Mom was right about chicken noodle soup’s therapeutic effects. (Getty Images)
The holidays are behind us, but winter air, cold and flu viruses, and other ailment-inducing factors are here to stay. If, like me, you prefer using natural remedies to medications, try these fixes for seven common cold-weather conditions:
Frequent hand-washing is a must to help prevent the spread of germs this time of year, but all that washing strips the natural oils from hands, leaving them dry and chapped. In addition to the cold dry air outside, the warm dry air inside your home can strip skin of its moisture, especially while you sleep.
It turns out coconut oil can help. A 2004 study found that extra-virgin coconut oil worked as well as – if not better than – mineral oil as a moisturizer for xerosis, which is the clinical term for dry skin. Try warming up about a tablespoon in your hands and slathering it on your hands, feet and elbows before going to bed. It soaks into your skin rather quickly, but if you’re handling your phone, you may want to wipe your hands on a tissue or towel before picking it up.
It seems like no matter how many layers of lip balm you apply, your lips still end up dry and chapped. That’s because the skin on the lips is much thinner than on the rest of the body, and it also lacks the oil-producing glands that exist in the rest of the skin. Basically, your kisser is out there on its own, completely vulnerable to the cold weather.
You can prevent chapped lips by wearing a balm that creates a layer between your lips and the dry air. Apply it before you head outside and also before bed. But if your lips still get chapped, you’ll need to remove those dry outer layers of skin. There are several lip-polishing products on the market, but the cheapest way to fix that parched pucker is to combine 1 teaspoon of white sugar with 2 teaspoons of coconut oil. Then rub the mixture over your lips, loosening the dry skin. You can then rinse with warm water and pat dry, or use a washcloth to remove the excess.
Whether it’s the government shutdown, looming taxes or general anxiety, there are lots of things that might be keeping you up at night these days. I personally have become addicted to Headspace’s “sleepcasts,” but there are other non-tech sleep aids you can rely on, too.
For instance, one study showed that a daily 500 milligram dose of a magnesium supplement helped older people sleep longer and fall asleep faster. The recommended dietary allowance of the mineral for 31- to 50-year-old women is 320 milligrams; for men, it’s 420 milligrams. If, like me, you’d rather eat food than take a supplement, here are a handful of magnesium-rich snacks:
- 1 ounce of almonds: 80 milligrams
- 1 ounce of pecans: 34 milligrams
- 1/2 avocado: 20 milligrams
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter: 49 milligrams
- 1 packet of instant oatmeal: 36 milligrams
- 1 banana: 32 milligrams
Lavender oil is another natural fix for anxious nights, according to several studies. Not only does it smell amazing, it can also help you unwind and get to sleep faster. Try it as a spray or, better yet, in a bedroom atomizer.
If you live in the Northeast, you’re familiar with long, dark and gray days. This lack of light causes 6 percent of adults in the U.S. to develop seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which causes a drop in energy, increased hours sleeping, a lack of concentration and withdrawal from family and friends. Another 14 percent of the population experiences the winter blues (S-SAD), which is a milder form of the disorder.
Antidepressants are helpful with both conditions, but if you’re trying to lift your mood without taking medication, try light therapy, vitamin D supplements or counseling. And some studies show that eating seafood may also help. While certainly not a replacement for medication or therapy, seafood has so many other wonderful benefits that adding two servings a week to your diet certainly can’t hurt. I’ve been cooking salmon, shrimp and cod for my family and taking my workouts outside to absorb as much light as possible.
It’s a new year, which means you may be trying out a new diet. For instance, if you’re newly vegan, those extra servings of vegetables, whole grains, soy or pulses can do a number on your digestive system initially. If you go from eating 10 grams of fiber each day and then double it, you’ll likely experience some bloating and gas. Over time, your body will adjust, but for now, you need something to help calm that belly.
Peppermint tea has long been known to help reduce gas and bloating. Peppermint relaxes the stomach and helps alleviate symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome. Just don’t use it if you struggle with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), since peppermint can aggravate the condition. Another gas treatment is ginger. Ginger helps promote digestion, which means that any gas that has built up in your digestive system will leave your body faster. Fresh ginger is great, but ginger tea also works. And incorporating more probiotics into your diet will also help improve your digestion in the long run.
Mom was so right about her chicken soup. From Eastern European matzah ball soup to Portuguese caldo verde to Mexican tortilla chicken soup, every culture has some version of chicken soup – for good reason. Warm chicken broth helps break up mucous and reduces inflammation in the respiratory tract. Hot liquids, from tea to plain hot water, also help thin mucous and help get you feeling better faster.
If you’ve had one of the nasty stomach viruses that have been circulating, chicken soup is also great for rehydrating. With its combination of carbohydrates and electrolytes, chicken soup has been shown to help people rehydrate faster than drinking water or sports drinks.
When all else fails and you’re dealing with a nasty cold or the flu, a soothing hot toddy can help set you right. I brew a cup of Pu’er tea, which is fermented and contains higher levels of antioxidants than green tea. I also add a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and a splash of whiskey, which can temporarily numb a sore throat. I sweeten the drink with 2 teaspoons of manuka honey, which is higher in antibacterial compounds than regular honey.
Frances Largeman-Roth, Contributor
Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, has been covering nutrition and wellness for U.S. News since 2012. … Read moreFrances Largeman-Roth, RDN, has been covering nutrition and wellness for U.S. News since 2012. Frances is a registered dietitian nutritionist, New York Times best-selling author and nationally recognized nutrition expert. She’s the author of “Feed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom’s Healthy Eating Guide” and “Eating In Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for You and Your Family.” She is also the co-author of the bestselling “The CarbLovers Diet.” Frances is a freelance writer and recipe developer for numerous publications, including Today.com, Parents, Parade and MindBodyGreen. She has appeared on numerous national TV shows, including The Today Show, The Dr. Oz Show, The Rachael Ray Show, Good Morning America, Access Hollywood Live and CNN.
She serves as an expert for Greatist and also helps healthy food brands share their message. Frances is a member of the James Beard Foundation and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She received her undergraduate degree at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at Columbia. Frances and her family live in Brooklyn, New York.