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Boost immunity and beat the chill

Saturday, December 08, 2012 by: Gigi Chow N.D.
Tags: immunity, winter colds, probiotics

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(NaturalNews) The time is here again when seemingly almost everyone is sniffling and coughing. Why be a victim of colds and flus when there are plenty of natural ways to strengthen the body's defenses against them? Below are some easy steps that everyone can take to optimize immunity this winter.

Eat and sleep

A diet rich in antioxidants can help ward off respiratory infections. An easy way to know which foods are antioxidant-rich is by their vibrant colors. Foods such as winter squashes, carrots, yams, and kale are wonderful options. Whenever possible, consume as many of these antioxidant-dense foods. While multivitamins can help bridge the gap between optimal nutrition and the daily diet, they, in no way, serve as nutrition replacements for processed foods and empty calories.

It is well known that sleep is essential for optimal immune function and that sleep deprivation leads to increased susceptibility to infections. What is less known is the reverse: weakened immunity can alter sleep patterns. Cells of the immune system communicate with one another by releasing and responding to chemical messengers called cytokines. It is found that cytokines directly alter properties of neurons in the brain, including those in regions involved in the regulation of sleep. Sleep is therefore not only essential for, but is also dependent on, optimal immunity.


Nearly three-quarters of cells in the immune system reside and originate in the digestive tract. A healthy digestive tract; therefore, has a profound effect on overall health. The intestinal microflora - the bacteria that line the digestive tract - prevents the overgrowth of potentially harmful organisms and also form a barrier on the intestinal wall so that bacteria and viruses cannot enter into the blood. Two simple ways to maintain a healthy intestinal microflora include the consumption of fermented foods such as miso and kefir and supplementation with probiotics.

Astragalus root

Another highly effective way to boost immunity is with a Chinese herb called Astragalus. The herb has been used for thousands of years in China to ward off illness and strengthen the immune system. Some of the ways astragalus enhances immune function are 1) increasing the activity of certain white blood cells which increases the production of antibodies, 2) boosting the production of interferons - a group of anti-viral and anti-tumor agents naturally produced by the body, and 3) stimulating natural killer cells to neutralize the incoming viruses.

The root of the astragalus plant is typically used in soups, teas, extracts, or capsules.

Black elderberries

Black elderberries have been recognized for centuries throughout Europe for their immune supportive properties. Black elderberries increase the production of cytokines and possess antibacterial and antiviral properties. In fact, prior to antibiotics, elderberry was found as one of the main ingredients in many preparations used by herbalists, pharmacists, and physicians. For children and adults who don't like the taste of herbs such as astragalus, there is sweet and tart black elderberry syrup.

Wear a scarf

In Chinese Medicine, colds are "caught" not by transmission of viruses, but by wind first invading the nape of the neck and subsequently weakening the defenses. The explanation makes a great deal of sense because the initial symptoms often experienced at the onset of a cold are stiff neck muscles along with a scratchy throat. Therefore, one of the simplest things to do to ward off the cold is to put on a scarf, especially when it is chilly and breezy outside.

The key to staying healthy during the cold season is to be proactive: taking these simple measures will help ward off the winter bugs and keep the body healthy and strong.






About the author:
Dr. Gigi Chow is currently in private practice in New York City.

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