you can do.

Before I studied Chinese Medicine, I didn’t realize how much I could do not only to prevent colds but also to treat them once they started. In the past, when I would get a sore throat, the impending cold always felt like an inevitability. I knew that I was in for a predictable progression of symptoms that would last anywhere from a few days to a week or more.

That all changed when I studied Chinese Medicine. I am now much less likely to fall prey to colds, because I know how to prevent them and how to nip them in the bud if they do start to take hold.

This knowledge has been incredibly valuable for me and saved me so many sick days over the years, and I want to share it with you so that hopefully you can navigate cold season with grace too!

Read on for my top prevention and treatment tips to help you stay healthy this season!

Cold Prevention Tips

Committing to the following habits daily will limit your contact with germs and help keep your immune system strong.

1. Wash Your Hands

Hopefully this one goes without saying and you are already doing it, because it is the number one way to stay germ-free. You certainly want to wash your hands after being in public spaces and before you eat or touch your face. Remember that your phone and computer keyboard are germ collectors, so you’ll want to clean their surfaces regularly and remember to wash your hands after you have been handling your phone or typing on your keyboard!

2. Avoid Sugar

Eating too much sugar is the number one way to weaken your immune system and invite a cold! Remove processed sugar from your diet, especially when you are around people who are sick.

3. Wear A Scarf, Hat, & Gloves Outside

Keep warm and dry, especially your neck. When it’s cold or windy outside, try to cover up exposed skin just like your grandmother told you!

4. Wear Warm Slippers Inside

Keeping your feet warm when you are inside is almost as important as keeping the rest of you warm when you are outside. Invest in some cozy slippers or thick socks that you can wear around the house.

5. Use HErbs Preventatively

Incorporate anti-viral and anti-bacterial herbs into your daily diet. I recommend adding herbs like elderberry, astragalus, and echinacea to your daily herbal tea, and adding herbs like fresh garlic, ginger, thyme, and rosemary to your cooking (though not necessarily all in the same dish!)

6. take a Hot Bath

If you find yourself feeling chilled, take a long soak in a hot bath or a long hot shower at the earliest opportunity—right away if possible. Then keep warm afterwards by wrapping up in some blankets or getting in bed.

7. Get Adequate Rest

Ample sleep (8-9 hours per night) will help your body stay healthy and have the energy to fight whatever bugs come your way!

Cold Treatment Tips

When you feel the telltale signs of a cold coming on, you’ll want to jump into action right away to make sure that you fight off the germs before they take hold. Typical initial symptoms can include sore throat, marked fatigue, or a feeling of being chilled.

  1. Chinese Herbal Medicine

I highly recommend that you start taking targeted Chinese herbal medicine formulas at the first sign of a sore throat. Depending upon my symptoms, I personally like to take a combination of the formulas Yin Qiao San, Gan Mao Ling, and Chuan Xin Lian by Golden Flower Herbs. I take a dose every 2-3 hours for the first day, and then back down to a dose every 6 hours for the next few days (starting the first day I wake up without the sore throat or other symptoms). The easiest mistake to make is to stop the herbs too soon because you’re feeling great, only to find that the sore throat returns!

Talk to a Chinese Medicine practitioner about the type of cold you usually get, and they can help you decide which herbs are best for you to have on hand. The key phrase being “on hand” because the herbs really need to be started at the first sign of your cold. If you wait too long, your cold will progress and you will need different herbs. If you are at a more advanced stage of a cold, I recommend scheduling an herbal consultation with a Chinese Medicine practitioner so that you can get a custom herbal formula for your situation.

As always when purchasing supplements, please buy your herbs from a trusted source. All of the herbs I sell are GMP certified and have been tested to ensure purity and the absence of pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxins.

2. Eat Miso Soup

Miso soup with fresh scallions is an ideal food to eat at the first sign of a cold. You can make a very basic version just by mixing a spoonful of miso paste into a bowl of hot water and adding chopped scallions on top.

3. Drink Warm Water

Drink lots of warm water or herbal tea and avoid iced drinks. Warm water with fresh squeezed lemon juice is especially nice and gives you a boost of Vitamin C. Take it to the next level with fresh ginger root. Cut a few coin sized pieces of ginger and simmer in water for 20 minutes. Add fresh squeezed lemon juice and just a touch of raw honey. Make up a big batch and put it in a large stainless steel thermos that you can have on hand with you all day long.

4. Gargle

If you have a sore throat, I recommend the following gargle: dissolve 1/4 to 1/2 tsp sea salt into a small cup of water and add 1 clove garlic (freshly pressed or chopped) and 1-2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar. Gargle a few times a day.

5. Avoid Sugar Like the Plague!

Sugar will feed the germs, trigger excess mucus production, and generally inhibit your body from fighting off the germs efficiently and effectively. This goes for processed sugars, agave, and maple syrup. (A touch of raw honey in your tea is ok and can actually be helpful because of it’s antimicrobial properties, but don’t go crazy with it because the high sugar content will make it counterproductive.)

6. Moderate Your Activity

Keep moving to promote healthy circulation of your lymph fluid and blood, but conserve your energy. Skip the hard workouts that will leave you feeling depleted and choose gentler activities like walking and gentle yoga.

7. Get Extra ResT

Let yourself sleep more than you usually do. Extra sleep when you are sick isn’t lazy; it’s self-care. It’s important to conserve your energy so that you don’t steal from the energy your body needs to fight off the bug!

Have tips of your own? Please share them in the comment section below!

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Julie Johnson is a licensed acupuncturist, board certified herbalist, and the owner of Seven Seeds Acupuncture. She is an NCCAOM Diplomate of Oriental Medicine and a Fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine. She is passionate about women’s health, self-care, using food as medicine, and eco-friendly living. She loves combining these passions in her practice of holistic healthcare, which is designed to provide a source of healing that empowers and uplifts her clients.