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From gut health to ginger: Fight winter illness with these health tips

             It is more or less common knowledge that washing your hands, exercising, and eating nutritious foods are excellent ways to sidestep illness.

            But did you know about the healing power of garlic or probiotics, or that eating in season provides you with the vital nutrients your body needs when it needs them?

            That’s according to Sandy Gerhardt, owner of Jasper’s Natural Market Place. Gerhardt recently spoke with the Progress about some of the holistic approaches she says will help keep your family out of the doctor’s office this winter and all year round.

            Here’s what she recommends:


            Gerhardt says stress is one of the primary imbalances that causes the immune system to weaken and that being aware of this is a big part of prevention.

            She also says that during the wintertime our bodies have to cope with a more stressful environment which puts our immune system on the chopping block.

            “Dealing with ice, bundling up, clenching your muscles, all of that is stressful to the body,” Gerhardt said. “I think that’s one of the fundamental reasons we get sick in the wintertime more than in the summer. Being aware of that and taking better care of yourself, whether it’s taking time to relax and take a hot bath or getting the right amount of sleep, is very important.”

            If you have a rough day, she says, don’t overextend yourself with unnecessary tasks.

            “If you realize that you’ve had a stressful day, that wouldn’t be the time to say, ‘Hey, I think I’ll go shopping tonight.’ You need to try to balance things out to try to minimize the stress.”




        According to Gerhardt, certain fruits and vegetables ripen at certain times of the year for a reason. 

            She says seasonal vegetables contain vitamins and nutrients our bodies need during specific times of the year and that eating what’s in season will help build our immune system and keep us healthy.

            “A simple thing that comes to mind,” she said, “is when are oranges ripe? In December. What are oranges? Vitamin C. So we have that available when our bodies need it. Nature provides us with dark green leafy vegetables during this time as well. Think of the fall crops, the squashes and lettuces. Those are filled with A and D. And what do we lack most in the wintertime?

            “What nature provides us with is what our body actually needs, and we need to be aware of that.”

            Gerhardt noted that there has been an abundance of research regarding vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, and it is being found that our indoor lifestyles are creating a deficiency of this essential nutrient.

            “Supplementation with that is very important,” Gerhardt said, “but they have also tied it to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which makes you sad. That’s linked to the immune system, but it’s also partly to do with the lack of vitamin D.”




            Gerhardt says 60 percent of our immune system is in our gut, and she recommends taking a good probiotic any time of the year, especially if you have just taken an antibiotic or if you have recently been ill.

            “Probiotics are really, really important all the time,” Gerhardt said, “but they are especially important during flu season, because a lot of flu starts with a stomach virus.”

            Probiotics help maintain the natural balance of bacteria in the intestines and help keep your immune system strong.           

            “Obviously antibiotics are necessary sometimes,” Gerhardt said, “but they strip out all the good bacteria in the body, not just the infection. It’s good to have that good flora [bacteria] in your intestine.”

            Gerhardt also recommends taking probiotics if you are frequently around sick people or children.

            Gerhardt says herbal teas such as ginger are also good to drink during the winter to aid in preventing illness.

            “Drinking ginger tea through the winter is a calmative, warming herb,” Gerhardt said. “I’ve been to herbal conferences, and often they’ll ask the herbalist, ‘If you could only choose one herb and you were going to go to a deserted island what would that herb be?’ They always say ginger. It’s an overall tonic. It’s an anti-inflammatory, and a lot of things go wrong with our bodies because of inflammation.”

            Gerhardt recommends Nature’s Plus Immune Boost for prevention. It contains immune builders such as astragalus, vitamin C and golden seal.

            “You can use something like that as a preventative, then you can take things like Holy Basil, which is a wonderful adaptogenic herb that helps to balance the body,” she said. “It’s also known as tulsi, which is available in tea form.

            “It’s a wonderful herb that helps energy levels without stimulation. It doesn’t have caffeine. An herb like that is great for keeping stress levels down and reducing cortisol.”



            Gerhardt says taking certain antiviral herbs such as elderberry, oregano, and olive leaf are not only good for flu prevention, but she says they can also be used to help minimize symptoms if you get sick.

            These herbs are available in capsule or extract form. 

            Gerhardt says there are plenty of combination remedies on the market that contain multiple herbs in one capsule. Again, Gerhardt recommends Immune Boost by Nature’s Plus.

            “It has elderberry and golden seal in there. That’s keeps you from having to buy 20 things,” she said.

            Gerhardt also highly recommends the Influenza homeopathic distributed by King Bio for prevention and treatment of the flu.

            “You can take it daily for prevention, but if you feel like you have symptoms or are exposed and you actually get the flu, then you can take it as often as every 10 minutes,” she said. “That’s one of the best products out there.”


