Five Tips to Help You Stay Healthy Through the Cold Season

Friday Nov 28 | BY |
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Winter Wellness

Don’t fall victim to the cold or flu—stay healthy this winter with these five tips.

If you base your health on the seasons, spring is the time for cleansing and fall is the time for gathering.

In traditional societies, springtime is for renewal and planting. Summer is a lazy and playful time; watching plants grow, going on vacation. Fall is best to stock and store provisions to help you get through the cold months. Winter is introspective, the time of gestation, and getting ready for a new cycle of life in the spring.

In the northern regions, humans and animals need to keep warm. Animals add more body fat, sleep more, and some hibernate. Their metabolism slows. Humans in their artificially lit and heated buildings remain active.

But our bodies are biologically made for less activity during the winter. Pushing our limits tests our natural resilience, stresses our immune system (making us more vulnerable to seasonal infections like the flu), and disrupts our waking and sleep cycle.

Here are five tips to help you stay healthy this winter.

Winter Wellness Tip #1: Take Herbal Tonics

Herbal tonics are big in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). When I studied in Shanghai, people came to the TCM hospital to get individualized, custom prescriptions for herbal tonic wines.

Every fall, my mentor, a senior doctor in internal medicine and specialist is tonic wines, wrote custom prescriptions for up to two hundred patients each day. Most of his prescriptions contained ginseng, or other adaptogens like astragalus.

Adaptogens are medicinal substances, including herbs, which stabilize body processes and promote homeostasis—the body’s ability to deal with environmental challenges, like a cold winter.

If you live in California or New York City, visit an herb shop in Chinatown. You’ll be rewarded by a prescription of dried herbs to make your own tonic wine.

The second best way is to take tonic concentrates in single-use vials. These can be found in Chinese herb shops or online, where you’ll discover ginseng with royal jelly and other exotic elixirs.

If you avoid alcohol, or don’t have access to a TCM doctor or herb shop, take adaptogen herbal extracts that you can buy at a health food store.

Chinese Herbal Tonics:

  • Panax ginseng – Renshen
  • Astragalus membranaceus – Huangqi
  • Codonopsis pilosula – Danshen
  • Angelica sinensis – Danggui
  • Ophiocordyceps sinensis – Dongchong Xiacao
Winter Wellness Tip #2: Take Immune-Boosting Supplements

Fall and winter is the cold and flu season. Influenza viruses thrive in low sunlight and cool weather. Due to fewer ripe fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C, and lack of sun on our skin that helps our body generate vitamin D, our immunity sinks during the winter months.

Boost your immunity with zinc picolinate 30 to 60 mg daily; vitamin D3 2,000 to 5,000 IU daily; and vitamin C 500 to 1,500 mg daily. For extra protection, add Beta-glucan 150 to 500 mg daily.

Winter Wellness Tip #3: Get More Sleep

There is considerably less daylight during the winter. Our nervous system and metabolism are biologically made to slow down during these darker days. We bundle up when going out during the day, and need a similar strategy at night.

Warm and comfortable is key for good winter sleep. Get out your comforters and quilts. For winter health, get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.

Winter Wellness Tip #4: Eat Fortifying Foods

I don’t recommend cleansing, detox, or fasting in the fall and winter. Doing so is going against the biological grain. Winter is the time to eat hearty foods.

I grew up on an old-fashioned New England farm where we grew lots of frost-hardy vegetables for winter use like carrots, turnips, parsnips, cabbage, potatoes, and winter squash. Think of butternut, blue hubbard, and acorn squash. Try Japanese kabocha squash.

Roast poultry; organic, grass-fed meat; and fish help promote metabolism, warming the body from the inside. The warmest meat for winter is lamb. Vegans and vegetarians should eat more vegetable and whole grain soups. For those “mostly” vegetarians, add fish or lamb, or perhaps some bison or grass-fed beef stew with organic red or purple potatoes.

Bring out the dried shitake mushrooms, fresh if you have access to them. Adding mushrooms to your cooked and raw dishes enhances flavor and contributes trace minerals, beta-glucans, and specialized antioxidants that aren’t available in other foods.

Nuts are nature’s winter food. Rich in fats and oils, healthy carbohydrates, and plant proteins, nuts ripen in late summer and early fall, in time to harvest before snowfall, and just in time for Thanksgiving.

Winter Wellness Tip #5: Keeping Exercising

When nightfall comes early, we tend to want to stay indoors during winter. Our bodies were made to move, though, even in the cold months.

Snow shoveling is a superb natural winter exercise. So is downhill and cross-country skiing, and sledding. If you can’t get out for winter sports, use your gym membership and keep up your cardio and resistance training exercise, even during winter.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. June Hanson says:

    Wow, such valuable information. I, got so excited. Here, I, thought I was such a wimp! Few cold days, I, slow down. Sleep longer. Wanting Lamb, roasted poultry , potatoes, carrots and what I call, winter squash.

    Living in SW Florida, cold is anything below 70. No one, would ever know, I, too, was raised in New England. Here, we are bundled up, jackets with hoods. Northeners are swimming in our pools. Children are having a great time.

    Your information on herbs, adaptogens is priceless. So glad you studied in Shanghai, learning natural ways to build strong immune systems. Children are stuffed with antibiotics with long term complications. Even adults, hurry in to get antibiotics, so they can keep going at a crazy pace.

    We, in this part of Florida, are blessed with abundant sunshine. Yet, you, as my Doctor, still keep me on your doses of Vit D3, Vit C and zinc. How much more, people in colder climates, need to heed your valuable advice.

    When I, cannot get into pools, I head for our health clubs, or take walks, enjoying year round green trees, flowers, breathing in the abundant beauty that nature has bestowed on us. Yes, slow down for winter, yet make time for a brisk walk. Your body will thank you.

    How privileged and grateful, I am, to have Dr. Williams, providing me with such wisdom and knowledge throughout the years.

  2. Satori says:

    #1 is very interesting. We have nothing like that in Japan, although we’re very close to China. I do agree that we should consult a herbalist or OMD to incorporate Chinese herbs effectively to our diet.

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