Staying Healthy During the Winter: A Holistic Approach
As the winter approaches and the change in climate weakens your immune system, you want to keep your body healthy and prepared for flu season. Prevention of an illness before it strikes is always a better solution than fighting one off, so take special care to strengthen your immune system as much as possible. A holistic approach to health, along with a balanced diet, good hygiene, exercise, and fresh air will make your body stronger and more prepared to fight away illness. If taking thorough precautions doesn't keep you from getting sick entirely, it will certainly make recovery from an illness quicker and easier.
Holistic Health: Prevention is the Best Cure
Recently both modern science and the mainstream have embraced holistic medicine because of its practical, natural approach to health. Holistic medicine prevents and treats disease through the use of herbal remedies, vitamins, homeopathy, and a healthy, balanced diet. The emphasis is on prevention of problems by strengthening the body, and using the natural to heal. Holistic medicine addresses the body, mind, and spirit as a "whole", and stresses the importance of applying focus to the whole rather than just parts. Herbal medicine uses the natural healing components of plants that can be used to prevent and cure illnesses. These herbal remedies are used with a focus on the natural healing abilities of the body. The use of herbal remedies focuses on long-term health, treating the underlying causes of illnesses rather than the symptoms.
Natural medicine has the advantage of being less expensive than modern antibiotics and pharmaceuticals, and is gentler and safer on the body. Natural cures have been found to be effective in cases where synthetic drugs aren't. When overused antibiotics can weaken the immune system, making you more vulnerable to the next illness that comes along, as well as antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There are risks of side-effects involved with taking synthetic drugs, though as with anything, it is all about balance and moderation. To effectively cure an illness, it is usually best to blend use of both antibiotics if they are necessary and herbal remedies where possible. You don't want to overuse any herbal blend either as there can be side-effects involved with this as well. The safest bet is to research the different herbal remedies out there and how to properly use them.
Herbal medicines come in a variety of forms:
- Tinctures: liquid herbal preparations, where alcohol is used to extract the medicinal components of the herb.
- Extracts: similar to tinctures; can be made using either alcohol or water.
- Capsules and tablets: composed of ground-up or powdered raw herb. Herbal pills will be less potent than tinctures or extracts if they don't contain a standardized extract.
- Medicinal herbal teas: available in a wide variety of types which can help treat different ailments. Not as potent as other forms of herbal remedies, though they feature pleasant flavors and are a good way to increase fluid intake while sick.
- Ointments, lotions, salves, and sprays: help external skin problems. Applied topically to heal broken skin, wounds, minor burns, as well as fight skin infections and rashes.
In addition, some herbs are particularly helpful in fighting common winter ailments. Look for products containing these healing herbs. Often, herbs are most effective in combination with each other, so research into how to make your own herbal concoctions:
Tonic herbs are particularly effective in fortifying the immune system and strengthening bodily functions against the attack of bacteria and viruses. Some helpful tonic herbs are:
- Andrographis paniculata: aids in prevention of colds and relief of symptoms.
- Astragalus: boosts the immune system and aids in prevention of colds. Mostly used in people under 40 years of age.
- Ginseng: Asiatic Ginseng can strengthen the body greatly during the shift from summer warmth to winter cold, which can cripple the immune system. Especially good for older people.
Cold and Flu
- Echinacea: stimulates the immune system to help combat bacteria, fungi, and viruses that are invading the body. Helps with almost any common infection, including colds and influenza, and enhances wellness. The source of most Echinacea remedies comes from the roots and aerial parts of the coneflower.
- Honeysuckle: a very cooling remedy, used for high fevers. Its use can be extended by frying the herb to reduce its cold nature.
- Elderberry: reduces flu symptoms.
- Garlic: helps fight bacterial and viral infections.
- Ginger: helps settle upset stomachs. Ginger tea is helpful in a cold to warm the body, increasing perspiration in order to reduce its intensity.
- Goldenseal: fights bacterial infections.
- Peppermint: helps settle stomach and fight fevers.
- Tangerine: dries dampness, resolves phlegm, and combats nausea.
- Licorice: used to clear heat, moisten the lungs, and stop coughing. Works well with ginger for colds with coughs. Helps sore throats as well.
- Hyssop: helpful in infections of the upper respiratory tract, bronchial congestion, coughs, and feverish chills. Also strengthens and energizes.
- Elecampane: useful as a restorative after the flu. Helps to clear stagnant phlegm from lungs in bronchitis, as well as redirect the upward flow from lungs and stomach.
- Balloonflower: helps with circulation of lungs to clear excess phlegm. Can be used for sore throats and hoarseness too.
- Thyme: an antiseptic and a good expectorant. Good for clearing phlegm and combating chest infections.
- Sweet Flag: helps with respiratory problems, including sore throats. Also improves memory and mental awareness.
- Myrobalan: helps to strengthen lungs, voice, and vision. Useful for sore throats, laryngitis, coughs, and hoarse voice.
Winter blues - often we are more vulnerable to depression, lethargy, and fatigue that set in during the cold, dark months. Certain herbs can help combat our emotional upsets during the winter:
- St. John's wort: acts as an anti-depressant. Boosts serotonin levels and promotes emotional well-being and balance. Particularly helpful with treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition of severe depression brought upon by the winter season.
- Lemon-balm: helps to aid depression, anxiety, tension headaches, and stomach upsets.
- Mugwort: a calming remedy, helps to soothe nervous tension.
- Rose: helps with depression and anxiety.
- Chamomile: helps with better sleep.
- Ginkgo: helps to maintain mental clarity.
- Ginseng: enhances energy.
