Illness is all around us. We wash hands, cover our mouths when we cough, and try to clean. But is that enough? At what point do you go to the chemical cleaners (in our house: never) and when do you go to the natural methods (in our house: always).
Let's first start with a few ideas:
- Your body and cells want to be healthy. Completely on their own, they try to fight off infection, illness, and disease so that they can work correctly.
- Plants want to be healthy. Their structure has been created so that it can continue to thrive, even when there is something that is standing its its way. Plants don't have brains that help it go through critical thinking. Its cells simply adapt.
- Essential oils and other completely natural products can help our bodies to trigger the natural methods of health and wellness. Our bodies would do this naturally (see #1), but we can utilize the biochemical constituents of plants to help our bodies along the process.
- When we utilize man-made substances, they might be able to help with symptoms, but very few can truly help our bodies to heal in the natural way that they already want to.
So with that in our heads, let's talk about what's happening in homes across the country: illness.
Finding a Balance
In the essential oil world, we work to live above the Wellness Line. So for me to even broach the subject of illness as an essential oil distributor and educator is scary. But I promise that what I am doing here is not going to cure, treat, or diagnose any illnesses or issues that you have. I am not saying that essential oils are fixes for illness. Instead, I am hoping to empower you to look at your body as a seesaw. We want to have balance within our body, a homeostasis. Without health, our seesaw is too heavy on one side and we face illness. So in my education classes and workshops, I want to help you find that balance in your bodies. And yes, I have found that if we are using man-made chemicals (often labeled in the crunchy world as "toxins") or processed foods, we are much more prone to having unbalance. I'm hoping by the end of this post you will agree with me.
The Wellness Line
So what is the Wellness Line? Imagine a horizontal line. Everything in a healthy body is above that line. Everything that deals with sickness is below that line.
As a health and wellness educator, I focus on what we can do to stay above the wellness line (to have a balanced seesaw). Sometimes our bodies dip below the line, but because of our overall health and work to stay healthy, our bodies know what to do and fight back to health very quickly.
The Part That Chemicals Play
I have many friends whose families have been struck by the tummy bug and flu this year. I feel for them. I can't imagine being that sick while they have children to care for. Ugh. But at the same time, when someone comes to me and asks about what they can do to stay (or get) healthy, the first things I always ask are this:
- How much water are you drinking?
- What sort of cleaners and air fresheners do you use in your house?
Here's my reasoning:
When we drink water, it helps to keep us hydrated. Hydration = healthy working cells. Just check out this post called "Quenching Your Thirst" for more information.
The chemicals that are used in the standard cleaners (even many of those labeled as "green") can be incredibly damaging to our cells. What they do to "clean" can also disrupt our hormones, body systems, and especially our lungs as we breathe them in. Likewise, air fresheners (anything labeled as "perfume" or "fragrance") also are filled with chemicals. That "beautiful" smell of strawberry vanilla? Chances are that it is completely fake. I mean, have you ever had a strawberry smell that sweet? Oh, and companies don't have to say what chemicals make their fragrances because it is considered a "trade secret." Secrets = nowhere near my body!
Side note: we as consumers have just had a huge win because Unilever has decided to give out the ingredients for their fragrances. That means that we can be educated consumers. That doesn't mean that I will be using any of those products, but at least consumers can know what is actually in the products they are using.
Side side note: It also means that we need to be extra careful as other companies may try to follow suit and we don't see the term "fragrance" anymore.
Chemicals are all around us and they affect our efforts to stay healthy. They wreak havoc on our immune systems and overall health. We now spend between 80-90% of our time inside. Over 150 chemicals found in the average home have been linked to allergies, birth defects, cancer, and psychological abnormalities. We are also exposed to many chemicals in our beauty products. Of 2,983 chemicals found in personal care products that were analyzed by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): 884 are toxic, 146 can cause tumors, 218 can cause reproductive complications, 778 cause acute toxicity, 314 can cause biological mutations, and 376 can cause skin and eye irritations. Have you considered how these personal care products may interact with other pollutants in your home?
How Bleach Kills Stuff
In a University of Michigan study, several researcher figured out how bleach eliminates microbes. Basically, there is a particular chemical in chlorine bleach (hypochlorite) that causes proteins to lose their 3-D molecular structure, causing them to clump together like a hard-boiled egg. They can never revert back to their previous state, they become stressed cells, and they eventually die.
Hypochlorite attack the proteins that are essential for bacterial growth, which in turns kills the bacteria.
So yes, bleach will "clean," but think of what happens when that gets washed down the drain and into our water supply. Think of when it touches your skin and becomes absorbed into your body. Think of breathing it in.
Plus, using chlorine bleach can release the cancer-causing dioxin as well as brain-damaging mercury into the air
Wipe, Don't Kill
Many experts have claimed that we actually don't need to kill the bacteria, but instead wipe it away. When we use harsh chemicals or even products with antimicrobial properties, we could in fact be only getting rid of the weaker germs and leaving the stronger ones, which are harder to eliminate.
Whenever possible, we love simply wiping our hands with water and a cloth to eliminate what is on our hands. But sometimes you just want something that cleans, right?
Although I absolutely love my Thieves Cleaner, another incredibly easy solution for cleaning is vinegar. The vinegar that you can purchase in stores contains 5% acetic acid, which does have anti-microbial properties. It can also be mixed with other great cleaners, such as table salt and hydrogen peroxide to aid in killing mold and certain strands of more serious bacteria.
