While many of us health warriors leap for our plant based Vitamin C, Manuka honey and some immune boosting herbs at the first sign of winter, the vast majority of us forget to address environmental factors that often burden our sun starved bodies during the cooler months.
So how do these "environmental factors" factors play a role in our health during this period? Well it’s quite simple really.............when you think about how you actually get sick, you begin to understand that much of it comes from your environment.
Chemicals, toxins, moulds, bacteria’s and viruses have to live somewhere right? So, the trick to better winter health is to reduce the numbers that we are exposed to and support a healthy immune to fight off the rest. One of the best ways we can support our immune is to "un-burden" it. So as opposed to trying to heal with natural remedies, let’s try to address the reasons we are getting sick and no I am not talking about running out and getting more antibacterial wipes!
You can imagine how much stress our bodies are under just trying to keep abreast of the nasties we are putting in, through water and nutrition (not to mention medications and pesticides – yes that’s right, if it’s not organic it’s not clean eating), inhaling through indoor and outdoor air quality, absorbing through our skincare and cleaning products and then topping it all off by exposing our bodies to constant electromagnetic fields.
So here are a few things to consider this winter to keep you running around like a chicken in a strawberry field.
Tip #1 LEAVE THOSE CONTAMINATED SHOES AT THE DOOR
Just as customs don't want you bringing soiled footwear into the country (and for very good reason) we should all be leaving our outdoor shoes outdoors - or like in my house in my laundry, which is closed off from the rest of the house. As we walk we collect all sorts from pesticides to lead, the odd bit of animal feces and everything in between. Removing shoes before entering a house will dramatically reduce the dust and microbial load of the house, while increasing air quality and reducing pesticide and heavy metal exposure. So, leave those muddy winter shoes where they belong.
Tip #2 USE THOSE THINGS CALLED WINDOWS
As a building biologist, I am blown away by the number of people who do not open their windows, YES, I know it is cold, however we do live in Australia and luckily, we still have plenty sunshine. When we heat a building, we encourage the off gassing of all sorts of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and flame retardants coming from your building materials, soft furnishings, cleaning products, carpets, curtains, sofa, glues and adhesives, paints, sealants and the list goes on. When we heat a building and keep it closed as opposed to a warm building with the windows open as we do in summer, we exposure ourselves to a chemical concoction that often impacts health.
Many people suffer ill health after moving in to a new build that hasn't been properly off gassed and while many countries such as China have standards for some of these VOCs Australia does not. So when the sun comes out, open the whole house up and allow for a full air exchange, you will know when this is happening as the inside temperature will change to that of the outside.
And while I am on the ventilation bandwagon it would be criminal not to mention the need to ventilate when using the shower, washing machine, clothes dryer and even kettle. Most mould in Perth comes from occupant behaviour. Ever wondered where all that water goes? As much as 5 litres can come from drying a load of washing in front of your heater??? If you have condensation issues, you are NOT ventilating your home properly.
Tip #3 BE CAREFUL HOW YOU HEAT YOUR HOME
For those who suffer from asthma or allergies, it is wise to opt for heating that does not blow air. Radiant heaters are probably the best as they do not lower humidity or blow air around the room. These include oil filled radiators, hydronic heating, hot water heaters, hot water slab floor heating and halogen heaters. All systems have their advantages and disadvantages, one of the biggest issues that I see is the lack of servicing and cleaning that is undertaken on split, evaporative and ducted systems. In Western Australia, I have seen many clients whose mould issues were attributed to or started in poorly maintained systems. It is of concern that many people, mainly in Western Australia, are still using unflued gas heaters. While these have been banned in many places, and rightly so, they are still commonly used. Unflued gas heaters can emit nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide. Unflued gas heaters are linked to asthma, cold and flu like symptoms, fatigue and headache. Open wood fire heaters are also renowned for releasing a myriad of cancer causing chemicals along with all the soot and ash, in fact open fire cooking is a leading cause for lung and heart disease in third world countries.
Tip #4 HOW ABOUT BEING NICE TO BACTERIA
Antimicrobial chemicals are now found in many soaps, wipes, hand gels, cutting boards, detergents, cosmetics and toothpastes, as well as toys and plastics. In 2008 One of the most common antibacterial, triclosan [5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy)phenol], was detected in ~75% of urine samples in the United States.
Nicole Bijlsma from the Australian College of Environmental Studies states that "We’ve become so obsessed with our need to create a ‘sterile’ environment that generations of children are not being exposed to bacteria and viruses required to challenge their immune system (T1 helper cells); this is essential as it keeps other parts of their immune system (T2 helper cells) from over reacting. In addition, the effect of hygiene reduces the body’s production of the regulatory T cells all of which contributes to the allergic response."
With the bombardment of TV advertising - my favorites being the Mum cleaning the food surfaces with raw chicken or the one with a parent spraying every item her child takes to school with Dettol spray, we are creating very unhealthy environments that are not only affecting the strains of bacteria we are being exposed to but our own microbiome. Swapping to good quality microfiber cloths and a little oregano oil mixed in a solution of vinegar and a few drops of dish liquid will more than do the job, as well as leaving your home smelling like a home and not a hospital - yes bleach freaks I'm talking to you - bleach has no place in a home!!!
Tip #5 INVEST IN A SHOWER FILTER
I'm sure most of us have felt our skin dry as the weather cools, a KDF (Kinetic Degradation) shower filter will help remove the chlorine coming from your municipal water supply. Chlorine is associated with many skin complaints including eczema. For around $60 you can purchase a shower KDF filter and show some much needed love for the largest organ in our body , but wait there's more, not only are you helping out your skin and saving on coconut oil but you are also reducing the amount of chlorine gas you are breathing during those steamy showers.
Tip #6 GET THOSE GUTTERS CLEANED
You must be thinking umm is she just having a go now, or is this relating to my health, well, the answer is most definitely relating to your health. Having seen so many mouldy homes where water intrusion has occurred during heavy downpours (and yes peeps we are getting heavier downfalls less often, so get used to it) due to blocked, poorly maintained or inefficient roof plumbing and the devastation this can cause on health, (especially for the 24% of people who are unable to produce antibodies to mould) preventing moisture from entering the house is a must.
Tip #7 FORTY TRILLION REASONS
Just in case you are wondering what the title refers to, its house dust mites and the number of fecal pellets they drop in your mattress over a 3 month period. Around 20% of the population suffering allergies to the protein in their poo (that's after they have eaten that teaspoon of dead skin cells you drop each day). So before you blame the poor person next to you at work ask yourself how old is your pillow and mattress, do you use dust mite covers and when was the last time you HEPA vacuumed it or put it in the sun??
Our bedding is in our breathing zone for around 7-9 hrs. a day and sometimes longer during the cooler months. House dust mites love humidity and warmth (there goes your electric blanket). So it is important that we air, hot wash, (with NO SYNTHETIC WASHES OR FRAGRANCES), regularly replace and declutter our bedding.
Unburdening the body means that we can let our beautiful immune systems do their job and stop us from getting sick in the first place. Unburdening the body means that you will not need that hardcore detox you are dreading in the summer months. Unburdening the body means that you are reducing your chemical load and creating less chemical demand – something future generations will thanks us for!
So this winter enjoy your medicinal mushroom, chicory, dandelion organic activated almond milk latte in the comfort of your immune supporting healthy home and be witness to just how miraculous the human body is when it’s not environmentally challenged.
And for those with four legged fur babies, they will thank you too!