woman sneezingThe days are getting colder out there, and cold and flu season has officially started. In fact, just last week I was home (and still trying to get some work done) with two kids sick with viral, croupy coughs. Thankfully, there are lots of great strategies for preventing colds and flus as well as naturopathic treatments that you can do at home to help shorten the course of an illness once you are sick.

So why did my kids get sick and I didn’t? Everyone has a natural ability to respond to viruses that are present during the cold and flu season through the mechanisms of the immune system. Immunity is usually defined as being exempt from or resistant to or not susceptible to something external to one’s self. From a naturopathic perspective, immunity is the expression of a harmonious interface between you and the rest of the world, between your inner and outer environments. It is a reflection of our relationships to food, people, viruses, and the rest of nature which allows for resistance, but also embrace. The health of these relationships may be strained or weakened by many factors which, in turn, may affect our susceptibility to viral illnesses. You may then require additional support to effectively respond when you are in contact with viruses. Stress, sleep, diet, breath and hygiene are some examples of factors affecting the immune system. To help you prepare for the season ahead, reflect on the current status of your health and what you may need to create healthy relationships, boundaries, and balance.

Consider the following simple things to help you strengthen your immunity:

  • Dress – cover your windgate and wear layers of clothing and natural fabrics to stay warm
  • Hygiene – wash hands regularly with soap and water, especially before preparing food and after exposure to sneezing and coughing friends and coworkers; sneeze into your sleeve or elbow
  • Diet – keep the temperature of your food the opposite of the temperature outside; eat soups, stews, and baked dishes with garlic, ginger and other spices which have natural antimicrobial effects; drink “change of season soup“; avoid sugar, too much fruit, caffeine, fried foods, and alcohol as these may suppress the immune system; avoid dairy as it promotes congestion and mucous production
  • Sleep – get adequate, restful and restorative sleep
  • Stress – reduce, express, breathe, connect, ground; use meditation, visualization, breath, hydrotherapy, and laughter to cope with the stresses of daily living
  • Exercise – get regular moderate exercise; walking in nature is a great way to exercise and encourage healthy interactions with our external environment
  • Help – ask your naturopathic doctor or other health care provider about options, alternatives to the flu shot, and specific herbs/supplements/homeopathics to have on hand in the event that you start to feel sick

At the first sign of a cold or flu:

  • Rest, revitalize, refresh. Improve on the preventative measures you are taking, especially the ones you have been slack on.
  • Drink broth or soup. Listen to your body’s needs and eat only simple, easy to digest foods so you can focus on getting better.
  • Put on warming socks and go to bed. Warming socks are wonderful for supporting immune function and relieving congestion.
  • Encourage a fever. Fever is an important way that your body staves off infection. Dress in layers, wrap yourself in a warm blanket and go to bed.
  • Call your naturopathic doctor. Ask for a same-day acute appointment to develop an individualized plan to strengthen your immunity and recover quicker with the help of acupuncture, herbs, supplements, homeopathics and other therapies that will work best for you.