Go-To Tips for Cold and Flu Season

‘Tis the season for pumpkins, apple picking, fall foliage... and the flu! I have mixed feelings about the flu shot. I don’t personally rely on it (fact: the dosage is also made for a 5’9” white male, yet given to everyone in the same dosage). Knock on wood, I haven’t ever had the flu in the fall. I also don’t recommend it to my patients who are healthy adults (it’s different for immune compromised adults, etc). I manage to stay healthy with tried and true remedies.


Here are some of my go-to routines for staying healthy through the cold and flu season.

Socks and scarves

What your mother told you is true! Acupuncturists are notorious for telling patients to wear scarves and socks. It’s important to keep your neck and feet covered and warm during cold and flu season. From an acupuncture perspective, this age-old advice comes down to one thing: Wind. In Chinese medicine, Wind is "the cause of 10,000 diseases"- and common colds are just the tip of the iceberg. Depending on how deep Wind has penetrated the body, it can cause allergies, arthritis, stiff neck, headaches, body aches, asthma, skin rashes, hives, dizziness, and more.

With a common cold, the body’s defenses (the immune system) are low. Wind finds a way in through vulnerable spots like the back of the neck, which is known as the “Wind gate” in Chinese medicine.

This time of year especially, don’t leave home without a scarf. And ditch the flip flops!

Sleep

Sleep is important any time of the year, but especially in the wintertime. Winter is like the nighttime of the whole year because it is colder, darker, and more quiet than the rest of the year. Just as our bodies rest and reset for the next day at night, winter is when our bodies need to rest for the busy warmer months ahead.

In Chinese medicine, too little sleep can be linked to anxiety, poor immunity, hormonal imbalances, stress, and low energy. Ideally adults should be getting at least 7-8 hours per night (we even push 8-9 hours with our patients!). If you’re missing out on a full night sleep, try taking naps, getting to bed earlier, and just generally slowing down a bit.

If you have trouble sleeping, it is important to still use nighttime to rest. Your body needs that dark, still, quiet time in order to balance out all the energy you use during the day.

Single biggest offender: your phone. Put down your phone! Charge it outside of your room, not next to you on your nightstand. You can also try staying off the computer within 2 hours of bedtime, and not watching TV. Screens are stimulating and can trick the brain into thinking it’s time to be awake. Turn down the lights, climb into bed, and do something that relaxes you like light stretching, meditating, listening to soothing music, or reading. You can also try incorporating melatonin or CBD oil into your evening routine (I personally love CBD- it's a huge game changer with my sleep issues from running a business). Eventually, even if you still can’t sleep, turn all the lights out, lie down, and rest. Your body will ultimately find a way to rest, but it may have to get sick or extremely fatigued in order for that to happen.

For more self-care tips for sleep, read this!


Probiotics

This probably isn’t a new word for you. These are the “good” bacteria that live in the gut (mostly the small intestine). They are essential to digestion and also play a huge roll in immunity. They are one of our first lines of defense and compete with harmful bacteria that may invade the body.

Probiotics occur naturally in fermented or cultured foods, like kombucha, raw apple cider vinegar, sour pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and yogurt. If you rely on these foods, just be careful of the sugar you’re consuming in the ‘booch, kefir and yogurt. Also, the amount of probiotics in these foods doesn’t compare to taking probiotics supplements.

I highly recommend taking a daily probiotic. Everyday, no matter who you are. My first choice is MegaSpore probiotics because of the diverse amount of bacteria strains. There’s also Jarrow’s Jarro-Dophilus because they don’t require refrigeration. Probiotics provide a big boost of live strains and I’ve never seen anyone have a side effect from taking proper amounts of good-quality probiotics. Especially after an illness or taking antibiotics, it is important to build your gut flora back up by getting an extra boost of probiotics.


De-stress therapies

Oh, stress. In our office, we call it the New Yorker Syndrome. Stress can negatively impact so many aspects of our lives, so it is no surprise that it’s been proven to weaken the immune system. Cold and flu season is a particularly important time to make sure stress is maintained and low (especially heading into the holiday season). As I mentioned regarding sleep, our bodies need quiet and calm times to balance out the more stressful and hectic hours in the day.

My go-to routine is a combination of meditation, acupuncture, physical activity and spending time in nature to stay relaxed. If you find yourself feeling frantic, focus on activities that slow you down. Sometimes it can be as simple as putting your bare feet in the grass at Madison Square Park to ground you. Or a 15-minute massage at a nail salon. Find these things that slow you down and incorporate them into your schedule, and find a routine that works for you.


