The air has turned just a little cooler, the leaves are beginning to turn golden, and although it is just the very start of Autumn, it is the perfect time to strengthen the immune system.
1. Increase Vitamin D
Vitamin D has been in the spotlight recently for its immediate effect on the immune system. Slather yourself with a light covering of coconut oil (a natural SPF 10 protection) and lounge by the river in the sun for the dog days of summer. Soak up some sunlight for 15 minutes on your porch and enjoy the warmth on your skin. Find a way to add mushrooms into your daily meals: shiitake mushrooms are especially good for building immunity, while the brown and white button mushrooms in every produce section are high in Vitamin D. Talk to your Doctor about taking a high quality Vitamin D3 supplement for a month or two and ask if you should be taking K2 with your Vitamin D3. Some brands, such as “Seeking Health,” make a D3 + K2 combo.
2. Increase Vitamin C
This one is easy if you live in the Walla Walla valley. Enjoy the tomatoes that are abundant right now. Tomatoes have a high content of naturally occurring Vitamin C. Fresh tomatoes right off the vine are delicious as is, with just a dash of sea salt or a drizzle of olive oil, but extra immune-boosting points if you make them into a fresh salsa. Finely minced garlic, serrano peppers, lime and cilantro all add to the immune enhancing effects of fresh tomatoes. Add some minced onion to the mix and you’ve got yourself a delicious crowd-pleaser that also boosts the immunity.
3. Take Daily Walks
In Chinese Medicine, the importance of harmonizing the body with the changing seasons cannot be undervalued and plays a key role in readying the immune system for the coming cold and flu season. It does not have to be a long walk but rather a consistent daily one. Do you have 15 minutes at lunch time? Or how about a post-dinner walk around the block? If walking is not an easy or enjoyable experience for you, try listening to an interesting podcast or favorite playlist. If meditation is difficult for you to squeeze into your daily life, try taking a 15 minute walk as a mindful meditation. Feel the way your feet roll through contacting the ground, breath rhythmically, and notice the changing flora, fauna, sounds.
4. Consider a Round of Probiotics
In the refrigerated section of health food stores, you can now find probiotics with prebiotics. Ensuring there is a viable and immediate food source (prebiotics) helps the little guys to unpack, get cozy and take up residence in your gut. It just makes sense. If you are going to populate your gut with healthy, beneficial microbes, send them on their way with snacks. Consider eating more miso soup at home or add a TBSP of fermented veggies to your cooked dinner as a way to increase probiotics through diet. Increase prebiotic rich foods at the same time: jerusalem artichokes, onion, garlic, asparagus, oats, apples, leeks and dandelion (both greens and roots).
Note: it’s not advisable this time of year to increase yogurt consumption as a way of increasing probiotic intake.
5. Bring a Layer
I know. It’s hard to let of Summer. It’s natural to want to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin at the close of the fire season. Yet, strong cold air can pick up and blow through unannounced at any time. Being prepared with a layer can help preserve the integrity of the immune functioning in Chinese Medicine by protecting the Wei Qi. It’s particularly important to cover or protect the back of the neck: consider letting down your hair if it’s long or pop your collar or hood to create a little barrier if the weather turns cold on you suddenly.
6. Break Up with Artificial Sweeteners
Since 2013, artificial sweeteners in relation to healthy gut microbes has been under wide scrutiny. Since then, major university research centers have started to release the same findings: artificial sweeteners destroy gut health, which tanks your immunity. It’s almost as though we didn’t quite believe how drastic the effect was. Studies have been repeated, findings confirmed and results published several times over in the last five years. One Diet Coke can reduce your healthy gut microbiome by 50%. Consider letting go of artificial sweeteners completely. If not forever, at least for this season.
7. Wash Your Hands with Soap & Water
It’s an oldie but a goodie. Wash your hands a little more often than you ordinarily would. When possible, avoid the use of antimicrobial hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps and opt for plain soap and water. Make it fun for your kiddos to practice good hand washing hygiene: put soap in their palm, turn off the faucet with your elbow, and begin scrubbing while singing a favorite song. When the song’s over, turn the water back on with your elbow and rinse off soapy hands. Some time-honored practices should never be forgotten.
Julie Baron is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. Julie seeks to empower individuals and communities. As a movement and mindfulness educator, she has a penchant for functional anatomy. As an EAMP, she also has a passion for herbal medicine.