It snot what you think…
Everyone around you is sick. You are determined to stay healthy…
or die trying.
The good news is that all those little cootie vectors at your work (chewing on your pens), in your classroom, or even (gasp!) those adorable little creatures that run around your house sliming every surface do not have to dictate how you react upon exposure to illness. Here are some tips and tricks I have learned over the years to stay healthy!
As an acupuncturist who has studied natural medicine, it is a rare day when I get fully, 100% sick and call my mother in a whimpering voice requesting chicken noodle soup. I’ve decided to share what has worked for me in the past and know that these tips will help you as well. Welcome to the world of granola-healing techniques.
1. THE most important, obvious and yes, redundant thing I can say is what we learned as little children and yet some people still seem to have never gotten the hang of; WASH YOUR HANDS!!!! Here comes a short but informative soap-box moment: I am not an OCD germaphobe, but for the love of Pete people.. *shakes head in disbelief* … if you go into a public stall, use the facilities, and leave without so much as glancing at the sink you make me want to throw up in your hair.
I don’t care that you think you got things under control in there, you had to touch the doors to get in and out and if you don’t wash your hands when you use a public restroom, pray tell, when was the last time you did? Think of all the nasty things people are touching in there…got the visual? Good, now how did THEY get out of that stall? Yup, same door you just touched. Germs are invisible…you can’t see them…but they are there. Just like Sasquatch.
Ok, now that you are (hopefully) nauseated lets continue. I have heard the excuse of “I’m allergic to most soaps.” Fine, but there are other ways. Make like a boy scout and bring your own soap to the party or just use the most amazing solvent known to man…H2O. That’s right, water is better than nothing and some friction with scrubbing will kill many bacteria. It’s better than nothing, so please, PLEASE, wash your hands like we learned in pre-school. I could give you a link to the Center for Disease Control…but this is way more fun, sing along if you know the words! wash hands with kitty! Fantastic, I feel better. Let’s move on.
2. ZZZZZZZ, sleep is good stuff. As we keep hearing from study after study, sleep is the time when we regenerate, rejuvenate, and heal. This is important for brain function, cellular activity, and our immune system. How can super man save the city from eminent doom with a piece of cryptonite in his pocket? He can’t! Now start wearing your undies on the outside of your pants and get some rest! If you have problems with sleep…well, that’s a whole other blog. In the meantime, see an acupuncturist near you, we love working on that. Also, even some deep meditation time during the day has a similar effect on your body; regenerate, rejuvenate, and heal. Tell it like it is, Mayo clinic.
3. Vitamins. Now, this is a touchy one. Some controversy surrounds multi-vitamins so this section is much my opinion (which should never be confused with fact…though it is a darn good opinion- in my opinion). THE most effective way to get the best nutrition, is to consume whole, nutrient dense, natural, unprocessed foods. Shocking right? I have this funny feeling many of you are looking quizzically at the screen wondering if your chicken parmesan Lean Cuisine counts. Sorry, but no. I of all people understand the demands of a crazy schedule and in a pinch I will eat things that are on the naughty “convenient” list such as a frozen microwaveable item because that is literally all I can do between running from one job to the next. I am not perfect, but I’m working on it 😉 However, I do not delude myself into thinking that I am getting much benefit from it other than a satisfied belly and the ability to power through another shift. If this is the case, it is time for a multivitamin. If I am not getting what my body should have to fight its battles, I need to provide more for it to work with. A few more tips.
So what would be a good vitamin? Well, I am sure glad you asked! First of all, a good vitamin will probably NOT be found at your local grocery store, you will need to go to a health food store or better yet somewhere like super supplements or vitamin-world. I want it to be a “whole food” vitamin (not Whole Foods the grocery store), this is a specific way in which the vitamin is processed, and I would prefer that it was more than once a day. Your body can only absorb so much of one thing at any given time. A “one-a-day” vitamin gives you a huge dose of something and you can’t utilize it all at once. Taking it more than once a day gives your body a couple chances to get what it can. Also, I am a bigger fan of capsules (or liquid if you are totally gung-ho) as opposed to hard, coated horse pills. Some are coated and so tightly packed in such a way that your stomach doesn’t have time to break it down by the time it reaches your small intestine to be absorbed. What does that mean? An expensive flush down the toilet.
