Wintertime ⛄ is probably my favorite season, after autumn. Winter is lovely, the trees are all flocked and the air is so fresh. You can make snowballs and fire up the crockpot with soup.
I SO love winter, and for me as a writer, it brings with it incredible writing opportunities! I can’t wait for it to snow sometimes, and obsessively check my weather app daily or twice a day. When the snow begins to fall, I stay in my pjs and crawl into my favorite recliner, with a big fuzzy blue throw and a hot pack. The fireplace, even though it’s gas, still adds the perfect ambiance. 🤗
I sit and write, sometimes for hours, until my bum is numb! That’s how I’m writing this article right now.
Unfortunately, the human body is negatively impacted during the winter. Today, I will help you figure out how to solve some common, and uncomfortable problems associated with cold weather. First, it might help for you to know the changes…
What happens, exactly?
During wintertime, our red blood cells carry more immune cells, as opposed to ‘summer blood,’ which has less of those, but contains more hormones that help burn fat and build muscle.
When it’s cold, many biochemical changes take place in the human body which lead to dryness of the skin and lips, suppressed immunity, reduced production of some neurotransmitters, the packing on of winter fat, higher risk of heart attacks and certainly more sniffles, coughing and general sickness from cold and flu. Sadness and depression are common, and some days we can evade the winter blues, but other days it drags us down.
Today my focus will be to help you stay as well and comfy as possible during the hibernation months. Let’s get started with this graphic, which outlines the herbs, foods, teas and supplements that can help you during the winter season.
|Winter Checklist||How You Use It||Dose if Applicable|
|Jojoba oil||Apply to heels||Morning and night|
|Real Salt||Add to water||Just a pinch|
|Vitamin C||Eat it or supplement||250 – 1000 mg/day|
|Vitamin D||Supplement||1000 – 5000 IU/day|
|Green Tea||Drink it, or cook with||1 cup each day|
|Garlic||Cook or supplement||2 cloves/day|
|Probiotics||Supplement and/or kefir||1 per day|
|Marshmallow||Infuse in water/tea||1 TBSP per cup|
|Melissa essential oil||1 drop in empty V-cap||1 drop at night|
|Oregano essential oil||1 drop in empty V-cap||1 drop daily w/ food|
|Probiotics||Take as supplement||Take daily|
|Epsom salts||Topically||2 to 3 cups per bath|
|Eucalyptus essential oil||Diffuse or inhale||Twice daily|
Why Are These Herbs and Supplements Useful?
Now I’d like to help you understand the rationale for the items in the graphic. Rather than listing each one, I’ve decided to categorize the symptoms or problems of winter, so that way you can see if you relate to any of them, and easily find “The Fix.”
THE SYMPTOM: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) a.k.a. Depression
This is a seasonal type of depression and sadness that lifts in the springtime and summer. It sometimes goes under the radar for people because the symptoms could be as basic as apathy, low libido, craving carbs, or maybe just a lack of motivation.
They could also be more profound and include the above symptoms as well as tearfulness, strong depression, anxiety, lethargy, difficulty focusing, excessive sleepiness and considerations of harming oneself (ie. suicidal ideation). With SAD, it isn’t chronic like classic depression. When the sun comes back out, and warmer weather arrives, these sensations lift and you feel better.
Researchers sometimes attribute the winter blues to reduced exposure to sunlight (and therefore vitamin D) as well as a reduction in serotonin (which is made in the gut by the way, not the brain). Staying indoors changes our eating habits and therefore our mood. We tend to crave more comfort foods and more meat and eat fewer fruits and vegetables. Wintertime brings with it a flattened, sadder mood for millions of people. There are ways to mitigate the intensity if you live in higher altitudes, far from the equator or some other place (ie. with lots of cloudiness / overcast weather) that causes you to experience SAD… again, this is currently associated with a lack of sunlight.
THE FIX for YOUR MOOD
Mood is based upon so many factors, among which are a healthy stock of neurotransmitters and a reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines (ie homocysteine, CRP, arachidonic acid, INF-γ, TNF-α, Il-1β, Il-6, and Il-8). It’s not that those compounds are bad, it’s that those compounds IN EXCESS are bad.
My rationale is that Vitamin C contributes to the formation of neurotransmitters involved in mood and functions as a strong antioxidant to help subdue the above-mentioned inflammatory compounds. Fish oils, which I won’t elaborate on today, are also useful in this regard.
