The 2013-2014 beijingkids Health Guide is the latest resource for Beijing families dedicated to providing information on family health care, maternity, eating and breathing safety, mental health, emergency care and traditional Chinese Medicine. Articles from the guide will be featured twice a week on our website. Find the full version here.
Beijing winters can take their toll on even the toughest of us, but they can be downright brutal on your little ones. If you or your child start feeling sick with the telltale sniffles, aches, runny nose and tickly throat of a cold or flu, it’s time to give your immune systems all the help you can. I personally prefer not to get flu shots, nor do I give them to my kids, but as they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, even if you do choose the jabs. If you’re interested in some natural ways of staving off and treating the Beijing blahs, check out the following preventive measures to help keep you and your kids from feeling under the weather this cold and flu season.
Wash your hands often
All you really need is soap and warm water. No toxic triclosan or any other fancy antibacterial soaps are needed. Colds and flu are mostly caused by viruses, not bacteria, so counting on antibacterial soap as a safeguard against colds and flu won’t be effective. Studies have shown that washing your hands with an antibacterial soap is no better at preventing infectious illnesses than scrubbing with plain soap and water. There is also growing evidence that triclosan, the main active ingredient in many antibacterial soaps, may facilitate the growth of resistant bacteria. So wash your hands often. If you can’t get to a sink, rub an alcohol-based hand sanitizer onto your hands.
Cough and sneeze into your elbow and don’t touch your face
Teach your kids to do the same. Because germs and viruses cling to your bare hands, muffling coughs and sneezes with your hands often results in passing along your germs to others. Your elbow, however, is far less likely than your hands to come in contact with people or surfaces. Cold and flu viruses enter your body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. If you refrain from touching your eyes, nose and lips, you drastically reduce the likelihood of a virus entering your body.
Get enough sleep and stay home from work or school when you’re sick
There is nothing worse than sitting next to a person sniffling and coughing all over the place or seeing a sick child in school. First, yuck, they are spraying their germs everywhere and second, they are sick and need to rest. Your body heals itself when it’s resting. Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night means your body can repair itself and ward off infections. So, do yourself, your child, and everyone else a favor and stay in bed when you’re sick.
Get regular exercise
While colder weather may make you want to curl up and hibernate in a cozy blanket, moving your body will actually boost its immune function. Getting your blood pumping regularly can increase the activity of a type of white blood cell that attacks viruses. Even if it’s walking around the office, up stairs, to and from work, playing on the playground – it doesn’t have to be continuous aerobic exercise to do your body good.
Getting the proper amount of the right nutrients and minerals as part of a healthy diet helps to put your body in prime condition to fight the battle. One nutrient that can help you in your fight against colds and flu is zinc. Zinc interferes with viruses gaining full access to our cells. By slowing the multiplication of the virus in the nose and throat, zinc may shorten colds. But don’t overdo it. While even a slight deficiency in zinc, which is needed to produce white blood cells, can increase your risk of infection, more than 50 mg daily can suppress your immune system and block absorption of other essential minerals.
Drink plenty of water
Beijing winters are dry and can wreak havoc on our mucous membranes, the body’s first line of defense when encountering a virus. Indoor winter air is much drier than our bodies need to trap viruses. Without sufficient moisture, immune system cells can’t optimally work, so it’s important to stay hydrated. Drink lots of filtered water … not from plastic bottles. Get an under sink water filter system such as Aquasana (see p60). Use a cool mist humidifier. Putting a few drops of anti-microbial essential oils such as tea tree, eucalyptus or oregano oil in the water can also help congested chests and noses clear out.
Don’t be afraid of garlic breath
The “stinky rose” is particularly helpful in warding off colds. Crushing or cutting garlic cloves releases a sulfur compound known as allicin, which has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that seem to block infections. Allicin is available only from raw garlic, however, so choose a preparation that calls for it raw, or add garlic at the end of cooking to tap its full medicinal power. The anti-microbial properties of both garlic, and its cousin, the onion, can fight off certain bacteria and viruses.
Try Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
This antiviral, immune-strengthening Chinese root has been a key player in traditional Chinese medicine for ages. It is believed to stimulate the white blood cells that fight infections. Try a daily pot of tea containing 2 to 3 ounces of astragalus root. Or, add astragalus along with garlic as part of an immune-enhancing soup broth. Keep in mind that astragalus may take 6 to 8 weeks to reach its full effect.
Get on pins and needles
Acupuncture focuses on balancing the qi (气) in your body. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, when your qi is balanced, your body’s response to external attack is enhanced so it can fight a viral invasion, preventing you from being infected or reducing the severity and the duration of the flu. See p74 for more on TCM.
Take Vitamin D
This power nutrient may effectively boost immunity and help prevent colds. Adequate amounts of D help produce cathelicidin, a protein with virus-killing qualities. Since it’s tough to get enough from sunlight or diet, especially in Beijing, taking a supplement can help increase your Vitamin D levels. Recent studies have shown that Vitamin D deficiency is linked to an array of acute and chronic health problems including a higher rate of respiratory tract infections. In order to prevent the flu, children and adults need 35 IU of vitamin D per pound of body weight. So, for example, a child weighing 57 pounds would need 2,000 IU a day of vitamin D. Adults typically need an average of 5,000 IU per day. For more information on vitamin D and to check appropriate tests and dosages for children, visit www.VitaminDcouncil.org.
Give Your Kids Multi–Vitamins
Try to get one that has optimal levels and easily absorbable forms of these important nutrients: Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, B vitamins and Ester C. For kids look for an all-natural, organic brand such as Garden of Life, Vitamin Code chewable whole food multivitamin or Hero Nutritional Products, Yummi Bears gummy vitamins.
Fight off the flu with Fish Oil
Omega 3s increase the activity of phagocytes, cells that fight flu by eating up bacteria. Other research shows that omega-3s increase airflow and protect lungs from colds and respiratory infections. Avoid fish oils made from cod-liver or shark oil, as these are very high in mercury. Look for a conscientious company that ensures their product is low-mercury, such as Nordic Naturals. For kids, try Carlson Labs or Dr. Mercola Krill Oil.
This article originally appeared on page 12-13 of the beijingkids Health Guide.
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