            When it comes to keeping your skin glowing year round, even in dry winter months, Gerhardt says we need to turn our notion of applying creams and lotions on its head.

            “Inside-out is really important with skin care, and most people think that it begins and ends with putting something on, something topical,” she said. “If your skin is dry, chances are there are things going on inside your body that aren’t the way they should be. The skin is an indicator that your insides aren’t being moisturized.”

            Gerhardt has several recommendations for inside-out skin health. She says it is very important to get plenty of omega 3’s. Those are found in flax oil and fish oil or from foods like salmon, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, and soybeans.

            Gerhardt also reminds people not to slack off on drinking water during the wintertime when she says our bodies need hydration even more than during hot summer months.

            “In my house, we live in a log home, but in the winter the wood starts shrinking, and so we have to run a humidifier to keep the boards from pulling apart. Think about what it [atmospheric dryness] is doing to our skin and our bodies. That’s why I like taking a bath in the winter, it’s a good way for your body to absorb the water.”

            Gerhardt says a good alternative to lip balm is putting vitamin E cream or vitamin E oil directly on your lips.

            “You can just take a vitamin E capsule, put a little pin prick in it and put it on at night, and you won’t have any problems the next day,” she said.

            Gerhardt says eating a diverse swath of vegetables is also very important for skin health.

             “One of the things that is really clear to me doing what I do, I see people all day long in various states of health and disease, and it’s really clear who eats vegetables and who doesn’t by their skin,” she said. “It’s amazing.

            “I remember this lady I met who was probably my age and her skin looked phenomenal. I asked her what she did to make her skin look so good and she said she juiced. Her skin was absolutely glowing.”

            Gerhardt also stressed the importance of using high-quality health and beauty products.

            “A lot of people don’t think about the ingredients in some of the health and beauty products being detrimental,” she said. “It’s important to look on the label. Is it synthetic vitamin E? Are there a bunch of preservatives and chemicals in it that are going to further damage your skin? This is important.”




            Because of the way the food supply has been tampered with by corporate agriculture, Gerhardt says the amount of nutrition found in the grocery store can’t be counted on like it once could.

            Because of this, she encourages taking a high-quality supplement as a wise back-up plan to a well-rounded diet.

            “We’re lucky here that we can get [fruits and vegetables] locally,” she said. “But supplementation to me is insurance. You can’t control when a stressful situation hits your life that you’re not planning on. You can do the most simple one-a-day as long as it’s a high quality and it’s not synthetic.”

            Gerhardt says some of the lower quality supplements contain hydrogenated oil, artificial color, aluminum and synthetic vitamin E, and that low quality fish oils may leave a fishy odor in your mouth.

            “That is not a high-quality fish oil,” she said. “That’s an example of there being a difference in quality. I’ve had certain people tell me things don’t work, so I ask them where they bought it. When I suggest a higher quality one, they have good results.”




            Gerhardt says when you feel like you’re coming down with something Echinacea is an excellent choice for jolting your immune system into action.

            “It’s an herb that will boost the immune system right now,” she said. “It’s quick. It’s not something that you necessarily want to take preventatively, though. It’s more for ‘I think I’ve been exposed. I’m feeling yucky’.”

            Gerhardt also offered up two home remedies she uses at times when she senses illness creeping close.

            “Take an entire globe of garlic, a couple of potatoes, and two onions and make a soup and eat all of that,” she said. “The sulfur in the onion and the garlic will act as an antibiotic. That with the broth is really, really helpful.”

             The other home remedy Gerhardt recommends is fresh ginger root tea.

             Scrape the papery outside off the ginger root, cut about two inches of the root into medallions and simmer them in water for at least 20 minutes. Put a teaspoon of lemon juice and a teaspoon of honey in a cup and pour in the ginger tea.

            “This really, really works,” Gerhardt says. “Tea in tea bags will help, but there is something really special about doing the fresh root. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and one of the all around best tonic herbs out there for what ails you. Those are two things that are really helpful.”




            According to Gerhardt, we need to be aware of the body’s red flags and take action quickly when we notice an imbalance.

            “If you’ve got a little scratchy throat, don’t wait until it’s full blown. Do something about it now. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, but I don’t have time to get sick right now,’ and they wake up and they can’t even see straight.”

            Gerhardt says doing something as simple as gargling with sea salt water if you feel a little scratchy will help.

            “Doing something is better than doing nothing,” she said. “Most people can tell if they’re taking a dip. If they have something on hand, they can take it before they get sick.”


            Natural Market Place is located at 69 North Main Street, Jasper, GA 30143. They can be reached at 706-253-6933.


Angela Reinhardt can be reached at



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