Aromatherapy is another form of holistic medicine, in which certain essential oils are applied to help clear out stuffy sinuses, relieve headaches, and body pains. Aromatherapy also offers therapeutic emotional results. Aromas that are contained in oils from plants, flowers, leaves, roots, and bark are used through inhalation, massage, or dissolution in bath-water. Some of these oils come from eucalyptus, pine, and tea trees.
Nutrition: An Apple a Day
A balanced diet with the right amount of vitamins and minerals is essential to your well-being. Eating healthy will keep you strong and more able to prevent and fight off potential illness. It is particularly important in the wintertime to eat right to protect your more vulnerable immune system. A balanced diet that will keep you healthy all year round includes plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and less sweets and fattening snack foods. You should try to keep your diet high in disease-fighting antioxidants. Taking vitamins as a supplement to your diet is a good idea, but you're best off getting your nutrients right from the source.
In addition, vitamins, enzymes, and minerals in different foods can help us to recover from sickness and symptoms. Taken in high dosages as often as every hour, vitamin C can help relieve symptoms of colds. Eat your citrus fruits and drink plenty of orange juice. It is also important to keep up your level of vitamin A. Vegetables that are rich in betacarotenes and bioflavanids help the body produce vitamin A. Zinc is good for fighting off sickness. People who take zinc are only half as likely to have cold symptoms after a week. You can take zinc lozenges to help fight off a cold. Keeping up your body's level of folic acid, a B vitamin, is shown to be helpful in fighting winter depression. Folic acids can be found in green leafy vegetables, fruits, beans, eggs, meats, as well as fortified breads, cereals, and pasta. Nutritious soups can help to relieve symptoms of a cold, and chicken broth can be helpful to sore throats and coughs, working to thin the mucous.
Drinking fluids and keeping your body hydrated is one of the most important things you can do for your health, whether or not you're sick. Maintenance of your bodily hydration helps to flush out potential toxins, getting your body through a cold or flu. One may not be as inclined to intake fluids during the winter as the hot summer months, but it remains just as vital, particularly in high, cold, dry climates. To avoid dehydration you should drink at least 6 to 8 cups of fluids daily. Hot drinks like hot chocolate, coffee and tea are ideal treats in the winter, but remember that drinks that contain caffeine, a diuretic, actually work to eliminate fluid in the body. If you drink a lot of caffeinated beverages you will need to drink more water in addition to replenish your fluid level. Symptoms of dehydration include headache, fatigue, dry nasal passages, dry cracked lips, and general discomfort.
Good hygiene is another vital way to greatly decrease your chances of getting sick this winter. Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly reduces the risk of receiving and spreading cold and flu germs. It is especially important to carefully wash after spending time in crowded, public spaces. Cold germs can spread like wildfire through daycare centers and children should be taught the importance of washing their hands. To get the most thorough and sanitary cleaning, use warm water to wet your hands, apply soap and rub hands together for 20 seconds, cleaning up to your elbows. Rinse away all the residue of the soap and dry with a single paper towel. Use that towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door. Avoid rubbing your eyes, touching your mouth, and sharing drinks with people whether or not they appear to be sick.
Getting a good night's sleep is always beneficial for your health and mood. In the winter many people naturally require more sleep as bodily rhythms change with the increase of dark hours.
Just as important is staying active during the winter and getting outside. Exercise is crucial to one's livelihood, reducing lethargy and offering emotional benefits. Unfortunately in the winter people tend to eat more and exercise less. With the long holiday season and feasting, unwanted weight can be gained easily. There are many ways to keep active in the winter, and you shouldn't have to alter your exercise routine much from the warmer seasons as long as you bundle up properly. Winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, and ice-skating are fun and great exercise. As long as the ground isn't too icy or the chill too bitter, you can enjoy a winter walk or jog. Getting out in the sun is good for you, as the sunlight metabolizes your vitamin D, which has a positive effect on your mood. However, if you don't like venturing out into the cold too much you can keep active indoors. Join a local gym or recreation center, or set up your own personal home gym with a few pieces of exercise equipment. As low as ten minutes of aerobic activity per day is beneficial to one's health.
Bundle Up Right
In winter weather, it is wise to dress in layers to keep warm without trapping in cold sweat. If you are exercising, the physical activity will warm your body up no matter how cold it may be outside. Avoid wearing cotton as it will absorb moisture, and as the moisture from sweating turns cold, it will give you the chills. This can lead to illness. Good materials to wear are silk, wool, nylon, fleece, and other man-made fibers. It is particularly important to keep your head, hands and feet warm. Invest in a good hat, insulated gloves, and a pair of snow boots which will keep your feet dry.
Keeping Your Spirit Up in the Winter
Our physical and emotional states are intrinsically linked. If we are unhealthy physically it can affect our mental state, just as if we are down emotionally it can cripple us physically. During the winter it is important to nurture both your mind and body for total well-being. For many people spirits are generally lower during the winter months. The bitter cold and shorter daylight hours mean less time outdoors in the sun and fresh air. This can lead to feelings of exhaustion, unmotivation, and a general depressed mood. Again, keeping active and exercising can benefit the mind, and there are plenty of activities to involve yourself with during the winter to lift your spirit. Do indoor things that stimulate your creativity. Visit museums and art galleries, and go to concerts and films. Hang out with friends and go shopping, or out for dinner or coffee. Find ways to entertain yourself at home. Winter is a great time for reading, drawing, painting, playing instruments, and taking pictures. Decorate your home to get you into the winter spirit. Remember that the winter is a time of celebration and gathering with our family and friends. If you take care of your "whole" with holistic healthcare year round, you will be better prepared to survive the bleakness of the winter and turn it into a productive and healthy season.
Read more about combating the winter blues here.