Winter has arrived in the northern hemisphere and with it come the extreme changes of temperatures and climate conditions both indoors and outdoors. Heaters are turned on, windows remain closed, and people begin congregating in enclosed spaces with no air circulation. This type of environment is the perfect place for many kinds of infectious organisms to develop because droplets can live longer and, consequently, spread more easily. Heaters usually pump dry air out, which provides a better medium for droplets to stay suspended in the air, creating a longer period of exposure for everyone sharing the same space. The “common cold”, therefore, is caused by a number of germs called viruses that are passed from one person to another in droplets from their respiratory system, so a cold is not only due to changed weather conditions.
These viruses are most active in the fall and winter months because there is less humidity in the air, a factor that helps them to stay suspended longer in the air. Runny noses, sore throats, coughs, chills, even the fevers that we experience when having a cold or the flu are actually a result of our immune system reacting to these organisms. When the virus enters our respiratory system through our nose or mouth, it then infiltrates our cells and begins to multiply. Our immune system responds by sending several types of cells and chemicals that work together to recognize it and protect the body from this attack. As a result, this process initiates an inflammatory response, which has the purpose of neutralizing the antibody and preventing the infection of other cells. Many of the symptoms we associate with a cold or the flu are the different protection measures of the body working to eliminate the viral infection.
Steps to prevent the spread of a viral infection
- The most important thing we can do to decrease contagious illnesses is to wash our hands well and regularly.
- We should also avoid putting our hands on our face and mouth.
- Make sure to cover your face when sneezing or coughing, though. And wash your hands every time it happens.
- Do not share the same glass and cutlery with others.
- Once a week, clean doorknobs, sink faucets, keyboards, cell phones and other surfaces many people around you touch or get in contact with.
- Make sure to have good ventilation at all times. Open a window for a couple of minutes every 3 – 4 hours and breath the fresh air that comes in.
- Make sure to keep enclosed spaces humid. For this purpose, the purchase of a humidifier is highly recommended. You can also buy essential oils and put some drops into the water to even make the humidification process anti-bacterial or anti-viral.
Appropriate layers of clothes in winter
In addition, during this time we tend to dress as warmly and cozily as possible, sometimes putting on more layers than needed. This results in us becoming sweaty or overheated, and we experience an evaporation chill. Staying in contact with that moisture for several hours, can cause a weakening in the body’s ability to regulate body temperature as a whole. So, the body is not only confronted with keeping us warm when we are outside, it also has to deal with fluctuations of our internal temperature. Contrary to common belief, our feet and head are the ones in charge of helping the body regulate our body temperature, not our torso. Therefore, instead of wearing lots of warm tops, we have to make sure to wear a thermal-undershirt or a shirt with a warm sweater. For our feet we need to put on a good pair of winter boots; even thermal-insoles if needed, and wear a winter hat that can keep our head warm, even on windy days.
Adequate nutrition during wintertime and convalescence
Recently, I was sick for a couple of days and it hit me harder than expected. Although I did not have a cold or the flu, I developed a lot of phlegm and mucus in my nasal and throat areas. Luckily for me, I decided to fight it with natural, organic and wholesome foods, supported by homeopathic medicine as well. It took longer to heal than it would have with traditional medicine, but the natural treatment was totally worth it. Not only did I develop defense mechanisms for next time (hopefully there won’t be!), I also noticed that I had an appetite for natural fermented foods, foods rich in antioxidants and herbs and spices with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties to help me heal and clean my gut micro biome in the process.
My recommended natural fermented sources are either homemade or from a very responsible, organic source:
- Milk, coconut water or water kefir
- Apple cider vinegar
Foods rich in antioxidants and anti-bacterial / anti-viral properties
Vegetables and fruits, sprouts, some herbs, spices and roots, seeds, and wild plants are rich in antioxidants. A balanced, varied and preferably as raw as possible diet can greatly contribute to strengthen the immune system and, thus, act as a preventative measure against a cold or the flu. Include at least ¼ to ½ of raw foods to your plate because they are filled with live enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients*.
Particularly exceptional are garlic, parsley, basil, rosemary, sprouts, thyme, cabbage, ginger, manuka honey, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, licorice root, sea buckthorn, elderberry, and turmeric as a great support for fighting colds. These contain anti-bacterial and viral properties that support our immune system to fight bacterial and viral infections.
Extraordinary support for our immune system: Kneipp-therapies applicable at home
The therapies are based on the principle of a healing-promoting reaction on a warm body through therapies with targeted cold-water stimuli to strengthen and boost the body’s defenses. These stimuli have the purpose of activating the defense mechanisms of the body and allowing it to fight against infectious organisms or diseases from the inside by promoting blood flow, stimulating circulation and influencing our whole metabolism. It is necessary to preheat the body through movement, warm air – for example, in the sauna – or warm water before applying any of the therapies. However, these therapies are to be made as a supplementary application to a healthy nutrition.
- Ablutions are used to help reduce fever as a treatment method.
- Alternating bath for the lower legs is used when the infection is developing and we experience symptoms like headaches, coughing, and sniffing.
- Water jet on the knees is used for hardening and strengthening our immune system. (It must be done with a hose as the strength of the jet is what makes the difference).
- Upper body water jet is used for infections of the upper respiratory tract.
- Compress method is used to support the body’s defenses.
A warm and comfortable feeling is what we strive for this time of the year. Dressing appropriately for the cold weather is as important as getting enough fresh air and letting air circulate in enclosed spaces. Sickness is not primarily due to the weather but to the way we nurture ourselves, apply preventive methods against contagion, and support our immune system through visits to the sauna, and staying active and hydrated.
* Phytonutrients are natural chemicals or compounds produced by plants. They keep plants healthy, protecting them from insects and the sun. These also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help support health.