Acupuncture, yoga among alternative therapies to try during cold and flu season

On defense for flu season? Doctors will tell you your best shot is to get a shot. But that won't cut it for Sue Berman of Blue Heron Wellness in Silver Spring, Md. To keep sniffles at bay, she plans to spend a whole lot more time with needles.

Berman, an acupuncturist, says that targeting spots on the skin can help the body fight off cold and flu. "It allows the strength of your own system to reach its potential," she says. The same goes for several other alternative treatments from Eastern medicine, says Berman, who has stocked up on the homeopathic remedies Oscillococcinum and Influenzinum, which are marketed as natural alternatives to drugstore cold and flu medications.

Of course, she still advocates flu shots and hand-washing, but "it's important to take the best from both worlds," she says.

There's plenty to choose from, says Jenne "Maat" Dixon-Cravens, a naturopathic doctor with Shakti MindBody Studio in Washington who has a host of health-boosting ideas. She suggests reiki (a practice based on the idea of healing energy), smelling calming essential oils and inverting your body for plow, a yoga pose that's supposed to drain your lymph nodes, among other things.

They're different approaches, but what they all deal with on some level is stress. "When you're stressed, immune system functioning drops," Dixon-Cravens says.

Adequate rest can help by improving your mood, as can a more healthful diet, Dixon-Cravens says. She recommends cutting back on sugar and caffeine, and boosting your intake of such foods as garlic, a popular natural cold buster.

You can scarf a clove raw as she did a few weeks ago when she thought she might be coming down with something. You can also just cook with it or pop a supplement.

Oregano is another easy ingredient to sprinkle in whatever's on the stove; other herbs recommended by Dixon-Cravens, such as red clover and astragalus, will take a bit more effort to consume. Dixon-Cravens is also a fan of elderberry, which is the active ingredient in GNC's new ViraBloc lozenges.

Mike FitzGerald, owner of Massage Envy Herndon/Reston in Virginia, feels similarly about rubdowns, which are his prescription for an immunity pick-me-up. "Up until recently, massage was thought of as a luxury, but it's a part of health and wellness, and when you get massages regularly, that's when the benefits come into play," he says, ticking off rewards such as lower blood pressure and improved sleep.

Don't have the funds for multiple massages? FitzGerald has ideas for taking matters into your own hands. For headaches, he recommends applying pressure to the flesh where the thumb and index finger meet. For lower-neck and shoulder stiffness, which is what strikes FitzGerald, he has another tactic. "It gets so I can't turn my neck, so I do shoulder shrugs, bringing them as high as I can," he says. And if what would really soothe you is a foot rub, he advises taking a golf ball under your sole and letting it roll around.

Lurking germs might still attack, but you'll be ready for them.

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