With cold and flu season underway, many of our families are being hit hard by illness. In fact, some people have learned to just expect that at least one member of their family will be sick at all times throughout the winter season. Colder temperatures and inclement weather have most of us spending much more time indoors, with doors and windows closed, breathing recirculated air and wishing for the sun to come out again.
The cold and flu season hits us every year, and every year the media plays on our fears and leaves us feeling helpless to keep ourselves healthy. This year the media circus has been quite intense and, unfortunately, the public is in a frenzy of panic, lining up to get flu shots and tamiflu. While I could go on and on about the dangers of these protocols, what I really want to do is empower people to be in charge of their own health and wellness.
We are far from helpless when it comes to preventing and treating winter colds and flus. Natural remedies abound for the prevention and treatment of these types of illnesses. I'd like to illustrate just a few of the ways we can accomplish the goal of staying well during the winter season using natural modalities.
In this post, I'd like to delve into some of the more practical tools and techniques that can be used effectively to prevent and alleviate winter illnesses and the symptoms that go along with them.
In looking more deeply at the first factor, it is important to realize that exposure to fresh air and the natural environment on a regular basis is critical to our health. There has been much awareness lately around the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or "forest bathing". It is attracting attention because of recent studies showing improved immune function and mental health from the practice. It turns out that what we have known all along is true - when we are more to connected to the natural world around us, we are healthier.
Because we are spending more time indoors, for most of us, that also means we are less physically active. There have been numerous studies linking physical activity with better immunity. I think the key thing to think about here is that while we may be more limited in the options for physical activity, there are still many ways to keep our bodies moving during the winter. Yoga, Tai Chi and various forms of dance are great ways to keep your body moving and to maintain flexibility the whole year round.
Many of us tend to gravitate more toward food in the winter. There are a variety of reasons for this: holiday celebrations, spending more time inside, closer to the kitchen, feeling the need to nurture ourselves and families, feeling pulled into a sort of natural hibernation mode which results in the need to store up food to last us through the cold season, etc. All of these are good things, though. And, I think that doing these things more mindfully and selectively can actually help to keep us healthy instead of being a factor of illness.
As an extension of the previous thoughts, I feel it is vital to step back into the natural flow of health and well-being that can only come from understanding how we are all part of the cycles of nature. Winter is a time when all the natural world slows down, takes time to sleep and dream and gather energy for the rebirth of the spring. This is an invitation for us to do the same. When we ignore that opportunity to rebuild our energy stores and nurture ourselves in quieter, gentler, more restorative ways, we miss out on the opening to take our health to the next level. Winter is a time of introspection and envisioning our future. If we choose to come into the awareness of the flow of nature, our body, mind, and spirit will follow suit and exist within the flow of health and well-being.
One of the best ways to stay healthy is to focus on prevention first. A healthy diet centered around nutrient-dense foods, including an abundance of vitamin-packed organic vegetables and fruits and clean, pure water, is of course, your most effective ally in preventing illness. However, there are many other tools in the health toolkit, as well.
Elderberry - This is one of the most common (for good reason) and effective herbal remedies to keep your immune system in top form throughout the year, but especially throughout the cold and flu season. There are many ways to prepare elderberry, but you can read about my absolute favorite here.
Fire Cider - All the rage right now in the herbal world, Fire Cider recipes can be individualized to suit your unique needs and tastes and is, personally, my first line of defense against infectious illnesses. It's so simple to make and use. Here is a quick and easy tutorial to follow.
Adaptogens - Adaptogens are a class of herbs that have gained a lot of attention in the press lately. As their name suggests, they help the body 'adapt' to stress. Since, even among conventional health practitioners, it is known that stress contributes to the vast majority of disease states and almost 90% of doctor visits, helping the body deal with stress more effectively is a priority to maintain health. Here are just a few adaptogens you might want to consider to optimize your own well-being.
Onset of Illness
There are a few remedies that can nip a cold or flu in the bud if taken at the very start of an illness. As soon as symptoms are felt, taking these remedies can shorten the severity and length of an illness and sometimes prevent it altogether.
Oscillococcinum - This is a homeopathic remedy that is well-known for preventing a full-blown cold or flu when taken at the very onset of the illness. I have personally used it may times and can attest to its effectiveness.
Influenzinum - Another homeopathic remedy that can halt the flu in its tracks. Again, it should be taken at the very first signs of symptoms in order to be effective.
Fire Cider - I am listing this herbal remedy again because, not only is it effective at prevention of illness, but I have found that if I load up on Fire Cider (take a teaspoon every few hours) at the first sign of illness, I can completely avert the illness from taking hold.
Addressing Symptoms of Illness
Once a cold or flu has been contracted and symptoms are being experienced, it is important to support the body so that it can do its job of dealing with the disease state and bringing the body back to a balanced state of health. There are so many different symptoms one can experience while ill, and so many wonderful remedies to address those possible symptoms, it is beyond the scope of this post to address them all. However, you might want to look at my previous article about what to stock in your home medicine kit to get an idea of all the possible remedies you might want to have on hand and which symptoms they can address.
Rest - One of the most crucial, but overlooked, remedies for addressing an illness is rest. Our bodies heal when we are at rest. If we are dealing with a sickness, our body will need extra time to rest in order to do its healing work. If we insist on maintaining our daily schedules and routines, we are overburdening our bodies at the critical time that it really needs our support to heal and recover.
Fluids - In order to shunt more energy to the immune system to deal with an illness, the body diverts energy from other systems, including digestion. One of the best ways to support the body during illness is not to overload it with food, but to focus instead on fluids. Pure, clean water is important, as well as broths (vegetable or bone) and electrolyte solutions, if needed. A great homemade electrolyte solution can be found here.
There are so many exceptional, effective ways to keep healthy naturally throughout the year! What are your favorite natural remedies?