Exercise

Exercise helps to circulate blood, speed up metabolism, strengthen immunity, detoxify the body, and improve mental health. It’s so much more than for weight loss. I also have seen it help many forms of chronic pain- my mother did gentle exercise during her chemotherapy, and it helped her side effects (as did acupuncture, etc).

Even if you are limited by an injury, energy level or time, finding some form of regular exercise is absolutely paramount to staying healthy all year long. This time of year, especially in colder climates, there is a temptation to spend more time inside and less time outside moving around. But, exercise almost always pays off. If you aren’t in the habit of working out regularly, start with walking. You can do this nearly any time of day, almost anywhere, and you can bring a friend or interesting podcast along to help distract you. Park your car further away in the parking lot. Get off a stop early on the subway. Perhaps you can start to add in other activities at your own pace, like hiking, quick 15-minutes runs, yoga classes, light weight training, a dance class, or whatever works for you.

My favorite go-to classes in NYC:

Running: Mile High Run Club

Yoga: The Shala, Yoga Vida, Modo, Kula (I used to be a yoga teacher, so I’m quite picky!)

Indoor cycling: Swerve Fitness, FlyWheel

Strength Training/ HIIT: Body Space Fitness, Fhitting Room, HIIT IT!, Orange Theory Fitness


Real food

Try to get all the vitamins you can from the food you eat. In NYC, our produce, meat, and dairy are easily accessible from local sources, which does sometimes means visiting the farmers’ market 1-3 times per week. This can be a little less convenient than going to the nearby grocery store, but it’s worth it. Lower transit time from farm to table means more nutrients retained and fresher food that keeps longer in the fridge. Focus on nutrient-dense foods like grass-fed meat and dairy, organ meats, local bee products, bone broth, and organic seasonal produce.

Because we don’t absorb all the vitamins and minerals we need, supplement your diet with a few whole foods, like fermented cod liver oil, omega-3 fish oil and blue-green micro-algae. It can give your immune system more of the nutrients it needs to stay strong. If you are curious about eating a real-food diet, I like Real Food: What to Eat and Why, by Nina Planck. For those who still need more nutrition, try taking a multivitamin from a reputable brand. Also, you may have nutritional deficits that come from your gut actually not being able to absorb things- functional nutrition and functional medicine programs can test you to see what exactly you’re missing that’s preventing you from being optimally healthy. For more info on that: robinrandisi.com.


Bone broth

People have been consuming bone broth to stay healthy for a loooong time. It has so many benefits that I think nearly everyone could benefit from drinking it regularly (particularly if you’re in rehab for an injury!).

Once a week, you can make a big pot of bone broth and drink it almost every day. Use it for soup, sauces, and for braising veggies- bone broth is especially good for simmering with collard greens or kale.

The immune-building properties of bone broth are well known. I believe regular consumption is a huge contributor to the strength of one's immune system. If you’re already sick, bone broth also is great for recovery. Here's a great recipefrom our blog a few years ago:


Herbal teas

Drinking herbal teas in the fall and winter can be a great easy addition to keep you warm and healthy. You can try starting the morning with ginger tea to stimulate digestion. It is also an immune tonic, and it warms you up. You can also toss in spiced chai, chamomile, fresh mint, gynostemma, raspberry leaf, licorice, or other herbal blends. Gynostemma is especially good for immunity and is packed with antioxidants. It is believed to promote longevity and has been proven to have a number of other benefits like reducing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and balancing blood sugar. It is one of the most popular teas in Asia and is often consumed daily. Check out the Dragon Herbs brand.

Whatever works best for calls to you, try it out this season. If you just choose one thing, my suggestion would be to make sure your sleep is consistent and you’re getting enough. We wish you a happy, healthy fall season.


In Gratitude and Health,
Sara and Mary

Immunity

Dare I say that we're fiiiiinally getting through the worst of the cold & flu season? This undoubtedly has been one of the worst seasons on record. People are still trying to get rid of bad flu viruses and the weather seems to not want to warm at all. This means your immune system needs an extra boost right now.

We're a very reactive society - we tend to talk about helping our immune systems once we're already sick. But what about being proactive and keeping our bodies as healthy and squeaky clean as we can? Studies show you can successfully slide through the sick season unscathed, with just a little TLC for your immunity.

