Living in the Pacific Northwest, I usually don’t have to contend with bitter cold, ice storms, or waist-high snow drifts. Winter here is fairly mild, albeit with perpetually overcast skies and perennial rain. However, while we might miss out on severe weather, we don’t get to skip the flu season. This year’s flu season is particularly harrowing with the predominant strain being H3N2, the strain that causes the worst outbreaks. But no need to panic! In addition to common-sense actions like avoiding sick people and washing your hands, here are six lifestyle and herbal tips to stay healthy all winter.
Wear a scarf. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, illness enters your body through a wind point at the back of your neck. Keeping your neck covered keeps you warm and keeps out the illness-bearing wind. (Plus, scarves are just a great accessory.)
Avoid sugar. Traditional Chinese Medicine refers to sugar as “white death”. (Yikes!) In addition to contributing to inflammation, sugar weakens your immune system for several hours, impairing your ability to fight off infections. I don’t think it’s coincidental how many people get sick around our sugar-infused holidays.
Rest. Winter’s shorter days and longer nights mean more time for rest and sleep. While we can’t hibernate like some creatures, we can attune our bodies to the rhythms of nature. Sleep is when our body rejuvenates and rebuilds. If you’re short-changing your sleep, you’re making it harder for your body to fight off illness.
Take Vitamin D. Almost every American is lacking in Vitamin D3, especially in the winter months when skin exposure to the sun is limited. Vitamin D3 helps regulate the immune system and low levels can make you more susceptible to viruses. Recommended dosages vary, but I take 5,000 IU every other day during the dark fall and winter months.
Take elderberry. Elderberries have been used for hundreds of years to prevent upper respiratory infections and shorten the duration of colds and flus. You can purchase elderberry syrup or even elderberry gummies. It’s also easy (and much cheaper) to make your own syrup. Take one tablespoon per day during the winter and increase to a teaspoon an hour if you’re actively fighting something off.
Use astragalus. Astragalus root has been used for thousands of years in China and is prized for aiding the immune system. It is especially helpful for people who get frequent colds and flus, and is also used to support cancer patients. Astragalus root is often used in soups, rice dishes, or even as part of chai to maintain wellness. Making it a steady part of your diet has long-term health benefits. (You can buy high quality astragalus root here.)