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Preparing the Immune System for Autumn

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

As summer comes to a close, we revel in what seems to be the most perfect time of year, with warm days and cool nights.  Why would we look ahead to the fall and winter, when we can bask in the glow of summer a bit longer?  Well, in Chinese Medicine, the summer is the best time to prepare a weak immune system for the cold season ahead.  Even if you are not someone who takes home every cold that passes through the office, everyone can use a boost.

Let's start by clarifying one thing - the body does not have an immune system, the body is an immune system, many parts working together for continued health.  There are a lot of variables to consider – the lymphatic system, which is rich with white blood cells, the skin and mucous membranes, the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature.  So, like with most things, Chinese medicine uses a “whole systems” approach to treatment.  You can use this approach yourself, by first thinking about what you can do for the health of your whole system:

·     Get adequate sleep.  We often get sick when we allow ourselves to get run down.

·     Reduce stress.  Stress can greatly impact immune function, so spend some time outside, unwind with some yoga, acupuncture or a hot bath.

·     Eat well and stay hydrated.  A varied diet contains most everything we need.  In preparation for colder seasons, eat more warm foods, avoiding raw foods or foods directly out of the freezer or fridge.  Steam your vegetables, replace smoothies with broths and add ginger and cinnamon whenever appropriate.  Drink room temperature or warm water, 8-10 cups daily.  Avoid excessive sugar, grains and starches.

·     Exercise regularly.  Exercise helps with circulation and elimination, which can help rid the body of toxins, and keep lymph and blood moving to more effectively combat infections.

“The pathogen is nothing; the terrain is everything,” are the famous last words of Louis Pasteur, the inventor of pasteurization.  There are germs and pathogens around and inside of us all the time, whether or not we get sick depends on our state of health.  

If you tend to get 3 or more colds per year, you would be wise to take things a step further and consider supplementing your routine.  Here is what we would consider for Prevention:

  • Optimize your Vitamin D levels.  Vitamin D is extremely important for many of the body’s functions, and while the sun is the best source, we just don’t spend enough time outside.  More than 40% of adults are deficient in Vitamin D, and optimal levels (50-70) are even less common.  In nature, Vitamin D is typically found in combination with Vitamin A and K2, as in Cod Liver Oil.  This combination is ideal for synergistic effectiveness.
  • Get an Acupuncture Tune Up.  Let us evaluate how to best support your health and develop a plan or just reset your system to better adapt to stress.
  • Consider a Quercetin supplement.  Quercetin is a flavonoid with strong antioxidant properties that is particularly effective at reducing histamine responses.  If you are someone who tends toward allergies and sometimes cannot tell the difference between your allergies and a cold, this is a good one for during allergy and cold season.
  • Boost your immunity with an herbal formula like Jade Wind Screen (Yu Ping Feng San).  This classic Chinese remedy has just three herbs that work to support the immune system, one of which is Astragalus.
  • Ashwagandha is another herb that can be taken as a general tonic to support the immune system.  It is an important herb in Ayurvedic medicine and is considered an adaptogen, an herb the helps the body deal with stress.

Preparing the Immune System for Autumn, Amber Hincks Acupuncture in Beaverton, ORBone Broth with Yu Ping Feng San (Jade Wind Screen) cooked into it.

Look out for another post about natural remedies for colds and flus!