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Winter Wellness: Natural Remedies and Immune System Boosters

December 6, 2017 1:00 PM with Dr. Ashwani Garg

Winter is a high-stress time of year during which we often neglect our health, leaving immune systems weakened and less capable of protecting against germs. Thankfully, improving your wellness can start with the items in your grocery cart. Learn how you can incorporate natural ingredients into your health plan with Dr. Ashwani Garg, NorthShore Family Medicine Physician. He will take your questions and share expertise on using natural remedies to boost your immune system and how you can make integrative treatments and natural ingredients part of your wellness plan.

Kathryn (Moderator) - 1:00 PM:
Our chat on natural remedies for winter is now open. You can submit questions at any time during our chat.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 1:00 PM:

Welcome everyone to the Northshore chat on Winter Wellness: Natural Remedies and Immune System Boosters. Allow me to introduce myself:

I am Ashwani Garg, MD, a board-certified family physician also board certified in lifestyle medicine. I am currently in training with Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine under the supervision of our integrative medicine director Dr. Leslie Mendoza-Temple. I keep office hours in Lincolnwood and am available as a primary care doctor and for consultations in lifestyle medicine.

  L (Evanston, IL) - 1:01 PM:
What is the best way to consume tumeric to benefit your immune system?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
Turmeric can be consumed in capsule form easily. Many capsules are compounded with piperine (from black pepper) which helps absorption. It is also available as a spice powder, I would suggest organic, and as a root which resembles ginger root. In spice form, it can be used for curries, soups and tea. In the raw form, it can be consumed as shredded into salads or blended in smoothies, as well as steeped into a tea.

  Joanne (Northbrook, IL) - 1:04 PM:
I have a similar question - can fresh turmeric help with arthritis pain and lower cholesterol?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
While I am not familiar with turmeric for cholesterol, I can say it is a powerful anti-inflammatory. For arthritis, it is effective for both osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis, as well as other autoimmune conditions. The dose for full effect is usually higher which is 1000mg, 3 times a day. At this dose some people do get a bit of heartburn, so it has to be done carefully and after eating.

  Sarah - 1:06 PM:
What teas can you recommend to relieve the stress of the holidays? Anything for immunity during the winter season as well?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
Many wonderful teas are available at our wellness shoppe in Glenview Park Center. My favorite ones to help relax include chamomile, peppermint, as well as rooibos. Rooibos has a highly anti-inflammatory effect. For immunity, many combinations are available. One unique tea I suggest is elderberry tea which has the flavor of blueberries. It is helpful for both treatment and prevention of viral infections. Thyme is also a powerful anti-inflammatory that is available in tea form.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 1:09 PM:
Another popular tea is turmeric/ginger tea which is great for prevention and treatment of colds.

  Ben - 1:09 PM:
Are there any specific vitamins that you think are especially important in the winter months?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
More important than vitamins is proper diet. For a detailed look at the kind of diet I suggest, go to DrWeil.Com and look for the anti-inflammatory diet. Every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner should help inflammation, not create it. Especially for people with mucus it is important to avoid dairy foods common in many holiday treats. More important than vitamin C are the foods that contain it. A green smoothie can be a quick and easy way to get in fruits and veggies to fight the winter infections. The main vitamins many are low in are vitamin D, vitamin B12, and DHA. I always suggest vegetarian sources of the DHA.

  Joe - 1:13 PM:
Often, the changing of temperatures this time of year bring regular headaches for me. Is there any natural remedies you would recommend for a headache?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
I suggest topical remedies which are very common in other countries, such as China Gel, or Tiger Balm, and others. Lavender essential oil and ginger have been shown to be helpful for headache. Most of all it's important to keep warm and get enough sleep during the stressful holiday times.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 1:14 PM:
Another very helpful tea to consume which is popular in India is Holy Basil tea (Tulsi) which has many health properties, and is completely caffeine-free.

  Joanne (Northbrook, IL) - 1:16 PM:
What is your opinion on vitamin C?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
I am not a big fan of vitamin C tablets and prefer to suggest food-based vitamin C, especially berries, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, and others. Many healthful components are present that work synergistically with the vitamin C present in the food.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 1:18 PM:
Speaking of tea, Calendula tea is also a powerful anti-inflammatory. Calendula, also known as marigold, is a flower with yellow-gold blossoms whose petals are edible and are used to make a fragrant herbal tea. Lastly, hibiscus tea is anti-inflammatory and is great hot or even cold. For cold hibiscus tea that kids will love, steep it cold and keep it in a jug in the fridge. It looks kind of like fruit punch and has a fruity taste.

