Recently I was feeling under the weather and, because I’m breastfeeding, I couldn’t use my normal supplements. Instead I dug into the Chinese medicine and natural medicine archives for some natural alternatives . It was a good reminder for me to always have some non invasive but powerful health promoting tools in my toolkit when my ‘go to’ supplements are unavailable. These alternatives have almost no contraindications and can be useful if you are feeling terrible. Of course always carefully research anything you put into, or on, your body to ensure the best health outcomes.
Here are my favourites for helping to strengthen the body: (In no particular order)
Alternating hot and cold showers
Our circulation greatly benefits from taking alternating hot and cold showers, it improves our immune system, reduces inflammation in the body, relieves pain, and increases energy. When we take a hot shower our muscles relax and our blood vessels open infusing the entire body with fresh blood. When we switch the tap to cold everything constricts, which squeezes our muscles, blood vessels and lymphatic system. This squeezing drives the blood inward to warm and protect the internal organs. When we again switch to hot water, the blood once again circulates all over the body. This creates an accordion like action, flushing out old blood, lymph and toxins. A good ratio for hot to cold is 3:1 or triple the amount of time in the hot shower as in the cold shower. Start with 30 seconds of warm then 10 seconds of cold. Gradually increase the duration as you feel ready. The key is to end with the cold. Try it, I bet you will feel great!
Medicinal Mushrooms have been used in eastern medicine for thousands of years. They have recently gained popularity in the west and have a huge list of health benefits. They can help boost the immune system, fight the effects of stress, decrease inflammation and help prevent some forms of cancer to name a few. There are a number of different medicinal mushrooms, all with their own unique properties and health benefits so it may be beneficial to take them in a multi mushroom blend. I have found the best way to take these powerful supplements is in a powder which can be added to your smoothie, juice, coffee or taken in pill form. When choosing which mushroom supplement to buy, I recommend one with all or a few of the following: Reishi, Cordyceps, Astragalus, Maitake, Shiitake, Lion’s Mane, and Oyster. Jade Wellness carries a few different mushroom blends and single dried mushrooms for purchase.
Gua Sha, also known as scrapping, is a healing technique commonly used in Chinese medicine that involves palpation and stimulation of the skin. It is used to heal the body from pain such as neck, back or joint pain as well as to treat common illnesses such as colds, flues, and fever.
The skin is pressured in strokes by a round edged instrument that results in the appearance of small red bruises known in Chinese medicine as ‘sha’. Although the end result can look painful, it is actually relaxing, and stimulating at the same time. The bruising usually fades within 2 to 3 days. The darker the sha or bruising, the stronger the pathogen that is being treated. The results are improved blood circulation and metabolic processes. An individual can experience immediate relief from pain, stiffness, fever, chill and cough. We also sell the Gua Sha scapers at Jade Wellness.
Vitamin D and sunshine
Optimizing your vitamin D levels may be one of the most important steps you can take in supporting your long-term health. There’s overwhelming evidence that vitamin D is a key player in your overall health. This is understandable when you consider that it is not “just” a vitamin; it’s actually a neuroregulatory steroidal hormone that influences nearly 3,000 different genes in your body. Vitamin D produces over 200 antimicrobial peptides, the most important of which is cathelicidin, a naturally occurring broad-spectrum antibiotic. This is one of the explanations for why it can be so effective against colds and influenza.
Supplemental vitamin D comes in two forms: Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3)
Be sure that if you need to take an oral supplement, you take vitamin D3—which is the same type of D vitamin created in your body when you expose your skin to sunlight.
The ideal way to optimize your vitamin D levels is through appropriate sun or safe tanning bed exposure. There are a number of reasons for this: When you expose your skin to the sun, your skin also synthesizes high amounts of cholesterol sulfate, which is very important for heart- and cardiovascular health.
When exposed to sunshine, your skin also synthesizes vitamin D3 sulfate. This form of vitamin D is water soluble, unlike oral vitamin D3 supplements, which is unsulfated. The water-soluble form can travel freely in your bloodstream, whereas the unsulfated form needs LDL (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) as a vehicle of transport. You cannot overdose when getting your vitamin D from sun exposure, as your body has the ability to self-regulate and only make what it needs.
To optimize your levels, you need to expose large portions of your skin to the sun, and you need to do it for more than a few minutes.
Contrary to popular belief, the best time to be in the sun for vitamin D production is actually as close to noon as possible. During this time you need the shortest exposure to produce vitamin D because the UVB rays are most intense at this time. Plus, when the sun goes down toward the horizon, more of the helpful UVB is filtered out and more of the harmful UVA is present. Be cautious about the length of your exposure. You only need enough exposure to have your skin turn the lightest shade of pink. Once you reach this point your body will not make any additional vitamin D due to its self-regulating mechanism. Any additional exposure will only cause harm and damage to your skin.
In the winter, safe tanning beds may be an option. Safe tanning beds have electronic ballasts rather than magnetic ballasts, which helps you avoid unnecessary exposure to health-harming electro maganitic fields. Remember, you only need to sunbathe or tan for just a couple minutes.
Jade Wellness carries Thorne Vitamin D for purchase through the front desk.
Sugar’s impact on your health and the immune system is a complex interplay of hormonal, metabolic, and immunologic processes that can severely threaten health.