Here are some easy and quick tips to keep you on the healthy side of life:
*Consult your physician before taking any herbal supplements, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or taking any medications

1) Gut health
Hands down, your gut health is your #1 marker for your immune health.
Probiotics are at the top of this section. You have single strain and multi-strain varieties. Be careful though with the advertising - more is not always better with bacteria. Many capsules and yogurts will advertise "8 different strands!," which really means there are 8 different bacteria strands that likely will compete with each other for the right to live in your gut. Some people are sensitive to that, and can feel quite sick or compromised. Regardless what you choose, make sure that you have the Lactobacillus (helps with carbs and lactic acid) and L. acidophilus (anti-carcinogenic, antimicrobial) species.
ACV. Apple cider vinegar is immensely popular for helping neutralize your stomach acid. I personally love Bragg's ACV far better than any other label. Mix one teaspoon of ACV with a few ounces of water and enjoy that on an empty stomach in the morning, within 30 minutes of waking up. You can also add a bit of honey to the ACV if it's particularly strong for you.
Marshmallow root extract. This herb has been documented all the way back to ancient Egypt. It's widely used to soothe the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. It's commonly used for dry cough, constipation, diarrhea and minor stomach ulcers. Dilute one dropper of the liquid with 8oz. of water one time a day.

2) Stress
Chronic states of stress can wreak havoc for your immune system. Stress causes chronic inflammation that is harmful to tissues in your body, and it suppresses your immune cells that are needed to fight infections. Some studies have suggested there is a link between chronic stress and autoimmune diseases, as well as the growth of pre-cancerous cells.
Although many find it difficult, meditation is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to ease stress. There are many apps to guide you with this, as well as meditation centers. Start with an easy goal, like 2 minutes, and increase it by 1 minute every other day. Make it part of your routine. Other accessible ways to destress include putting your legs up the wall (helps calm your nervous system, EFT or tapping... and there is always acupuncture :).

3) Sleep
We are terrible at sleeping. I'm even writing this blog after midnight; I'm guilty of it, too! It's so crucial to receive at least 7-8 hours of sleep (new parents, I'm sorry, I know that doesn't include you quite yet). Sleep and the circadian system have a strong regulatory influence on the immune system. Research shows that numbers of T-cells (the good guys that fight infection) increase during sleep cycles. Also, proteins called cytokines are also produced when you're catching zzz's. Cytokines are essential messengers during an immune response and help your system react quickly and effectively.

My appointment is over. Now what?

You just had an acupuncture treatment, and you can’t remember what you’re supposed to do for post-treatment care. Read up for a refresher!

Q: This was my first acupuncture appointment. What should I do now? 

A: Give yourself a restful 24 hours, or rest as much as possible. The most important things to remember are to: 

  1. Drink plenty of water, as water helps the lymphatic system flush out toxins in your body and also helps moisten the connective tissue spaces where the acupuncture points were applied.
  2. Eat a good meal. Go for warm, cooked foods instead of raw, cold foods, as warm meals are easier for your GI tract to digest. Leafy greens, grains and healthy protein are all good options.
  3. Get plenty of rest. Most people sleep better the night after they receive acupuncture. Make sure the time you spend in bed is at least 7 hours, or ideally 8-9 hours.

Q: My muscles are really sore from the trigger point therapy we did. What can I do for the soreness?

A: Try applying heat to the area, like a warm towel or heating pad. Epsom salts are also wonderful to use, as they have lots of magnesium, which is great for sore muscles. Keep in mind that the soreness is a natural reaction, and is just from the release of lactic acid and other biochemicals from your muscles. The soreness usually subsides within 24 hours.

Q: I’m supposed to do foam rolling for my area we worked on. How do I use the foam roller for the specific area?

A: A general rule of thumb is to roll along the direction of your muscles. For example, if your quads are tight, use the foam roller up and down the quads. If your back is achy, foam roll up and down, vertically to your spine. For hard to reach areas, such as the hip flexors (yes cyclists and runners, that’s you!), grab a lacrosse ball and get in those tight areas. Foam rolling should be intense but not incredibly painful.

Q: When should I come back in for treatment?

A: It depends on what we’re working on. For new injuries, I need to see you once a week for 4-6 weeks so we can get a routine going for your rehab. If it’s a chronic injury, it’s usually once a week for 2-3 weeks, and then every other week for 2-3 weeks. If you’re coming in for maintenance, that frequency is up to you. Most of my clients come in every two or three weeks for maintenance. The most important thing is to remember that acupuncture is preventative. I need to see you before your symptoms flare up (whether that be allergies, pain and constriction, insomnia, digestive issues, etc.).

If you have any specific questions, you can always reach me via email or text! I will always respond at my earliest convenience.