  Sally - 1:18 PM:
I'm worried about getting sick this season (even though I received the flu shot). Are there any everyday foods that could be in my pantry now that could help build immunity?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
For prevention, I suggest trying many of the teas that are available that we mentioned. Other than that, I suggest eating at least 2-3 servings of fruits and 5-7 servings of vegetables every day for the best of health. It's easier getting it through soups and stews, and even green smoothies. Nuts and seeds add to the health benefits.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 1:21 PM:
Other general remedies for prevention include (1) gargling with tap water every day after brushing, it can even be done by the little ones and it's fun to make funny sounds and (2) rinsing both little and big nostrils with saline solution spray twice a day and (3) frequent handwashing, not touching the face when possible

  Kim - 1:21 PM:
What are the best fruits and vegetables for a smoothie to boost immunity?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
I don't think there are any bad fruits or vegetables, however the ones that pack the most nutrient punch are also the brightest colored, such as berries and cherries, greens and beets, carrots and oranges. Adding a little turmeric, ginger, and chia/flax can pack nutrients into it too. For some simple smoothie recipes, there are some listed on

  Michelle (Evanston, IL) - 1:24 PM:
I generally have pretty good skin, but it gets really dry and flaky during the winter. Is there anything I can use to soothe it when it needs more TLC?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
Some great lotions for heavy-duty skin protection include Ceravie, cetaphil, eucerin, aquaphor and aveeno. These can be used on little ones too. Coconut oil is a popular skin remedy also. Extra fluid intake also helps the skin. I suggest avoiding alcohol based hand cleansers as these aggravate the skin, and I suggest quick showers so that the water does not wash away the natural moisture.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 1:27 PM:
Besides the usual health tips, I was interviewed for a local paper a couple years ago (and Weather Channel liked it so much I skyped into them, it was my 30 seconds of national fame). These are the tips I shared

  Nathan (IL) - 1:28 PM:
Can essential oils be helpful at all for when you’re sick? What else can they be used for?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
I am just getting into essential oils for treatment, especially for the children. I am familiar with a few, and the remainder I would suggest checking with the Northshore Wellness Shoppe where we have experienced staff to help. The ones I use most commonly are: (1) Lavender, to help with headaches and for calmness and as a sleep aid (2) peppermint, to open up the nasal passages and (3) eucalyptus, to help with cough and respiratory symptoms. Many blends are available of these amazing herbs. A brief article from Dr. Weil on aromatherapy can be found here:

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 1:34 PM:
While on the subject of winter wellness, I cannot emphasize enough how much I feel that stress is another factor in someone getting sick. Mindfulness is a technique which can help manage stress that is frequent in the winter season. We recently had a Northshore Chat for managing stress which is great to refer to by Dr. Lo Presti.

  Rob (Buffalo Grove, IL) - 1:34 PM:
Any good options for soothing a sore throat?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
Besides the usual saltwater gargle, Judy at our Wellness Shoppe suggests: Thyme Instead of a store-bought cough suppressent, try this at-home thyme syrup recipe. Thyme works as antiseptic in the throat and helps coat the receptors in your throat that make you want to cough. Ingredients 1 cup water 4 tbsp fresh or dried thyme 1 lemon 1/4 cup raw honey Directions Pour near boiling water over fresh or dried thyme. Steep for 15 minutes. Strain. Add lemon and honey. Pour into glass jar. You can store this mixture for up to one week in the fridge. Take 1 to 2 tablespoons every 3-4 hours, as needed. Sage Gargle The next time you feel a sore throat coming on, try a sage gargle. It not only relieves pain and kills bacteria, sage also acts as a great anti-inflammatory for your throat. Ingredients 1 cup of water 2 tsp fresh or dried sage 1/4 tsp salt Directions Bring water to boil, add sage. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain into cup. Add salt and gargle. Gargle every 2 hours, or as needed.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 1:38 PM:
Besides the thyme and sage, one can try many of the tea recipes. A chai recipe for soothing the throat can be for example, this one, and many others. Otherwise, elderberry is helpful and so is slippery elm which is available as a lozenge. Rooibos tea Ginger Turmeric Star Anise Cardamom Black Pepper squeeze of lemon or a slice sweetener of choice

  Lill (Evanston, IL) - 1:39 PM:
Are there certain groups of foods (like certain types of fruits, or grains) that are considered good for immunity boosting and preventing sickness?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
Fruits, vegetables, herbs/spices, and nuts/seeds win the award for the most immune boosting. There are scoring systems available that show the immune boosting potential of foods. The most powerful fruits are berries and cherries, most powerful veggies are cruciferous veggies such as cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc., beetroot and leafy greens. Chia, flax and sesame are powerful seeds, and walnuts/almonds are great as nuts. Many more available.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 1:42 PM:
Herbs/spices that are useful are used in Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean cooking and a variety of nicely spiced ethnic foods that are plant-based are helpful!

