Have you ever noticed that you or your kids are more likely to get sick whenever the weather changes? Southern Ontarians are experiencing a dramatic weather change today - a sudden shift from the unrelenting sun, heat and humidity we've had all summer to brisk winds and cold rain (shivers!!). Will we enjoy a final burst of warm, summery weather from now until Thanksgiving? Time will tell, but in the mean time, this sudden change in weather is a big challenge for our immune systems and overall energy levels. This posting provides you with pointers for staying healthy today and through the seasons.
Weathering the Storm - Lessons from Traditional Chinese Medicine
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, the energy that protects us from infections, termed the "Wei Qi" or "Protective Chi", which in Western medicine can be viewed as a part of our immune system, is highly challenged by exposure to weather changes. If you've ever come in from a cold, windy day with a runny nose, achiness and stiffness in your neck and shoulders, you've experienced a compromise of your Protective Chi termed an "invasion" of external wind or cold. These early symptoms are a sign that your body needs prompt immune system support in order to prevent these "invasions" from going from bad to worse - such as a sore throat, fever, cough, headache, or sinus and lung infections.
Supporting Your Immune System - Home Care Basics
With any exposure to change in weather, especially cold, rain or wind, consider taking some of these preventive measures that you can easily do at home:
Cover up - It's scarf time! Wear comfortable layers of breathable clothing and in particular keep your neck and throat, chest, abdomen and lower back warm and covered. In TCM, these areas are considered to be most vulnerable to the attack of cold weather. Also, keep your feet warm and dry with cotton or wool socks, or slippers on bare floors.
Warm up - brew some warming drinks like ginger root and cinnamon bark teas for an anti-microbial and warming boost, or a homemade chicken broth to sip throughout the day. We all know the "plenty of fluids" rule when we feel like we're getting sick, plus, the washing-downward effect of drinking plenty of warm fluids also helps to get viruses and bacteria out of your mouth and throat where they can cause infection, and into your stomach where they can be nicely taken care of by your very own stores of hydrochloric acid.
Change it Up - Change-of-Season-Soup is a time-honored, traditional combination of Chinese herbs used to strengthen the body against potentially infections pathogens. It comes in packets of loose, dried roots and berries that when simmered for a couple of hours brews into a slightly sweet broth that can be enjoyed as a tea or used as a base for making soups and stews. Find it at your local Asian market, TCM practitioner's or Naturopathic Doctors' office. I like to make mine with organic free-range chicken, onions, garlic and other veggies thrown in, or add ginger and cinnamon if I'm going to drink it as a tea. We always keep a fresh supply of Change-of-Season-Soup in our dispensary at the Meridian Wellness Centre.
More Naturopathic Immune Support
Hot and Cold - Believe it or not, cold water can be healing to the body when used appropriately. Try alternating hot and cold showers, always ending with cold. The hot and cold alternation helps to improve the circulation and lymphatic flow, and enhances immunity over time. Ending with cold helps pump blood into your core, to keep you warm from the inside out. Tip: keep hot/warm phases 3-4 times longer than the cold ones in order to avoid getting chilled.
Let the Lymph Flow - In addition to hot and cold showers, a gentle, superficial massage over any areas of lymph node tenderness can help drain that fluid, where our immune cells are active. Try applying castor bean oil, or a bit of Tiger Balm in a carrier oil like olive or almond as a soothing boost for the massage. Also, don't be put off from your regular exercise routine. You might choose to go more gently, keeping in mind that research demonstrates that moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) supports healthy immunity.
Rest Well - when you're feeling like you're coming down with something, it's important to take the extra time you need to rest, rejuvenate, and take care of yourself. Reschedule activities for when you're feeling back to normal. Have a relaxing epsom salts bath. Turn off the screens, keep the lights low and listen to soothing music. It's a good idea to ask your health care practitioner what extra nutrients or other treatments may be helpful at this earliest stage of illness. Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (sorry for the use of this old cliche - but it's TRUE!).
These are just a few of the many strategies available to you as you strive to keep healthy when the weather goes downhill. Speak with your Naturopathic Doctor or other health care provider for your own individualized plan.