Some of that impact is immediate. Refined sugar can reduce how white blood cells perform and increase inflammatory markers. In fact, obese people have fewer white blood cells with a reduced capability to fight infection.
Sugar also has a complex effect on the hormonal system, in particular the hormone insulin.
When you eat large amounts of sugar, your blood sugar increases. Insulin helps normalize those blood sugar levels, but over time, your cells become overwhelmed and resistant to the signals of this hormone.
This condition is known as insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes and all of its related complications including impairing the immune system. Insulin sometimes over-compensates and pulls your blood sugar down too low, creating mood swings, fatigue, and mental fog that can make your day stressful.
Many foods that are high in refined sugar are low in the nutrients that support a healthy immune system. Having a body with nutrient deficiencies can increase your risk of infections. If that’s not bad enough, sugary, processed foods can also deplete nutrients from other healthy foods you eat.
Sugar is an inflammation trigger, and chronic, low-grade inflammation is a key factor in the development of numerous diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia.
A neti pot is a small ceramic container that resembles a teapot or a genie lamp. This pot is used to flush the nasal system. To use a neti pot fill it with warm salt water, and then irrigate the nasal passage by tilting the head to one side, pouring the saltwater through one nostril and allowing it to drain out the other nostril. Some people use a squeeze bottle but I don’t recommend this as you don’t want to force anything through the nasal passage. If you are congested and the water doesn’t flow through to the other nostril, never force it. It is still helping, even if you don’t get the flow through.
A few things to keep in mind when using the neti pot are to always maintain a clean pot every time you use it. If left unwashed, bacteria can grow inside the pot which can then be introduced into your nasal passage causing infection. Make sure you give enough time for the water to fully drain out of the nasal passage before you go out into the cold. A half hour should be sufficient time. If the water stings or burns when you introduce it into the nasal cavity, check the salinity – it should taste like the ocean or your tears. Often the burning sensation it is because there is NOT enough salt as opposed to too much.
In general, essential oils can be a pleasant way to boost immunity and fight pathogens that might be lingering in your home or work space. They are also a great defence if you know people around you are sick or have been around sick people. Here are a few good oils to use during cold and flu season, but the list of potentially helpful oils is endless.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is an extremely versatile essential oil that has been recognized for its antimicrobial properties. Antimicrobial means it tends to kill the various harmful microbes and bacteria that interact with your body on a daily basis. It can also be used at the first sign of the common cold. By applying a couple of drops of tea tree oil mixed with carrier oil to your chest you can help to clear your sinuses quickly. Tea tree is an effective decongestant and expectorant that can be applied regularly throughout the course of an illness.
Eucalyptus oil can help to energize you while combating the symptoms of a cold simultaneously.
Similar to tea tree oil, diffusing eucalyptus will allow you to utilize the decongestant and expectorant properties. If you can’t breathe the diffused oil in, you may struggle to enjoy all of the benefits. In this case, mix two to three drops of eucalyptus oil with a ½ teaspoon of your favourite carrier oil (such as coconut, grape seed or sesame) and apply it to your chest or the bottoms of the feet.
You may also add a couple drops of eucalyptus essential oil to a warm bath to soak in the immune-boosting properties.
Rosemary essential oil may be used to help you relieve a stuffy nose or sinus headache. It can provide an immune boost and can help loosen mucus clogging your nasal passages. Using rosemary oil proactively may also help prevent illnesses in the first place. By diffusing it or applying it topically you can harness its immune-boosting potential. Pour two to three drops of rosemary oil into the palm of your hands and rub them together. Then, cover your mouth and nose with your hands and gently to breathe in.
Lemon oil can also be used to aid you in staying healthy during a rough cold and flu season. This essential oil is antibacterial and antiviral which can help make you less prone to the illnesses that travel on the door handle of every school and workplace. By using lemon oil as a household cleaner you have a great smelling house while utilizing it’s cleansing properties.
Mix twenty drops of lemon essential oil with one cup of white vinegar and one cup of water in a spray bottle. This solution can be used as a multipurpose household cleaner that can help stop the transmission of cold and flu germs. As an added bonus, you get the aromatherapy benefits associated with lemon essential oil while making your entire house fresher and cleaner.
Steaming with lemon oil is also a great way to clear your sinuses. To steam, add 7 drops of essential oil in a pot of steaming water, then sit back and inhale the steam.
Oregano oil can be a powerful ally when it comes to warding off the cold and flu. Much like the other essential oils on this list, oregano oil is antimicrobial and antibacterial which makes it great for eliminating viruses that make it through your immune system’s defences. You can use it regularly to help strengthen your immune system and prevent illness or use it when you are sick to shorten the duration of your symptoms.
Mix oregano oil with a carrier oil for a foot massage that can help to bolster your immune system. To create this foot oil start with one teaspoon of jojoba oil (or your carrier oil of choice), then add three to five drops of oregano oil. Massage the mixture into the soles of your feet and cover them with cotton socks to allow the solution to absorb.
By putting oregano oil in a household diffuser you may also help relieve the symptoms of colds, including stuffy nose and stubborn cough.
So there you have it, a short list of ‘go to’s’ to help keep you feeling good even in the dark days of winter. What are your favourite immune boosting rituals? Share in the comments below!