Natural remedies keep your body its best
We've spoken with experts in the wellness field for natural ways of strengthening immune systems to prevent colds and flu, and how to care for yourself if, in fact, you do get the bug.
Strengthening Your Immune System
To help target the viruses that cause colds and flu (both infections occur when viruses penetrate your body's protective barriers), you need to keep your body working optimally so it can best defend itself. It's no surprise that nutrition plays a major role in keeping you at your healthiest throughout the year.
Probiotics, digestive enzymes that replenish the good bacteria in the intestines, help your body absorb nutrients and keep your immune system humming right along. Essential fats, such as fish and flax oils, support your cell walls, which makes them more able to fight off infections.
And, of course, a variety of vitamins, including vitamin B, vitamin C and vitamin E, are essential for proper body function. You may want to increase your intake of these vitamins during the season of sickness by using a supplement like Emergen-C.
The use of “tonic herbs,” which are supplements known for their adaptogenic properties, is also a useful tool for protecting yourself against infection.
Adaptogenic substances enhance the body's capability of resisting stressors. These herbs include ginseng, astragalus and reishi and shiitake mushrooms, all of which support the immune system. Echinacea is one of the first herbal remedies people think of in cold and flu season.
“Echinacea is only helpful for the short term,” says Noelle Wagner, Whole Body coordinator for Whole Foods. “It ups your white blood cell count, but only temporarily.”
Another way to give your immune system an extra fighting chance is through routine regenerative therapies at healing spas. At Wicker Park's Ruby Room, Oriental medicine specialist Mary Jane Neuman can assess your wellness needs and tailor a program of herbal remedies and special treatments, such as eliminating toxins through acupuncture, increasing circulation with cupping and ingesting various Chinese tonic herbs available at this unique sanctuary.
“Chinese medicine is as equally effective at the onset of a cold or during periods of congestion as it is at preventing colds and building immunity,” says Jacqueline O'Neil, acupuncturist and Chinese herbologist at Glenview's Silken Tent Spa.
Pictured above: Give your immune system an extra fighting chance through routine regenerative therapies at the Ruby Room.
Homeopathy is a particularly safe form of medicine because it provides a natural vaccination. Like a vaccine, homeopathic remedies introduce an extra gentle, diluted dose of the stressor to your body so it can learn to protect itself.
“Homeopathic treatments cause no side effects or drug interactions, making them safe for just about anyone – even kids, although I advise consulting your child's pediatrician for children under four,” says Wagner.
Anthony Qaiyum, co-owner of Merz Apothecary in Lincoln Square, one of the country's largest homeopathic pharmacies, recommends a host of homeopathic remedies for the common cold and flu.
“One of the most popular flu remedies in the world, Oscillococcinum by the French company Boiron, is what the staff here takes when someone is feeling under the weather,” he says.
He also puts his stamp of approval on products from the Nature's Way Umcka selection (made from a geranium species from South Africa) and Boericke & Tafel, America's oldest homeopathic pharmaceutical company. Pharmacists are on staff at Merz Apothecary to match ingredients and products to customer's specific symptoms.
Pictured above: Merz Apothecary has a host of homeopathic remedies for the common cold and flu.
“Herbs are nature’s medicine -- active ingredients that produce effects against symptoms, just like drugs would, but with less chance of harm because herbs have been tested over time,” says Qaiyum.
He recommends herbal baths from Masada and Kneipp, as well as the much-loved Dr. Singha’s Mustard Bath, all of which use essential oils to detoxify the system and promote lung function. Herbal teas, such as Bronchialtee from German company Salus-Haus, produce a similar effect by using specialized herbs to break up congestion and ease breathing.
By harnessing the capabilities of herbs and essential oils and making them readily available when and where you need them, Brittanie’s Thyme, a Michigan-based company that makes natural and organic personal care items, has created two useful products for dealing with cold and flu symptoms without ingesting or inhaling any substances.
Organic Sinus Relief Pillows and Cold Comfort Crystals utilize eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, peppermint, thyme and basil to soothe sinus congestion.
“The body is meant to heal itself,” says Nancy Schaap, founder of Brittanie’s Thyme. “Herbs and essential oils can help you feel better during the healing process.”
Essential oils used in spa treatments can also be highly beneficial when you’re battling an infection. Silken Tent spa incorporates Vital-Chi, an organic essential oil with the active ingredients of cinnamon and camphor, into several of its healing therapies.
Known to tone the respiratory tract, clear congested lungs and ease breathing, Vital-Chi can be purchased at the spa’s boutique to use at home. The Silken Tent also offers its signature Water Ritual, which features a eucalyptus-infused steam shower, another essential oil with celebrated sinus-clearing capabilities.
Pictured above: Try a natural healing process with Cold Comfort Crystals and an Organic Sinus Relief Pillow from Brittanie's Thyme.
Finally, if and when you do start to feel under the weather, know your body is doing its best to get better fast. Something as simple as a neti pot, an ancient Indian method of nasal irrigation (and more recently made famous by Dr. Oz on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”), provides relief and gentle cleansing of the sinus passages.
“Remember that the body wants to rejuvenate itself,” says Schaap. “Replenish it with plenty of water and herbal teas, use facial steams and vapors in the bath so the body can clear itself, rest and eat well to provide the proper environment for healing.”
Wagner echoes the sentiment of eating well, especially during this stressful season.
“Avoid sugar and caffeine because both lower your immune system response time,” she says. “People think orange juice is the best thing to drink for a cold, but water, herbal teas and broths are much better because they don’t have added sugars.”
She also advocates a bit of exercise, such as a brisk walk, to rev up the immune system and get some fresh air into the lungs. By giving the body the things it needs in the most healthful way possible, you’re sure to send the cold and flu bugs packing this year.
◊ January 2008
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