While sick, you should consider raising your intake of zinc, vitamin C, garlic, ginger, and echinacea at the very onset of symptoms. Echinacea is not meant to be taken for lengths of time longer than a few months and should be used when you feel you are either susceptible to illness (ie: when the kids are all starting back up to school and it seems everyone is getting ill) or at the first sign of symptoms until they are resolved.
A side note for contraindications. First of all, you should always consult your doctor if you have any other medical issues or your symptoms persist or you have problems breathing. Echinacea should be avoided by those with autoimmune disorders, licorice should be avoided for those with high blood pressure, and if you are on blood thinners it is advised to stay away from high doses of garlic.
4. Yin Qiao. I cannot promote this Chinese herbal formula enough. This is something that every acupuncturist will have in their house. I have some in my house, my office, and in my purse at all times and hand it out to friends, family, and strangers like a creepy old man hands out candy.
Here’s how to use it: If you are surrounded by sick people, it’s not a bad idea to take a low dose for a little while until the storm passes. If you wake up one morning and think hmmm, I’m getting a sore throat. THAT is the time to take an active offensive and start taking it religiously until symptoms pass.
Lets get a little more specific when I say symptoms. When you first begin cold symptoms usually they are “hot” signs such as a sore throat, fever, or flushing. This can also include headaches, yellow phlegm, or even a red tongue with yellow coating. This is the time to take copious amounts of yin qiao. In general, when feeling like I’m fighting something I take one dose about every few hours. Everyone is a different size so check with a professional before you take much more than what the bottle says is the recommended dose.
This part is important: once your sore throat and fever are gone and symptoms have gone from “hot” to “cold” such as clear/white phlegm or productive cough, it is time to stop yin qiao. There are other formulas that can help get rid of the “crud” but at this point yin qiao has done all that it can do and should be stopped. You can find this formula at vitamin stores, some health food stores such as a co-op, or the best is at an asian market because it is MUCH cheaper! There are also several brands so ask whoever works there what the best one for your value is going to be. In general it’s pretty cheap so go get a bottle, or three!
5. Netti Pot! Heck yes, this thing is awesome too. For those of you who know what it is, you already know that this simple thing can work magic. For those of you who are totally lost and wondering what pot has to do with cold symptoms, let me explain. A Netti Pot or Sinucleanse, is a saline rinse for your sinuses. This sounds a bit strange but it is simple to use and very effective for many issues including viral or bacterial infections.
Here’s how it works: You will mix a packet of saline mix (comes in the starter kit) with body-temperature water. This will be in a Netti Pot which looks like a little genie lamp or in a squeeze bottle with a rounded tip. I have both and will use either though I tend towards the bottle- just my personal preference. You will lean over the sink and place the end in the opening of a nostril, lean over, and tilt to the side or squeeze. This is the fun part; water goes in one nostril, makes its way through your sinuses, and comes out the other nostril. I know, I know, you are thinking, “Oh the heck you say!” But trust me on this one, it does not hurt and you do not feel like you are drowning and you will not choke – promise! So long as you lean forward, everything stays well away from your throat and you can breath through your mouth while all this is going on. Once you have used half of the solution in the bottle, you will pause and take a minute to let it drain and blow your nose. Then repeat the same procedure on the other side. Again let it drain when you are done and blow your nose. You may need to gently blow your nose a bit more over the next 15 minutes or so. If your tap water is questionable, you may want to use bottled or distilled water. Detailed instructions.
