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Winter can be the coziest time of year; think of snuggling up next to a fireplace, peering out at the picturesque snow-covered backdrop, and sipping a warm cup of tea. But this winter isn’t exactly going as planned. There are the typical winter blahs brought on by dark nights and cold temperatures – and we’re all stretching ourselves thin to be ‘productive’ amid an ongoing global pandemic that has taken a devastating toll on our collective physical and mental health. It’s a lot. Along with obeying medical advice and following health protocols to keep yourself healthy, we suggest you harness the healing power of nature to give your mood, mind, and body a boost. Here’s how:
1. Banish Stress with B
A comprehensive B-vitamin complex should be in everyone’s winter wellness arsenal to combat stress and promote a healthy mood. B-complex vitamins refer to the eight water-soluble Bs that play an active role in a number of our bodily functions, including building neurotransmitters and helping enzymes to support energy production. Research has shown that B-complex vitamins can help promote a healthy mood, while also working to decrease perceptions of stress. In fact, a double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Human Psychopharmacology found that the participants who supplemented with B-complex reported decreased anxiety and workplace stress, as well as improved mood after 90 days of use. Another study out of the University of Miami evaluated the effects of B-complex and found that adults who have been diagnosed with depression experienced significant improvement in their mental health with B vitamin supplements. In addition to supplements, a number of foods are rich in vitamin B, including salmon, leafy greens, eggs, beef, oysters, clams, legumes, chicken, turkey, yogurt, and nutritional and brewer’s yeast.
2. Adapt to the Times
It’s no secret that those dark winter mornings make us all feel a little sluggish, and sometimes a little pick-me-up might be just what the doctor ordered. Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), commonly known as Siberian ginseng, is a prized adaptogenic plant often used in traditional medicine to elevate energy, increase athletic performance, and even balance the body’s stress response. A study published in the Chinese Journal of Physiology found that supplementation shows the potential to enhance endurance, support cardiovascular health, and improve metabolism. Eleuthero can be infused into water, used in a tincture, or taken in a capsule.
3. Up Your Omegas
As temperatures hit the single digits, your skin can become more vulnerable as it attempts to adjust to the frigid air outside. Support winter skin wellness from the inside out by increasing your omega-3 intake from foods such as avocados, nuts, and olive oil. On the outside, use a nontoxic nourishing daily moisturizer to ensure that your skin holds its glow during the colder months.
4. Take Five
Even though this time of year is supposed to be about connection, celebration, and feeling thankful, it can cause a lot of panic and stress. Science has proven that the mind and body are deeply intertwined and that stress is a leading contributor to many diseases. Support winter wellness by making time for yourself to clear your mind and maintain a proper, healthy balance. In fact, a recent pilot study published in the Journal of American College Health found that students who practiced guided mindfulness meditation for 5–12 minutes per day over an eight-week period reported decreased anxiety and stress levels. So setting aside some time for yourself, even for as little as five minutes per day, can do wonders for your health.
5. Get to the Root of It
It’s a worthy mission to brave the cold on a trip to the farmer’s market to pick up some root veggies, otherwise known as “winter superfoods.” These underground delights are often underrated, despite their impressive nutrient profile and comforting taste. Some of the most common root vegetables include carrots, which are rich in vitamin A; heart-healthy beets; fiber-packed sweet potatoes; and celery root, which is loaded with vitamin K. Besides the endless recipe options for root vegetables, winter harvests also supply cranberries, broccoli, squash, Brussels sprouts, and pumpkin. A diet focused on seasonal foods does much more than just maintain winter wellness on a physical level — it also puts you in touch with your local environment and connects you with nature. Or take a full-spectrum superfood supplement.
6. Balancing the Gut
Hippocrates supposedly said “all disease starts in the gut,” and now, modern science is proving the link between a balanced gut and a healthy immune system. One recent study review published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism concluded that probiotic consumption has a variety of positive benefits for the immune system, including the ability to modulate the allergy process. Support your gut flora diversity by eating prebiotic foods such as artichokes and asparagus; by focusing on plant-based and fermented foods; and by ensuring that you always take a probiotic after an antibiotic to help replenish your supply of good-for-you bacteria. In addition, you might want to consider adding a high-quality probiotic into your daily regimen to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to balance the bacteria in your belly.
7. Flu-fighting Botanicals
Plants that stimulate and support the immune system include elderberry, astragalus root, echinacea, olive leaf, osha root, and goldenseal. These tried-and-true herbs have been used for centuries to help fight off invading bugs and support immune health. A study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that taking echinacea extract as a preventative measure reduced both the number of colds and the duration of the common cold compared to the placebo. Infuse these herbs into a warm cup of tea to enjoy throughout the day.
8. Add Some Honey
Manuka honey is not only a sweet treat, but a powerful functional food derived from the nectar of manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) trees. It has been studied extensively for its wound healing and antimicrobial properties, as well as its effectiveness against bacteria that can be resistant to antibiotics. In fact, a recent review study published in the AIMS Microbiology Journal concluded that Manuka honey has the potential to be a natural antibiotic alternative due to its unique phenolic and methylglyoxal content. Add it to a cup of tea, mix it into your morning smoothie, infuse it into your salad dressing, or simply enjoy it raw. (Ed. Note: Click here for more about honey and veganism.)
9. Comfort Food
An interesting study published in the Journal of Psychological Science found that comfort foods — including soups — are often associated with gatherings and have a beneficial effect on mental health and loneliness even when we’re not actually getting together. Indulge in something you love; it could be the perfect antidote for the mind and body on those chilly, dark days.
10. Let the Sun Shine
It’s important to keep your vitamin D (aka the sunshine vitamin) stores at a healthy level for optimal immune support during the months when the light isn’t as bright and more of your time is spent indoors. Countless studies have linked low vitamin D levels to osteoporosis and other chronic diseases, making it an essential support for overall wellness. In fact, a recent systemic review published in the British Medical Journal found that vitamin D supplementation was associated with a decreased risk of cancer mortality by 16 percent. Visit your primary care doctor for a checkup to ensure your levels of D are in the optimal range.