  M (IL) - 1:44 PM:
What are some good natural ingredients for homemade cough drops? I've heard those are great to suck on.
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
That sounds like a great idea! I have not done that before nor have I seen recipes. I usually get the ready-made ginger candies or Ricola, and I have found slippery elm drops and I'm sure that the herbal experts at the Northshore Wellness Shoppe might have some great ideas for the ingredients to do so! I am sure many of the ingredients discussed above would be great to put in.

  Beth (Wilmette, IL) - 1:48 PM:
Do some natural ingredients particularly benefit kids? I’m nervous about trying anything and making things worse or the taste bothering them…
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
The key with kids is to start with small amounts especially with tastes that may be foreign to them. And to always check for specific safety. Some herbal formulations are made especially for children such as the Elderberry preparations. For turmeric, I find it easy to mix it into rice or chickpea crepes that I make. Sometimes I will hide kale into a chocolate smoothie. So the other key is to hide the ingredients!

  Mary (Evanston, IL) - 1:53 PM:
How can a person decide whether to try natural remedies or go to the doctor?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
That one is a difficult question to answer, and the best way to answer is when in doubt, ask the doctor. At Northshore, it is easy to put an inquiry via Northshore Connect, because it's hard to generalize. Better to send through a message than to sit home and worry, that's my best advice. Of course, danger symptoms include high fever, shortness of breath, or severe pain of any sort especially chest pain, those deserve the doctor to be paged or to go to the ER.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 1:56 PM:
One common remedy I would NOT recommend would be the popular "Oscillococcinum®" which was shown to be not better than placebo. It also comes from duck liver and heart which is kind of icky too. Many better, more proven natural remedies are available.

  Ellen (Chicago, IL) - 1:57 PM:
I read in Dr. Weil's newsletter about the benefits of ginger to boost immunity. What are some easy ways to include ginger in my diet besides pickled and making ginger tea from ginger root?
Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore)
A ginger shot is great - mix ginger and water together in a blender or juice it and drink. Sometimes I will make ginger lemonade. There is ginger candy either hard or chewable available, and sometimes I will pop 2-3 of them a day. Ginger-miso soup is warm and soothing, as are many Asian and Indian curries that can be made with ginger root. Lastly ginger kombucha not only gives ginger, but also many beneficial bacteria and yeast that can promote good winter health.

Kathryn (Moderator) - 2:00 PM:
This will be the end of our chat. Thank you for the questions. To find out more about how you can incorporate natural wellness into your lifestyle, contact the Department of Integrative Medicine.

To get in touch with a specialist like Dr. Garg, contact the Department of Family Medicine.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 2:00 PM:
I will put in a few last comments for good winter health: Get good sleep Do not stress Eat your veggies Eat your fruit Use herbs/spices in cooking and in teas If you are sick, do not go to work or school.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 2:02 PM:
Another forgotten herb is Astragalus root which is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 2:03 PM:
Lastly to give the ideas of the best foods, Dr. Joel Fuhrman has a good mnemonic to remember, which is GBOMBS-T: Greens, Beans, Onion, Mushrooms, Berries, and Seeds + Tomatoes.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 2:04 PM:
Thank you all for joining us for the Northshore Chat, and I wish you all a happy, healthful and mindful winter season and best wishes for joy, health and success in the new year.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 2:11 PM:
From Judy at the Wellness Shop these are 2 more pears of wisdom: (1)One apple 3 cinnamon sticks Bunch of thyme ½ lime Put all in pot and simmer until apple is soft, strain and drink. It loosens congestion in the chest.

Dr. Ashwani Garg (NorthShore) - 2:14 PM:
(2) Umckaloabo The next time you're treating an upper respiratory infection, try umckaloabo as a natural remedy. This south African geranium treats upper respiratory infections gently and effectively, without disrupting your gut bacteria. Umckaloabo comes in chewable tabs, liquid, and fizzy tabs that dissolve in water. You can find these options at the Wellness Shoppe or Pharmacy under name “umcka” as well as pelargonium.

This chat has ended.

Thank you very much for your participation.