It’s that time of year again. Cold season. We all know it, because most everyone during the fall or winter season has succumbed to the viral malady that can last 1-2 weeks and cause sneezing, scratchy throat, low energy, stuffy head, and a runny nose. In fact, according to the CDC, it’s still the number one reason for lost days at school and at work (1). With no cures on the horizon due to these numerous (over 200 types), ever-changing viruses, we focus on ways to reduce risk, improve our host defense mechanisms and shorten duration and severity in the event of ‘catching the cold’.
Before addressing effective and natural support measures for the common cold, we need to understand why and how we become so susceptible duringthe ‘cold season’.
First, when it’s cold outside we spend more time indoors. This typically means less activity and movement. Movement is what drives the circulation of our lymphatic system – the bodies’ immune vessel network. Less movement means less immune efficiency to get to any foreign bug.
Second, because we’re spending more time indoors, days are shorter, and the sun follows a lower daily path in the sky (unless you live near the equator), we get less vitamin D. This vitamin has been shown in numerous human studies to be a remarkable immune regulator (2, 3).
Finally, because of the dry air from forced air heating in our homes and workplace, our mucus membranes – those delicate immune barriers in our sinuses, eyes, respiratory system, and gut – become dry, weakened, and susceptible to invaders. Let’s not forget one more component: the holidays. For some,this is a time of celebrating with multiple social festivities and family gatherings where we eat too much, drink too much, and consume more sweets. Throw in some stress with year-end work deadlines, gift shopping, family quarrels or other elements and regardless of whether you’ve partied like a rock star or not, the combinations can be a ‘perfect storm’ of weakening our host defense. It’s no surprise we get colds. So what to do?
Protect your barriers! This means mucus membranes. According to Ayurveda, the ancient traditional healing system from India, Fall and Winter are times of kapha-vata disorders, where congestion and stagnation can build up. For our sinuses, this is bad news, as it’s a common entry point for cold bugs to invade and set up shop. Keeping them flushed out can reduce congestion tendency as well as flush out debris, viral particles and toxins
Sinuses – For this, I recommend to all my patients to buy a neti pot, or sinus irrigation cup. These can be found online or at health food stores. Simply fill the cup with pure, slightly warm water, and add a couple pinches of sea salt. Then occlude one side of your nose with the nozzle, tilt your head forward and to the side, breathe out your mouth, and tip the cup so that the contents start flowing into the nasal cavity and come out the other side of your nose. Do this for about 1/2 of the pot, then repeat for the other side. It can be repeated several times a day for severe nasal congestion. It’s easy, cheap, and effective for sinus health and clearing
Respiratory - I often suggest a cool-mist diffuser to be run in your bedroom at night while sleeping. Place essential oils into the provided water reservoir in most diffusers. My favorites for chest congestion are lavender, pine and eucalyptus. Add some oregano or thyme if there’s any sign of possible infection. (Note: do not use instead of seeking medical advice!) A good mix is 5-10 drops of these oils into the reservoir. Most oils can be purchased at any local health food store, or on our website's Virtual Pharmacy. A great diffuser that I suggest on our pharmacy is made by NOW, called the Ultrasonic Real Bamboo Diffuser (code: N75215).
Gastrointestinal - This is the major immune regulation system in the body. Variousauthorities claim that the gut makes up anywhere from 70-80% of our immune system. In fact, our entire gut ecosystem (microbiome) contains many TRILLIONS of bacteria, more than our human cell population! The goal is to balance and enhance the beneficial population of friendly bacteria. Why? Because of the myriad of far-reaching beneficial effects the bacteria do for our immune system (not to mention brain). A recent article in the June 2012 Scientific American highlighted the importance of our gut ecosystem, and how ignored it is regarding our health. So how do we do this? Probiotic capsules are a start but typically inadequate for immune health. What I’m referring to is real, cultured and fermented foods! All traditional populations have always consumes a variety of cultured and fermented foods for good health and immunity. Foods like kimchee, sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, kefir, and many other fermented vegetables are literally PACKED WITH TRILLIONS of beneficial bacteria in each serving. Compare this to the average ‘high-potency’ probiotic, which may have 30-100 billion per serving. You’d literally have to consume an entire bottle of probiotics to equal a single serving (hand-size) of cultured/fermented foods. A great resource to find out more on fermented foods is www.culturesforhealth.com.
Note: some people will need to stay away from dairy sources of fermented foods, as they can be mucus forming. The bottom line is eat fermented foods often. I have my patients aim for a goal of 2 servings a day of whatever they like or tolerate. Ramp up slowly if there’s any gas formation.
Other support options -
These supportive measures can help you sail through the cold season with little to no down time.