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Local experts offer up their tips for staying healthy in the winter



Dr. Michelle Iona

Healing Points Wellness & Acupuncture, Riverhead

Despite being an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist for over 22 years, I am still in awe of the medicines which have been used for thousands of years to treat colds, flu, and viruses. The ancients did know best in my opinion. Since COVID-19 began, patients have been reaching out to learn more about herbal remedies for prevention as well as for long-haul symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog, pain, anxiety, headaches, and loss of smell and taste. Some Chinese herbal formulas are currently being studied for their antiviral properties in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Staying healthy all begins with prevention. Approximately 70% of our immune system begins in our gut, so I naturally believe in eating a well-balanced diet that is customized to an individual and any medical conditions that they may have.

In Chinese medicine, we believe that we should live in harmony with the season to stay healthy and prevent illness. As the season changes, so should our diet and lifestyle. Some winter suggestions:

Nourish those kidneys: Foods that nourish and support our kidney energy are dark in color, particularly black or dark blue (i.e. black sesame seeds, black beans, dark leafy vegetables, and kidney beans).

Eat warm foods: Nutrition is an imperative part of Chinese medicine, and warming foods can make a big difference in how the body acclimates to the season. Bone broths, squash, whole grains, and root vegetables are all winter foods that can support digestion and warmth, and warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and blends of chai warm the yang energy. Try to avoid cooling foods like green teas, melons, cucumber, and other “summer” foods.

Include healthy fats and fermented foods: Satisfy winter cravings with healthy fats instead of fried or packaged and processed foods. Research also shows that fermented foods reduce inflammation and improve immunity.

Practice tai chi and qi gong: Both increase circulation, reduce stress and tension, and have positive effects on the immune system and its response to inflammation.

Connect with family and friends: Creating and maintaining strong bonds within the community can change our outlook and provide much-needed reflection during darker days.

Check your vitamin D levels: Vitamin D levels often drop during the winter as we spend less time outdoors. There is a direct link between low vitamin D and seasonal affective disorder which is also common during the winter months.

Schedule an acupuncture appointment: A seasonal tune-up will help strengthen your overall energy. Self-care and rest are crucial to a vital immune system.