So your goal should be to increase antioxidants, in order to control inflammation and ease depression. The fastest, best way to do that is to eat colorful berries and green or orange vegetables. Eat 2 servings every day, at the very least.
The next fix I suggest would be to boost levels of both vitamin C and D. Here’s why.
Vitamin C – This vitamin is needed to convert an amino acid called tryptophan, (found in chicken and beef) into serotonin, which is one of those “happy” neurotransmitters. Vitamin C also drives another important metabolic reaction in the body. It is the catalyst that converts tyrosine into dopamine, your passion hormone and another one of those “happy” neurotransmitters. The dopamine will break down into norepinephrine and epinephrine which you need for energy and happiness.
You can increase vitamin C easily through supplementation and/or by eating more foods rich in these two powerful antioxidants. To consume more natural Vitamin C, consider tangerines, oranges and kiwi. You can also eat bell peppers, they have about triple the amount of C as in an orange. Kale and Broccoli also have a lot of Vitamin C.
As an aside, coffee drinkers probably know this… drinking coffee or anything with caffeine will boost mood. Not only that, but it speeds the metabolism to help with weight loss, boosts energy and vitality, and makes your brain more clear. Caffeine, yerba mate and guarana are all actually useful in terms of their natural antidepressant activity! They’re obviously not right for everyone, but they’re still great pick-me-ups and I rely on all of them at times.
Vitamin D is on my checklist above because it is well-known to support a healthy mood. D is so intricately associated with the mood that a deficiency is sometimes a contributing or driving factor in schizophrenia! Many studies have proven a correlation, and people with SAD almost always have lower levels of vitamin D.
Skin color impacts it too. Research has uncovered the link between pigmentation of the skin, and levels of vitamin D. Darker toned skin (more pigmentation in the skin) could cause a person to be at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency, and if they move to a higher altitude (or stay indoors a lot) then the risk of getting SAD increases even more so.
Finally, to make the case for vitamin D, there are studies that prove there is a lag time of 7 to 8 weeks before the onset of depression which occurs after the spike in UV sunlight. This reminds me, light therapy helps some folks, and there are many devices and options today.
You can take a blood test to evaluate levels of vitamin D, and supplements of vitamin D are available nationwide at every health food store. I even have my own brand of this, if you are interested in supporting my work, please visit my shop.
THE SYMPTOM: Weight Gain
Eating more in the winter is common and it’s partially due to lower moods, and overeating… whether that’s due to craving comfort foods, or holiday events, it still happens to almost every one. There’s a medical term for overeating: hyperphagia. This describes how a person might feel excessive hunger, or just eat larger amounts of solid food. Think of bears going into hibernation. They eat a lot until they retreat to their winter den.
Overeating (hyperphagia) will cause rapid weight gain, and this weight is hard to lose in the winter time because you’re almost always less active. By summer, obtaining a hot bod almost feels impossible because you’ve stretched your stomach out and it still requires a large bolus of food. Avoiding the act of overeating in the winter is hard to do, but it is key to controlling the amount of weight gained during those months.
There’s another driving factor. Reduced amounts of vitamin D will contribute to this as well, due to the reduction in serotonin, which then triggers the craving for food, specifically carbs and comfort foods.
THE FIX for WEIGHT GAIN
Exercise is one answer. In the wintertime, it’s especially important to stay active, so find a different exercise if you can no longer jog or hike. Maybe take up yoga, jiu jitsu, skiing or ballroom dance… but either way, try to stick to the schedule and move your body, because it trains you to burn fat, and burn off the calories of everything you eat.
Portion control is important. If you eat smaller amounts, you consume fewer calories. This offsets the hyperplagia and this is one of the simplest ways you can lose weight. Just lean into it slowly, as in eating 80% of what you’d normally eat. And eat slower. If you wolf it down, you’re going to eat dramatically more because you haven’t waited long enough for the leptin to get secreted. Leptin makes me you feel full. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes for you to feel leptin, so if you inhaled a big giant plate in 10 minutes, you’ll keep eating more and more until 15 to 20 minutes have passed. Eat slower, thus giving yourself the opportunity to experience leptin.
For a quick fix, caffeine, yerba mate and guarana, as well as green tea, are useful because they turn on your metabolism. If you drink coffee, or those energy shots, they sometimes contain these things. They help with weight too.
