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Some herbs, foods can boost immunity to colds and flu

Q. How can natural medicine help me prevent the flu over the holidays? Can Chinese medicine help?

A. Good question. Prevention is crucial, and the flu vaccine can't take the place of having great health and a strong immune system.

You can create a sturdy foundation for your health through the holidays by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. Being conscientious about maintaining a healthy life- style will give your immune system what it needs to best do its job.

Chinese medicines also can give your immune system an extra boost. Astragalus root, which has been used in China for thousands of years, is a great herbal medicine for enhancing immunity through its ability to strengthen your vital force, or qi (pronounced chee).

Studies show astragalus has specific effects on increasing the production of immune cells that destroy viruses and bacteria. The herb is prescribed to prevent a cold or flu, and also recommended if you've just gotten over a flu to help rebuild your qi and prevent another attack.

Astragalus is usually taken on a long-term basis for an overall immunity-enhancing effect. It is safe for people with autoimmune conditions, but should not be used if you have high blood pressure or are on steroids, beta blockers or a blood-thinning drug such as warfarin.

The recommended dose is one to three grams a day.

Shiitake mushrooms, which are used medicinally in China and often found in Asian cuisines, also can help prevent the flu. They provide a substantial amount of glyconutrients — immunity-boosting compounds that researchers have found can increase the ability of immune cells to fight infections.

Not only can shiitake mushrooms enhance your resistance to cold and flu viruses, some studies suggest they can shorten the duration of an infection from a cold or flu. (Research shows they also can have beneficial effects if you have high cholesterol, high triglycerides or high blood pressure).

Increase your intake of these powerful medicinal mushrooms over the holidays to help boost your immunity. You can add them to miso soup, stews, noodle dishes or your favorite stir-fry. They have a wonderful meaty flavor that can enhance any dish. Note: if you buy dried shiitake mushrooms, it's best to reconstitute them in water before cooking.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Healthy New Year!

Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com.

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