Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a healthcare professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

Natural ways to boost your immune system this cold and flu season

Cold and flu season is just around the corner. Chinese medicine is highly focused on preventative medicine, not just treating an illness once it arises. 

Here are several top strategies to strengthen your immune system so you can avoid getting sick, and if you do get sick, ensure your body is ready to fight off the illness as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A healthy immune system starts in the gut

The gut houses seventy percent of the cells that make up the immune system. Cultivating a healthy balance of gut bacteria and encouraging good digestion are vital to your immune system. You can improve gut health by avoiding processed and inflammatory foods like gluten, sugar and dairy. You can heal your gut by increasing fermented foods, vitamin-rich fruits and veggies, seasonal root veggies, whole grains and essential fatty acids like coconut oil. It is a good idea to add a high quality probiotic to your daily routine as well. 

Eat with the seasons

In Chinese medicine it is very important to eat with the seasons. In winter, this means avoiding cold and raw foods like salads, ice cream and cold beverages, which can impede digestion and weaken the immune system. Opt for nourishing foods like soup, stews, cooked veggies and add warming spices like garlic, ginger and turmeric. 

Sleep health is key to keeping your immune system healthy

Poor sleep has been associated with a lowered immune response as well as a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Sleep is the time where your body restores itself and is vitally important or your immune system. 

In a recent study, people who average less than seven hours of sleep a night were three times more likely to develop cold symptoms when exposed to the rhinovirus.

My number one tip to improve sleep health is to be vigilant about limiting screen time (phones, computers and TV) as you wind down at night. This helps the body stay in tune with the natural circadian rhythm that is so important for a number of regenerative physiological processes that keep you strong and healthy.

Check your vitamin D levels

One of the reasons colds and flu occurrence spikes during the winter months is because we are exposed to less sunlight, and more likely to be deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D activates your immune system. 

Living in Oregon, we don’t have access to sunlight that is required for our bodies to produce Vitamin D for most of the year, so I recommend my patients increase Vitamin D in their diet as well as take a good quality supplement. 

My favorite vitamin D rich food is mushrooms. Mushrooms are rich in Vitamin D, loaded with nutrients, have anti-cancer properties and are powerful immune-boosters. Fall farmer’s markets have a wonderful variety of wild-foraged mushrooms to choose from. 

Fasting

There has been a lot of research on the various health benefits of fasting in recent years. A recent study looked at people undergoing chemotherapy, who had suppressed immune systems. They had the participants fast for seventy-two hours. 

During the fast, they observed that the body recycles unneeded immune cells, especially damaged ones, in order to create energy while fasting. After the fast, their stem cells began to produce new white blood cells, which help to fight off infection. 

Of course, before trying a fast or changing your diet, please consult with your healthcare practitioner. 

Kitchen Remedies

Many food-grade herbs are naturally anti-viral and antibacterial. Ginger, garlic, turmeric, horseradish and onions are the more common ones that come to mind. Consider making fire cider, which steeps these food-grade herbs in apple cider vinegar to extract their medicinal qualities. The website below has my recipe, or you can buy fire cider at most supermarkets.

Another good option is to supplement with oil of oregano, a powerful antimicrobial. 

Lastly, stay hydrated and rest. Avoid burnout as it can leave your immune system vulnerable and more likely to catch a virus going around. Be well this fall and winter.

Emily Bartha, LAc, MAcOM, DiplOM, Turning Pointe Acupuncture, 5105 SE Hawthorne Blvd. turningpointeacu.com 971.302.7039