Douglas MacKay, N.D.

While we often hear about the importance of air quality, few people understand how it can impact their overall health and wellness, particularly in the fall and winter. Although sometimes even the best intentions can't stop the sniffles or a scratchy throat, there are simple things you can do to help protect and maintain good health in the face of bad weather.


An important component to air quality is related to humidity. Humidity is a measurement of the amount of moisture in the air, and represents a percentage of the most water vapor that can stay in the air given the temperature. In the fall and winter, the temperature drops and the relative humidity decreases -- making the air feel "crisp" --which is also when dry, cold air meets warm air, and lowers the humidity, sucking moisture from everything--including you. As a result, many people suffer from dry and chapped lips, bloody noses, itchy skin and respiratory infections.

Start by controlling your humidity levels at home. Buy a humidifier. Once you boost the humidity level in your house, you can lower the thermostat in the winter, reducing heating costs; when moisture is added to the air, the body actually feels warmer at lower temperatures (think of summer when the temperature is 80 degrees and humidity is 85 percent -- and it feels like it's 87 degrees).


During the winter, moisture is drawn from the protective cells lining your air passages. Herbal options to help soothe and protect these airways include marshmallow root and licorice. Both can be consumed as teas or dietary supplements. Marshmallow root and licorice are also helpful in soothing dry, irritated throats.

Cold, dry air also challenges the respiratory system by causing the cells lining the airways to become inflamed and produce mucus as a protective mechanism. Mucous production results in chest congestion, coughing, and discharge. In my naturopathic practice, I've used a dietary supplement called N-acetylcysteine (NAC) that thins mucus, making it easier for your body to eliminate it.

The sinuses can be especially burdened by excess mucus, which can clog sinuses and create an environment conducive to infection. Regular sinus rinsing is one of the best ways to remove mucus and clear the sinuses; it involves flushing the sinuses with warm salt water and can be done using a small handheld apparatus called a "neti pot." Many ear, nose and throat experts agree that people who suffer from allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, and recurrent upper respiratory tract infections can greatly benefit from routine sinus cleansing.


Cold weather doesn't just pose problems internally; it can also cause chaos to your skin because of all the moisture the body is losing. Consider applying olive oil on itchy dry skin. Olive oil is loaded with vitamin E. Put some oil on a cotton ball and apply it to the affected area, and eventually your skin will soak it up. Add a few drops to your bath water and soak a little longer, allowing the skin to absorb the oil. Other natural oils that may help include almond and coconut oils.

Make sure your diet includes enough Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, both of which are known to be important for healthy skin. To get enough Omega-3s, you need two servings of fatty fish per week (or consider a fish, krill, algae, evening primrose or flax oil supplement). You receive vitamin D from foods such as fish, fortified dairy products, eggs, and liver, and from sunlight. If you aren't eating these foods and not getting enough sun exposure during the cooler months, consider a vitamin D supplement.

And you can never underestimate the value of staying hydrated. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids--8 to 10 glasses of water daily. Staying properly hydrated helps your body from succumbing to the perils of winter dryness.


Douglas MacKay, N.D., is Naturally Savvy's Supplement Expert. MacKay is Vice President, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). He is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor.


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