Preventing Colds and Flus in the Summer

When most people think of colds and flu, they think of wintertime. Coughing, sneezing, fever and chills go hand in hand with scarves, gloves and blankets.  But even in the summer the viruses are present and can take people by surprise. 

Because they’re unexpected, many people let their guards down during summer and don’t do enough to keep themselves protected from colds and flu. So what can we do to avoid cold and flu viruses?

Here are a few tips that work in summer, and all year long.

Go easy on the A/C.  Air conditioning is a way of life in America, especially in humid climates like the Northeast.  But while the drier indoor climates they create may be more comfortable for us and friendlier to our hairstyles, they can also dry out the protective mucus that lines the nostrils. That mucus captures germs and viruses. Without it, or with less of it, viruses have a better chance of surviving when they’re inhaled. Imagine you’re working in an office with dozens of people and constant air conditioning. With a reduced level of protection, you’re more susceptible to being infected with someone else’s health problem.

More importantly from an Eastern medicine perspective, air conditioning is a form of “wind invasion.”  When you’re outside in the heat, pores on the skin are opened. The moment you enter into an air-conditioned building, the cold wind of the air conditioning invades your body through those open pores, delivering pathogens like cold and flu viruses. Because it’s sometimes unavoidable to be in air conditioning, it’s always good to have a scarf or sweater handy, and stay out of the direct flow of cold air.

Spend time in the sun.  Vitamin D is a natural immune booster that comes directly from the sun. By limiting sunscreen use and getting 20-30 minutes a day of sun exposure, you can strengthen your immunity, improve calcium absorption (good for bones), and even enlist Vitamin D’s cancer-fighting properties. The hours of 10:00am-1:00pm are particularly good for absorbing Vitamin D because during those hours, UVB rays are strongest and they help the body to synthesize it.

De-stress. So many of us are overscheduled, overworked, and overtired.  How we minimize and recover from unavoidable stress will not only determine how much we enjoy life, but how well our immune system responds to invaders. During the summer, many people spend more time relaxing, but all the planning, packing and unpacking, and traveling it takes to “relax” brings on new stress that compromises immune response. For you, de-stressing may mean more exercise, acupuncture, a quiet walk on the beach, a therapeutic massage, or simply a night in with good friends.

One particularly relaxing exercise I recommend to my patients is meditation. This simple method trains the mind to focus and eliminate distractions. It’s a free, easily accessible tool that you can use anywhere. At first, meditation can seem hard – slowing down the rapid pace of our thoughts is easier said than done. But by starting with as little as 3-5 minutes a day, the results are almost immediate and it gets easier. Try the simple meditation guide at

Maintain a good diet – One dietary lifestyle I recommend, called the Paleo Diet, forms meals around higher quantities of fat and protein from meat and seafood, plus fiber and nutrients from fruits and vegetables.  Protein can be meat (grass-fed beef, chicken, pork, and lamb, to name a few), eggs, seafood, fish, and nuts.  Fruits and vegetables can be eaten in any quantity.  When we eat foods that irritate our systems (like processed or sugary foods), our immune response is constantly activated and our body expends extra energy to process the food. Further, by limiting irritating foods that create a constant stream of insulin in the blood, you’ll foster a low-to-no inflammation environment within your body.  As a result, your immune system (among other systems) can work efficiently and be more effective at fighting invasions.

“Treats” vs. “Staples.”  In the summertime, ice cream consumption can become a daily habit. Be careful of the trap of having a “treat” every night. If you’re eating it almost every day, it’s no longer a treat, but a staple. The problem with sugary foods is that whenever you consume a lot of sugar, you’re giving your immune system a steep drop in function that takes hours to recover from. If during that time you’re exposed to viruses, you’re less likely to fight them off effectively. Limiting treats is a good way to avoid this drop.

Improve your workouts.  Whether you take leisurely walks for exercise or really hit the gym hard, be sure to stay consistent. Frequent exercise boosts your immune system all year long by improving your white blood cell count.

Go to sleep. Most adults consistently require 7-8 hours of sleep. While it’s tempting to stay out extra late enjoying the warm summer nights, without proper sleep your body’s systems begin to break down and lose function. That includes your immune system. Proper rest gives it the energy it needs to get through the day.

Eastern medicine. Preventive healthcare is the foundation of Eastern medicine. If you’re looking to improve your overall health, boosting your immune system is a good place to start. Working with a customized combination of acupuncture, nutrition counseling and herbal therapy, it’s possible to bolster your immune strength making you less susceptible to viruses, disease and the negative effects of stress.

If you do happen get sick, acupuncture and herbs can help boost the immune system and shorten the duration of the sickness.  If we address it at the very early stages, it’s possible to prevent the illness from progressing further. 

Enjoy the rest of the summer but keep in mind – it’s always the right season for taking care of yourself.