Optimizing thyroid hormone is another metabolic switch you can address, because optimal thyroid helps you lose weight. My book, Thyroid Healthy talks about excessive weight, and how to lose it. You can get your own copy of Thyroid Healthy by CLICKING HERE. Or for the Kindle version, CLICK HERE.
Don’t eat when you’re bored. Think about the weekends, when there’s nothing to do all day and you’re sitting around the home or office. You’re more apt to eat, just because it’s something to do. Idle time, boredom, or SAD could cause you to hang around the refrigerator a lot more, until it becomes a bad habit of gnashing all day for the heck of it, or because it’s fun to eat with the TV on. Keep this behavior in check.
THE SYMPTOM: Headaches
Cold climates cause blood vessels to tighten a little bit, and the narrowing reduces blood flow. When blood vessels are constricted, it can trigger headaches and migraines.
Weather can impact sensitive people, but not everyone. We refer to the “barometric pressure” as the amount of pressure exerted on the Earth by the atmosphere. A big drop in barometric air pressure often correlates with a low-pressure storm system, such as a snowstorm or thunderstorm.
When the outside barometric pressure goes down (again, this happens shortly before or during a thunderstorm or blizzard), it creates a strong difference between the outside (air) pressure and the pressure inside your head, including the air pressure in your sinus cavity. That can trigger headache pain.
Headaches and migraines are a topic I’m very familiar with, not because I have them, but because I studied the topic for years and then wrote a book on it, called Headache Free. CLICK HERE to get your own copy of Headache Free. Or for the Kindle version, CLICK HERE.
THE FIX for HEADACHES
One of the easiest hacks is to dump a few cups of Epsom salts in your bath. If you can’t do that, or you don’t like baths, consider a Magnesium supplement to support healthy blood vessel structure and function*, and as an aside, to support levels of serotonin*.
And one of the simplest ways to prevent headaches in the winter? Wear a hat or ear muffs, and stay hydrated.
THE SYMPTOM: Dryness and Dehydration
Dry elbows, heels, skin… dry hair and dry mouth… Feeling parched and dry is very common in the winter time. You might feel itchy, or get rough patches here and there. There’s less humidity in the wintertime, plus we drink less water, and more hot chocolate and coffee! While not serious, dryness is a trigger for migraines, and it also is uncomfortable. Luckily, I have some easy hacks to help you deal with it.
Because of the shorter days and longer nights, people don’t get as much sunlight during winter. Not only does this mess up your sleep schedule and make you more tired during the day, this can cause a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause muscle weakness and greater pain sensitivity.
THE FIX for DRYNESS
These easy suggestions will help you feel better and keep you from drying out. I’ve organized this section by body part, so first your heels.
- Your heels are very dry. Look at them, I bet they’re cracked and dry. Put some pure jojoba oil, coconut oil, olive or grapeseed oil on your finger or a cotton pad, and apply it to your heels. Then put on your socks and shoes. Repeat this if you need to after your evening bath or shower.
- Your lips will feel dry. This one is pretty easy, just keep applying a natural clean lip balm that is free of parabens. You can also apply jojoba oil. Of course, drink plenty of water. This leads me to my next thought…
- Your body is drying out. When you drink water, it may not be enough. I’ve made it my habit to add marshmallow root (available in health food sections or stores) to water when I’m steeping tea. I sometimes just put a tablespoon in a mason jar with water and just let it infuse. The water now contains the extract of marshmallow which is demulcent, and it makes you feel more hydrated. I also add a tiny pinch of sea salt to my water for natural electrolytes.
CLICK HERE for a brand of Real Salt I recommend.
WATCH this video from YouTube of me making marshmallows.
And If you’re interested in learning how to make natural creams and body butters at home (maybe with the kids because it’s so much fun), CLICK HERE to read Luxurious Body Creams That Won’t Cause Cancer.
After you read that article, you will learn how to create your own moisturizers, and best of all, they will be completely free of poisonous or synthetic chemicals.
THE SYMPTOM: Sleep Difficulties
Depending on the distance you live from the Equator, you might have sleep difficulties. People who reside farther from the equator are more susceptible to insomnia, as well as SAD.
Here in Colorado, the sun goes down sometimes at 4:45 in the afternoon. It’s pitch black. By 6 or 7pm, it makes me want to eat more, and crawl into bed and call it a night, lol! But this can mess up your sleep schedule, right? If you try to sleep that early, you’ll no doubt wake up at 2am ready to roll!
