This morning I noted a post on a Facebook forum for holistic practitioners. Someone asked what could be done to stay healthy through the winter months. Last year, this person had been ill constantly and was hoping to not repeat that. There followed a list of comments, everyone recommending their favorite supplement for supporting the immune system. There were 43 comments but not a single one mentioning Self Care!
Everyone may have their own “secret” remedy but the real “secret” is that you can’t expect any supplement to protect you if you’re not practicing good self care!
Taking supplements is fine, and I’ll share my favorites below, but if you want them to work well there are some basics that can’t be ignored.
When my kids were young and before my epiphany on holistic healthcare I used to think it was normal that my whole family suffered through 8-12 colds a year. That was what I observed everyone around me doing. I now know it may have been common but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way.
It seemed we always used to get sick over the holiday season. I could postulate a number of possible reasons: So many social gatherings in closed indoor spaces, the stress of holiday preparations and travel, the sweet treats so easily available everywhere. What can one do? Here’s what I’ve figured out the hard way over the years.
The first thing is food. And the first step is to cut back on sugar. Sugar is the worst thing for our immune systems.
How to do this? Sugar is so ubiquitous during the holidays. Think it through ahead of time and substitute with savory treats, fresh fruit and nuts when possible. Be mindful of what you’re drinking, too, as the sugar from soda and juices can add up very fast. Try making your own “mocktails” with sparkling water, a small amount of juice and some lemon or lime. Perhaps get creative and add some sprigs of fresh herbs.
Once you stop eating it, you’ll stop craving sugar. If you need to substitute something, stick with stevia and avoid artificial sweeteners which all have their own health problems.
When you do (rarely) eat sugar, choose a food you love and thoroughly enjoy it! Be gentle with yourself.
Next step: Get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet for a variety of vitamins and minerals. Yes, you can take a multivitamin but it’s never going to supply all the components you get from eating the real food. The simplest way to assure you’re getting the full range of nutrients is to “eat the rainbow.” Admittedly, it’s much easier during the summer when fresh grown fruits and vegetables are so easily available. Consider adding frozen berries to your diet in winter. Find creative ways to prepare leafy greens, squash and root vegetables. Roasting makes everything taste good. Use smoothies and soups to get veggies into resistant kids.
Be generous with herbs and spices when you cook. Some favorites that support a strong immune system are garlic, onions, turmeric and thyme. There are many others.
Next, get good sleep. Everyone is different. Pay attention to your own body’s needs. I know that I need AT LEAST a good 8 hours a night. How much do you need to feel vigorous in the morning? Make it a priority. You’ll function better and be more efficient with everything else.
Allow time in your weekly schedule to simply relax, wind down and restore energy reserves. What do you do to relax in the winter? My husband likes to pick up a good book while I’m working on my latest knitting project. Sometimes I get hooked into social media so I’m trying to be conscious of how much time I spend there. Screen time can really drain our energy. I especially try to avoid it in the hour or two before bedtime as the light from screens literally reduces melatonin levels in our bodies and interferes with sleep and immunity.
Find ways to continue exercising even when you can’t get outdoors. Make it fun so you’ll want to continue doing it regularly. Turn on some music and dance, buy a jump rope, go for a walk in the rain (with boots and raincoat of course), join a yoga or zumba class. Exercise supports our immune function so keep it up.
There are a number of energy practices that can support good immunity. One of my favorites is QiGong. A simple practice is to take a moment out to concentrate on your breath, breathing slowly and deeply and tuning in to awareness of your body. Feel yourself connecting to the earth below and heavens above. Clear your mind of a hundred extraneous thoughts by concentrating on the breathing process. This can provide a “reset” that takes you away from the stress of everyday minutiae and keeps you focused on the bigger picture of life and wellbeing. Think about the deeper meaning of the holiday season and what’s important to you. One of my meditation teachers had us put small sparkly star stickers in places we would see often as a reminder to stop for a minute and be mindful. I still have one on my steering wheel.
Another relevant QiGong practice that specifically enhances immunity is to make a light fist and gently tap on your breastbone to activate the thymus gland underneath. It’s one of the main components of our immune system. This is something I do regularly but especially whenever I feel those first signs of illness coming on such as a scratchy throat or unexplained fatigue.
If you find yourself or your child still becoming ill frequently, another natural approach is to consult a homeopath for a constitutional evaluation. This is something I’ve seen put an end to recurrent infections such as sinus infections, ear infections, croup and other acute illnesses that can create a vicious cycle of illness-antibiotic-weakened immunity-recurrent illness. It brings the immune system back into balance in a natural way.
Supplements do have a place as well. On an ongoing basis, the most important ones to consider preventatively are Vitamin D3, Omega-3 supplements (fish oil, cod liver oil, krill oil) and probiotics. I generally take these 3 basics and most people will benefit from them.
What to add when you feel an illness coming on?
If you’ve worked with a homeopath and have an individualized constitutional remedy that works well for you, consider taking a “booster” dose of that. Make sure to discuss this ahead of time with your homeopath as to what might be appropriate or not.
Or, based on what symptoms you’re experiencing you can take a remedy that matches, eg Oscillococcinum for flu symptoms or Aconitum for your child’s croupy cough. Homeopathic remedies assist your immune system to work more effectively.
If you feel the need for an extra boost, some herbs to consider are Echinacea, Elderberry, Pelargonium (eg Umka) and the Chinese formula, Yin Chiao (eg Cold Snap). These are most effective if taken as soon as one feels signs of becoming ill. Extra vitamin C, Vitamin A and zinc can also be helpfuI.
Overall, enjoy the holiday season and make time to celebrate with those you love. Joy, happiness and laughter are good medicine as well.