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If you’ve visited your doctor or walked into a mainstream pharmacy lately, chances are you’ve been bombarded with advertisements encouraging you to get a flu shot. However, some choose not to vaccinate for influenza for various reasons. If you’re one of those wishing to abstain, what can you do to keep your immune system strong and ward off pesky colds and flus?

First, start with the basics. Getting adequate sleep, staying hydrated, avoiding sugar, grains and processed foods in the diet, laughing daily, and washing your hands with soap and water frequently during cold and flu season will go a long way towards protection against viruses. Your body was built to fight off infections when treated well.

Sleeping, in particular, does more than just reboot your energy levels and give your mind a rest. The body repairs itself while you slumber, so the more sleep you can get in, the better your body will be able to handle immune system threats, as well as cut down on recovery time when you’re sick.

Another useful tip in the fall and winter is to sip warm lemon water throughout the day. Lemon water not only helps to alkalinize the body and reduce inflammation, it also acts like a pump and cleans toxins out of your lymphatic system. The more filtered your system is the better you will feel. Use filtered water and organic fresh lemons and aim for a cup of lemon water twice a day.

While it is not the easiest thing to do during the holidays, one of the most important things you can do to ward off a viral illness is to eliminate sugar and processed foods from the diet. Studies confirm a decrease in the immune system’s effectiveness within hours of consuming sugar. Cut down on or avoid sugar completely and you are more likely to be able to fight off a viral infection and will also decrease general inflammation in the body.

Laughter is another great immune booster. It improves various antibodies such as IgM, IgA and IgG. On cold days it’s a great time to curl up on the sofa and catch up on funny movies or a humorous book. Or call and catch up with an old friend who always makes you laugh. Try to surround yourself with positive people who are funny, supportive and kind as often as you can.

If you have checked off everything in the list above and could still use some assistance boosting your immune system, here are a few favorite nutritional immune boosters:

Vitamin D – The sunshine vitamin! When the colder temperatures hit and you are holed up inside for longer than usual, vitamin D levels plummet. This can quickly tax your immune system. Researchers have found that vitamin D, which is produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight, signals your immune system to act like an antibiotic. We know this occurs with tuberculosis and other pathogens. It is an important immune system regulator. A good daily dose is 2000 IUs of natural vitamin D3. Larger doses may be taken on a short term basis when coming down with a viral illness. If you would like to have your vitamin D levels tested quickly and affordably, contact your nearest Peoples location!

Vitamin C – Vitamin C is an incredible anti-viral agent. Viruses cannot survive in a vitamin C-rich environment. A maintenance dose of vitamin C is 1000-3000mg per day. To fight an infection, higher doses may be taken under a practitioner’s supervision. Vitamin C is not toxic but can cause loose bowels when overdone. Decrease the dose if this happens.

Magic Mushrooms – Mushrooms have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. One of my favorite supplements all around is Reishi. Also known as Gandoderma Lucidum, Reishi mushroom contains immune- boosting polysaccharides. Polysaccharides increase the responsiveness of your antibodies, particularly IgG. When IgG works properly, it enhances the process in your body called “phagocytosis” which makes your cells gobble up and neutralize poisons. When phagocytosis occurs with a high levels of efficiency, the benefits include better energy, more restful sleep and reduced allergies. This is an added benefit for Austinites as the dreaded cedar fever coincides with cold and flu season. In Chinese medicine, Reishi is known to also benefit the Shen (a concept blending the mind, mood and spirit) which is a great combination for holiday stress! The Agarikon family of mushrooms (Laricifomes officinalis) has strong anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and shows virtually no toxicity in the body. Peoples carries a variety of high quality mushroom products. A wellness specialist can help you find the best one for your needs!

Probiotics – There are hundreds of ways that probiotics, or beneficial bacteria that reside in our intestines, benefit us. They harvest energy from our food, prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, attack pathogens, synthesize vitamins, reduce inflammation and benefit our neurotransmitter balance just to name a few. They are vital to our health and to keeping our immune systems strong. Since they become depleted from antibiotic use, stress and poor eating habits, supplementation daily year-round is recommended. Choose a good multi-strain blend that is a combination of both Lactobacillus and Bifido strains from a human or food strain source.

And if, despite all of these precautions, you find yourself coming down with a viral illness, there is still hope from the herbal world to help kick it to the curb in a short amount of time. My experience with Chinese herbs shows that they have some of the most potent anti-viral activity in the natural medicine world. Using herbal formulas to prevent and treat colds and flu is one of the best-developed and most successful aspects of traditional Chinese medicine. Ban lan gen (Isatis Root), Lian Qiao (Forsythia Fruit), and Chuan Xian lian (Andrographis) are among the most revered anti-viral herbs. The classic formula Yin Qiao San, ViraCid from Ortho Molecular Products and Viragraphis from Xymogen all contain these powerful anti-viral herbs and can be found on the shelves at Peoples.

Please consult with your healthcare provider before taking any herbal or nutritional supplements to make sure there are no contraindications with any medications you may be taking or to any underlying health issues. Also remember to stop into any Peoples location to discuss any of the products mentioned in this article and to get specific recommendations for children. Have a safe, happy and WELL holiday season!

by Laurie Covington, L.Ac., MSOM. Laurie is available for consultation at Peoples Central.