THE FIX is MAGNESIUM
Take a bath in magnesium, using Epsom salts. The combination of hot water and magnesium which goes through your skin can be very relaxing. There are dozens of other tricks you can try such as inhaling essential oil of lavender, diffusing chamomile, or taking dietary supplements of Magnesium.
I’ve written several good articles on sleep and insomnia, and ways to help yourself get a good night’s rest. These are archived here at my website, so you can use the search box.
Two articles that come to mind in particular include the following:
- CLICK HERE to read my article 9 Reasons You Don’t Sleep Like a Baby
- CLICK HERE to read this article entitled 7 Common but Strange Reasons for Insomnia
THE SYMPTOM: Heart Problems
Did you know that heart attacks happen more often in the wintertime? The extreme temperatures can sometimes increase blood pressure so high that it strains the heart. In low temperatures, your heart has to pump more blood in order to preserve your body heat. It’s just very difficult to maintain proper, healthy thermoregulation if you’re out in 20 degrees.
THE FIX for YOUR HEART
If you have hypertension or some heart condition or arrhythmias, it’s best to bundle up when going outside, wear warm or fur-lined shoes (think Uggs or other fur-lined boots) and keep your hands warm with gloves. One trick is to wear those surgical types of latex gloves, you can buy them everywhere now. You can buy non-latex disposable gloves, or nitrile gloves… I’m talking about the kind a surgeon might wear, in case you wanted a ‘visual’ on that. These types of gloves surprisingly cause your hands to retain heat way better than regular winter gloves! I keep these disposable nitrile gloves in my car and put them on more frequently than actual winter gloves because they warm my hands within minutes. You can also wear them underneath your mittens or gloves too.
THE SYMPTOM: Cough, Cold and Flu
In order to reduce your risk for respiratory illness and cold or flu, you have to rev up your immune system.
THE FIXES for YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
There are numerous “fixes” for immune structure and function. This section is quite large and I hope you derive the right information to help yourself get well fast! Let’s start with Vitamin C, because it’s known for its immunoprotective benefits.
Vitamin C offers protection against immune system deficiencies, and is especially helpful in terms of reducing duration of illness once you get sick. There was a study that also showed how well vitamin C could reduce the frequency of bronchospasm, as in asthma. It is helpful for smokers too, as nicotine is a drug mugger of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is discussed above in regards to mood improvement since it participates in chemical pathways that make neurotransmitters. Vitamin C can be eaten too – citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, and dark, leafy greens. You can also supplement it. Vitamin C is available everywhere, and there are many good brands.
While C is good for immunity, it is not good at killing invaders that infect you, so let me give you my three favorite options for that.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
This is a great natural fix for when you are actually sick. When I was down with the flu, one of the best ways I found to open up sinus passages and temporarily stop coughing was with eucalyptus essential oil. I would put two drops in a pot of just-boiled hot water, then cover myself up with a blanket or big towel and inhale the steam. (After a few days, I switched over to an essential oil by DoTerra called “Breathe.”)
Incidentally, if you have a fever, you can put a few drops of eucalyptus on a very cold wet compress and lay that upon your forehead, neck, or chest.
The eucalyptus oil has antiviral and antimicrobial properties thanks to dozens of potent volatile oils. The most well-studied component is 1,8-cineole. You can see the research for yourself with a quick pubmed search. The short story is that inhaled eucalyptus is a safe option to help you overcome cold and flu-related viruses, as well as other uncomfortable chest-related issues such as bronchitis and shortness of breath. Vicks uses eucalyptus oil in one of their topical products due to its strong cough-suppressant activity. Be careful inhaling, it can hurt your eyes, and cause topical sensitivities. Do not take internally.
This herb has very strong anti-everything activity! It’s a strong antifungal, antibacterial and anti-viral. If you want to kill it all, think of oregano! One of the active ingredients is carvacrol. I took this internally myself when I had the flu. I usually take oregano as a supplement, in capsule form, however this time I tried consuming it a new way. I used my essential oil. I have a brand that specifically says I can take it internally, so I poured a drop into an empty capsule then swallowed that.
It has a very strong aroma of course – it is oregano! – and sometimes I would drip it on the outside of the capsule, or the smell was too potent for me when I was sick and had a heightened sensitivity. So to make it more pleasant, I would eat a bite off of a chocolate bar, or something else that was tasty, and take the home-made oregano capsule that way.
