Using Water to Boost the Immune System

Patient Expert

We all know that staying hydrated can help keep us healthy, but it turns out that an age-old secret to good health this season could begin by turning on your water faucet -- the cold water faucet, that is.

Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., coauthor of the book Health20: Tap into the Healing Powers of Water to Fight Disease, Look Younger, and Feel Your Best, has helped a myriad of patients boost their immunity and regain their health, in part, with a water therapy program that dates back to the nineteenth-century when Sebastian Kneipp cured himself of tuberculosis by dunking himself in the icy Danube River. The exposure to cold water bolstered his immune system, forcing his tuberculosis into remission.

Luckily, Dr. Fleckenstein's modern-day adaptations of Kneipp's ideas can be done in the comfort of your own home with no ice required. She explains a few of the basics:
Water as a Daily Immune System Booster: Whenever you take a shower, always end it with a cold wash for twenty to thirty seconds, but no longer. The key is to start slow. Your first time, shower with warm water as usual; before you're finished, turn the handle to cold and allow the cold water to spray your feet, your hands, and then your face. The next time, do your feet, then go higher to your knees, your hands, and your face, working your way up to spraying your torso and your entire body, (except your scalp), for twenty to thirty seconds. When the cold water hits your skin, the nerve endings activate endorphins in the brain which stimulate your immune system. (You should not use cold water therapy such as this if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, Raynaud's disease, or vascular disease.)

Water for Prevention and Treatment: At the first inkling that you might be getting a cold, take a detoxifying sauna at a health club or spa. If that's not an option, run a hot bath and add some Vicks Vapor Rub to the water, or add aromatic herbs like thyme to the water. Afterwards, end with a cold shower as described above. If you have a head cold, Dr. Fleckenstein advises to take a hot foot bath. Because of the distant healing action of water, a hot foot bath will help relieve headaches and head symptoms.

Saline Rinse the Right Way: While many people know about using neti pots to alleviate sinus issues that accompany a cold, Dr. Fleckenstein is not a fan of neti pots. "They are just another thing that costs money and gathers bacteria if not cleaned properly," she explains. Instead she recommends making a saline solution using a quarter of a teaspoon of kosher salt (it's important to use a salt with no sugar in it) dissolved in one eight-ounce glass of water. (The final solution should be the saltiness of your tears and not more than the saltiness of the ocean. If you don't have enough salt, when you sniff it, it will feel like you're swimming; if you use too much salt, it will burn a bit.) When the solution is the proper ratio, simply cup the solution in your clean palm and literally sniff it up in your nose. This will both prevent and alleviate sinus problems associated with the common cold and allergens.

While Dr. Fleckenstein emphasizes that good health means a balance of eating right, sleeping enough, and reducing stress, her water therapy program has worked in her own life and in the lives of her patients -- with no side effects and without breaking the bank.