So why in the world would you do this!? A few reasons. First of all, you will obviously be flushing out any debris and irritants (that is why this is great for those with allergies, flushes out irritating pollen and allergens). And even more important when fighting a cold, most bacteria and viruses cannot survive in saline solutions so this will be killing those buggers while you do this preventing sinus infections and keeping things clean and less likely to be a breeding ground for icky things. This will cost you between $12-$25, is reusable for as long as you keep it clean, and can be found at pharmacies. Easy, now go get one!
6. Chicken Soup. Yum yum! This is one of those “old wives tales” for fixing common ailments…but there’s actually something to it. Let’s get one thing straight though, this is slow-cooked goodness that Campbell’s can’t mimic. So if you are reaching for a can of soup…try again. Canned soups are full of sodium, sugars, and other preservatives. There are tons of recipes out there, the best ones are going to have a whole chicken, cooked slowly, with tons of herbs and vegetables. When all is said and done, save the bones and make some more broth out of it in a crock-pot, it’s good stuff!
So why is it so good? This goes back to the nutrition argument and good soup is going to be nutrient-dense with protein, marrow, veggies, and even just sipping on some hot broth can be helpful for clearing up some passageways and also the heat to maybe spark a sweat (we will talk about that next). There are even some herbs that I will add to a pot of soup to cook up with it that are specifically to help boost immune system. This will be a separate blog someday. Not to mention, who doesn’t feel better after a nice homemade bowl of homemade soup? Winter is coming, so get those crock-pots dusted off! The science of chicken soup.
7. Sweat. Get things heated up; take a hot bath (can add salts or natural essential oils such as eucalyptus), drink some hot green tea or a strong ginger tea with lemon, maybe a mild hot toddy. Some like to take a shot of apple cider vinegar, or add some to hot water with lemon. Ah heck, do it all and make a large mug of tea using lemon, ginger, honey, and apple cider vinegar. Why apple cider specifically? It has many benefits and one of the biggest reasons to consume it is that it is alkaline on the pH scale. We want our body to be as alkaline as we can because acidity will promote sickness. Bacteria, viruses, and even cancer cells cannot grow in an alkaline environment….so bottoms up! Get yourself warm, throw on some thick socks, sweat pants and sweat shirt and go to bed and sweat it out.
8. Don’t eat crap! Alright, let’s be a little more specific. Sugar. Sugar is a major culprit of illness both acute and chronic. We all know it’s not good for us so especially while sick, cut back drastically. Sugar is also going to help create a breeding ground for bacteria and make your body work harder than it needs to on processing it while it should be doing other things. This is the same for alcohol. I know I just told you to make a hot toddy but really, just in moderation and otherwise, stay away. To top off the reasons to stay away from alcohol is because it is dehydrating. Another major bad-boy is milk. Dairy products produce more phlegm than anything else and what are you while sick if not phlegmy? So stay away from all dairy and don’t contribute to the mucous party going on in your body. This is also a good time to mention smoking. This will not only hinder your recovery, it probably contributed to your affinity for illness in the first place. Smoking irritates the mucous membranes and can dry them out, these are the first line of defense from invaders so when it’s not at it’s peak function, you are more likely to get sick, and it will be harder to recover.
9. Water. Consume in vast quantities. If electrolytes are off or you feel very dehydrated, try a small amount (8 oz should be plenty) of coconut water. This has great hydrating properties, electrolytes, and minerals and is WAY better than gatorade in so many ways. If you are dehydrated, all sorts of things are not functioning properly AND your body is trying to get rid of bad stuff, give it an easy way out (urine). Hydration is especially important if you are doing the “sweat it out” technique. Juices do not count as they are loaded with sugar. Anything that has caffeine or alcohol means you need to drink 2x as much water to compensate.
What do I mean by a lot? You can look up how much you should have for your specific body weight but assume at LEAST 8 glasses/day. Hydrate! Generally the algorithm is divide your weight by 2. That is how many ounces of water to drink per day. Example: if you weigh 200 pounds, you should be drinking 100 ounces of water.