Oregano oil is generally safe to use, but it might induce mild side effects, so please ask your own practitioner if it’s right for you. The side effects vary and include nausea or stomach pain, anti-platelet activity (increased bleeding), muscle pain or diarrhea. You have to take a lot to see these problems, though.
I’m not advising anyone, just sharing my experiences and ideas about what worked for me. Ask someone “in the know” if it is right for you based upon your individual history, allergies and medical problems. You can ask your physician or a holistic practitioner. You should avoid oregano spice and essential oil if you are allergic to mint, sage, basil or lavender because it’s in the same family as those. Also, do not use oregano oil if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Please refer to a qualified holistic pediatrician before using oregano on a child.
There’s one more quick warning: don’t take high doses of oregano oil if you have a bleeding condition, or are taking any medications that affect blood clotting time, like an anticoagulant drug (ie warfarin/Coumadin, Plavix etc).
Lemon Balm a.k.a Melissa Officinalis
Melissa, as I will call it today, is a potent anti-viral.
This member of the mint family works against a variety of viruses and bacteria, including the virus that causes the common cold. Some people apply it topically to their cold sores. It has a strong aroma, so I dislike diffusing this as an essential oil, however, you can do that. I think the best way is to either take a supplement (capsule or herbal tincture) or to put a drop of the essential oil (EO) into an empty capsule and swallow. That’s how I take it when I use it and I am using the type of essential oil that I can encapsulate and ingest, which is made by DoTerra. There are probably other brands if you prefer something else… again, make sure it’s purified in such a way that you can swallow the oil, as some EOs are not consumable. Don’t take this until you know it’s right for you, and that you’re not allergic.
Potential side effects are reported online from hypersensitive individuals and may include skin rash, headache, nausea, and issues with worsening glaucoma (temporarily, because it increases intraocular pressure a little bit). But you’d have to take a lot really to experience these problems. I sometimes take Melissa at bedtime, it might make you super drowsy, so be careful. When I take it, I’m out like a light 💤 in about 30 minutes.
Green tea is less processed than black tea, so it contains a higher amount of quercetin. This is an antioxidant that helps fight the flu. Green tea also contains EGCG, which stands for epigallocatechin-3-gallate. This is a potent antibacterial, anti-cancer agent and general immune booster. Drinking even one cup of green tea each day can do wonders for your overall health, in my opinion. Studies prove it can help reduce the risk for catching the flu. In 2012 there was a study with Japanese children. Those who drank green tea through the week (6 times/week) were significantly less likely to contract the flu.
If you’re not allergic and you like garlic, eat it frequently. Just include it in your recipes, and if you don’t have fresh cloves of garlic, you can use pure garlic powder and sprinkle it. Garlic is a well known natural antibiotic and antifungal. I think it’s a great way to prevent getting a cold or flu in the first place. That’s why it’s great to make chicken soup or vegetable soup and include the fresh garlic cloves in your broth.
A STUDY published in Clinical Nutrition found that supplements could enhance immune cell function and mitigate symptoms or reduce the severity of colds and flu.
Many people become deficient in Vitamin D during winter because we’re indoors. Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium and magnesium and other essential nutrients needed to keep our immune system strong. Most people can’t fly to Hawaii or Costa Rica for a month to escape the dreary, dark cold climate of where they live… so maybe take a supplement or eat foods higher in Vitamin D such as butter, beef liver, cheese, milk, fatty fish (mackerel, salmon), egg yolks, mushrooms and some cereals.
Also – if you’re one of the millions of people who take prescription opioid drugs (ie oxycodone, hydrocodone, tramadol, methadone, fentanyl and others) then you’re probably already deficient in vitamin D according to a study that determined this correlation. Opioid drugs are drug muggers of vitamin D. So if you take these medications, the deficiency of vitamin D could be even more profound in the winter.
The beneficial effects of probiotics on the gut flora have been demonstrated in many diseases, and in hundreds of well-designed clinical trials. They enhance our own innate immunity.
One of the major mechanisms that probiotics have is through the regulation of your immune response. Probiotics make your immune cells (which are created in the gastrointestinal tract in your intestinal epithelial cells) work harder and more efficiently. There is a lot of potential for the use of probiotics, not just during the winter time either.
For instance, probiotics have been shown to help increase thyroid hormone activation, which can then lead to faster weight loss. Probiotics help you make GABA, a sleep hormone, and probiotics can also improve your immune response to autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and many viral infections.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.