Efficacy of Natural Cleaners
One thing to remember is that vinegar is natural. And natural means that it comes from nature.
Duh, Dory! I get it! Natural = from nature.
But here's what it means to be natural:
- Grown and distilled/extracted from plants or organic matter
- Plants/organic matter are different, depending on the soil, climate, air quality, time of harvesting/production, etc.
- Variations are normal and expected
And those variations mean that we cannot expect there to be vast studies on natural substances. The study that tests the efficacy of Brand X Vinegar from 2014 is going to be different than Brand Z Vinegar or even Brand X Vinegar from 2017. So who is going to pay for the huge study when its results won't be valid in a year because the substance has changed slightly?
So yes, there are studies done, but they aren't going to be the massive studies that are conducted by these billion-dollar brands of man-made chemicals. That's just something to keep in mind. The constituents that are testable in vinegar are unique and can't be tested in a way that every batch is the same.
The Part that Sugar Plays
Sugar can do a number on our bodies:
- You eat sugar: this includes simple carbs, refined sugar, corn syrup, soft drinks, cereal, condiments… it’s everywhere!
- Blood sugar spikes: the reward centers light up as dopamine is released in the brain and glucose is in the blood. This gives you an instant high.
- Insulin secretion: the pancreas attempts to regulate and reduce blood sugar by dumping insulin into the blood.
- The crash: your blood sugar levels fall rapidly, insulin levels are high, and the body goes into fat storage mode.
- Hunger and cravings: with low blood sugar and high insulin levels, you have an increased appetite and cravings.
- Repeat: This cycle repeats and feeds on itself, leaving you feeling drained and more susceptible to illness. With this vicious cycle, you are eating, but your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs to keep your body systems functioning properly.
We don't call it "sick season." We call it "sugar season." Just think: from October (Halloween) through April (Easter), we have holiday after holiday that is surrounded with sugary foods. Eliminate those sugar-indulging times, and you stop feeding the bad bacteria and building into this vicious cycle.
Free Tricks for Boosting Your Health
- Reduce stress: spending even 5 minutes a day on a hobby or something to get your mind on your troubles can do a lot to reduce the stress in your life.
- Get enough sleep: committing to 8 hours a night can make a great improvement on your mental and physical wellness.
- Drink enough water: this can help keep our body systems clean and working properly.
- Exercise: supports our detox organs and keeps our lymph systems moving. It also improves mood!
- Get outside: fresh air and sunshine may help support the immune system.
- Reduce alcohol: too much alcohol may reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, making you more susceptible to getting sick.
- Wash your hands: this is a simple and effective method of keeping clean and preventing the spread of germs.
- Breathe: take 5-10 minutes every day to focus on your breathing and fill your body with rich, new oxygen.
A Special Note on Sleep
Sleep can be one of the most critical parts of staying healthy, and it’s often the most overlooked one. When we don’t get 7-8 hours a night, our bodies take the brunt of the shortage. We have trouble concentrating and we are more likely to get sick.
I recommend trying to set a routine for bedtime. It could start with a cup of chamomile tea, followed by 10 minutes of reading. Set your diffuser with some lavender or frankincense, and then you can turn the lights off. One other suggestion if you have trouble sleeping is to do deep breathing exercises, such as a 4-7-8 pattern (breathe in to the count of 4, hold for the count of 7, and then breathe out for the count of 8).
Other "Crunchy" Tips Without Oils:
There are several other tips that we can use that have been around for ages. We just forget about them because it's much easier to pop a pill. But those pills just mask the symptoms, and they don't allow the body to fight the illness the way that it was designed to do.
Place sliced onions in the room or on the bottom of the feet of the sick person (inside a sock). Replace every 12-24 hours. They help remove the toxins. That's also why you should never keep cut onions for an extended time. They absorb all the toxins (and you don't want to eat that).
Drink elderberry syrup for the adults and grape juice for kids. There's a fuzzy line between 6-12 where you can call them kids or adults, depending on your comfort. Trust your intuition as a mom on this one. We always keep grape juice on hand during the winter. We will then add our NingXia Red to that for an added antioxidant support.
Drink hot liquids, as they can relieve nasal congestion, prevents dehydration, and soothes the uncomfortably inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat. Herbal teas, homemade bone broth, and hot lemon water all help support the immune system and are soothing when you start feeling sick.
Steam is an effective way to help with not only the symptoms of winter illnesses, but can be soothing during everyday activities. You can achieve this refreshing environment through shower steam, detox baths, and Neti Pots. Detox baths will pull toxins through your body through your skin and adding epsom salts, bentonite clay (relaxes sore muscles and further draws out toxins), and other add-ons can further the benefits. Some people enjoy adding essential oils to their bath salts for a comforting, soothing aroma.
Cod Liver Oil
Fermented cod liver oil has high levels of omega-3s, which make it ideal to reduce inflammation. Plus, the naturally-occurring levels of vitamins A and D help promote immune health.
Warm Salt Water
Gargling with warm salt water daily can help to be a natural way to protect yourself from germs. The salt water eliminates germs and bacterial growth from the throat before it enters the bloodstream and compromises the immune system.
Allow your body the chance to get better. If you just pop a pill and get back to work/school, you are not only bringing those germs with you everywhere you go, but you are likening the chance that you get sick again because your immune system is in a lowered state. There's a reason that schools have the 24 Hour Rule (24 hours symptom free without the use of medicine). You need it and the people around you need it.