10. Swallowed razor blades? Here are some helpful tips to tame a sore throat. We all know about throat coat tea, not a bad idea. My motto is: If your body responds well, do it. If your body is telling you it doesn’t like something, listen to and trust that response. Maybe something needs to be altered and that’s ok.
I like to make a tea myself that includes slippery elm, violet flowers, licorice root, and I like some mint personally. If you are feeling like trying something interesting, add some sage. Sage is a fabulous “cooling” herb and helps when the throat is inflamed. A gargle with salt water is a simple and effective way to keep bacteria down and soothe irritated tissues. While we are on the topic of clean, be sure to brush your teeth frequently and rinse after consuming anything sugary, you want to keep bacteria from getting out of control especially if you are prone to strep or sinus infections. Teas for colds.
11. Someone mixed cement in your sinuses? Here are a few easy things to try for your sinus congestion before reaching for harsh medications that make you sleepy or dry you out. Add some spice to your life! Eat something with a big dallop of horseradish or wasabi, some fresh garlic or onions. Once things have opened up, this is a great time to use your netti pot while the passageways are moving.
Here is something fun to try and is very soothing; mix a teaspoon of any base oil that is safe on skin (olive, coconut, jojoba, almond, etc) and mix a couple drops of eucalyptus oil in it. Get a rag and soak it in hot water (please don’t burn yourself), and place on the upper half of your face especially focusing over the bridge of your nose and eyebrows. Reheat a few times over the next few minutes. You can then rub a little bit of your oil mixture on your nasal area, around your nose and above your eyebrows. DO NOT GET IN EYES. Then either place that hot cloth on again or do a quick steam.
Steaming is easy as well and you can even pretend you are getting an expensive spa treatment. Boil several cups of water and then pour into a big bowl. Add a few drops of one or all of the following: eucalyptus, tea tree, oregano, and lavender to the bowl. Lean over the bowl and cover your head and the bowl with a big towel and breathe…aaaaaaah. This has the duel action of opening up airways and killing microbes. In a hurry? While taking a hot shower, add a few drops of the essential oils onto a rag or sponge and leave in the stall with you. The steam helps evaporate those oils and you get a quick aromatherapy session! More sinus pressure remedies.
12. Laugh! Laughter boosts your mood and your immune response so when you decide to lounge on the couch all week watching movies, make it something funny and laugh heartily! Some good old-fashioned love and attention is always good too, make sure to take precautions not to pass on the bug.
13. Make a fashion statement and I don’t mean bed-hair or dark circles. One thing that acupuncturists do is wear a scarf! So simple but very accepted in our medicine as a way to help prevent sickness in cold climates. Protect your vulnerable neck from all that chilly wind and stay warm. Another good habit if it is really cold out; wrap it around your nose and mouth as well. Freezing temperatures in dry climates can strip the moisture form your mucous membranes and even cause micro-cracks leaving that area vulnerable to infection.
14. Oil pulling. Ok, this one is going to be a new concept for most of you. To be honest, it’s not a common one for me either but I felt it was worth sharing because many people find it has great benefits for them. This is the practice of swishing a natural oil in the mouth for 5-20 minutes to help “pull” toxins from your body. Considering how much bacteria we have in our mouths, it may be a good idea. Another bonus of oil pulling is that it helps to whiten teeth and who wouldn’t like that!? Oil pulling instructions.
15. Acupuncture. Of course! As always, it is best to get in to see your acupuncturist IMMEDIATELY upon the start of symptoms. We can work to either dispel this cold so it doesn’t quite settle in, or speed it along depending on where you are at in the process. It might be rough in the start but we can help get you through the thick of it a little faster. If you have symptoms that are lingering and just won’t go away, this is another great time to come in and we can get things moving along and out of your body. Acupuncture for cold and flu.
I hope this provided some reminders of the basics as well as some unique options to keep you busy the next time you feel a case of the sniffles come on. Until next time, be good to yourself!
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