Preventing winter colds and flus

Winter is here; cold and flu season is upon us. Those with a robust immune system may suffer little more than a runny nose in the coming cold months. Others who are more vulnerable will find it more difficult, being affected more frequently and intensely by illness. Form a Chinese medicine perspective; the source of our immunity or ‘protective qi’ is an abundance of metabolic energy. Energy that is stored in various organs to protect us during times of duress.

In winter our body has to work harder to maintain basal body temperature. If you are the type of person that feels the cold, gets cold hands and feet, or finds it difficult to warm up after exposure to cold, you may be vulnerable. Your body may be struggling to keep up the metabolic demand of maintaining warmth in winter. In Chinese medicine this is seen as a deficiency of ‘qi’, or vitality, or bio-energy that could be affecting one or more of your body systems, including the strength of your immune system.

People who have this tendency need to take care to nurture their ‘qi’ to support their immunity. For example on a chilly winter evening with plans for alfresco dining, don’t misjudge the temperature and forget your sweater. In the absence of extra clothes, the body has to work harder to produce metabolic heat to keep warm. Usually this additional energy comes from our energy reserves. An already deficient body with lower reserves lacks the ability to create this warmth easily. To offset the deficit, metabolic energy is taken from other body systems and processes such as immunity. With our protective function compromised we become more susceptible to the invasion of cold or flu viruses and pathogens.

We can however combat the colds and flus of winter by building our body’s energy reserves. By conserving ‘qi’, metabolic energy or the ability to maintain warmth we support the function of our immune system. Here are some simple ways to modify your life in winter to stay healthier and help prevent winter illness.

  • Dress warm – the less energy our body wastes keeping us warm, the more there is to support the function of our immune system. Especially wear a hat and scarf in the cold – we lose a large percentage of body heat through our head and neck area. If under-dressed stay inside when given the opportunity e.g. with dining.
  • Avoid wind – we’ve all heard of wind chill, the wind makes it colder, so wearing a layer that breaks the wind and protects our head and neck is particularly useful.
  • Dress children warm – especially those who tend to feel the cold or already have a sniffle – tights or long pants on a cold day can really make a difference to conserving energy.
  • Eat and drink warm – the less energy required to digest our food the more there is available for immune reactions. Our digestion is also the source of our body’s nutrition; maximizing its efficiency helps build ‘qi’ and strengthen immunity. (This is very simplified – and requires another whole blog entry).
  • Put on a tracksuit after exercising – we don’t want our body to cool to quickly, we are particularly vulnerable after sweating when the pores of the skin are open.
  • Get lots of sleep – we restore our energy when we sleep at night. Burning the candle at both ends usually has more health consequences in winter.

If despite making these changes this winter and you still get repeated flus or chronic colds, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help support your body’s immune system. Consult a registered practitioner to evaluate your specific situation and implement a plan of management to help you stay healthy.

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