5 Surprising Winter Health Tips

by guest blogger, Mark A. Moyad, MD, MPH, supplement and natural medicine expert

Here are my favorite tips for staying physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy during the winter months. (Vacation not included!) These 5 simple suggestions are things anyone can do easily and inexpensively to stave off the winter blues and sniffles.

1. Raise your vitamin D levels naturally (without pills or sunlight). We’ve all heard about the marvels of vitamin D: heart health, skin health, immune health, mental health…. But, you don’t need to supplement or risk skin cancer to get high vitamin D levels. The big secret is that vitamin D levels are associated with healthy lifestyle changes.  For example, if you lose just 5 percent or more of your body weight, your vitamin D blood levels will shoot up.  See, vitamin D likes to stay in fatty tissue, so when you lose fat, the D levels in your blood go up. Other ways to increase D naturally are to lower your cholesterol, exercise, and eat more fatty fish, such as wild salmon (farmed salmon contains only a quarter of the D that wild salmon contains, 250 IU per 3.5 ounces versus 1,000 IU).  And when you eat your wild salmon, bake it don’t fry it. When salmon is baked, almost all of the vitamin D content remains, but when fried in vegetable oil almost half of the vitamin D content is lost. Other good food sources are trout, ahi-tuna, mushrooms, and egg yolks, and, my favorite, plain Greek yogurt.

2. Protect your skin! Sunscreen is more important in the winter. There are two types of ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun that damage your skin: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light. UVB light penetrates the superficial layers of the skin and causes skin to redden; it’s responsible for sunburn and can also lead to skin cancer over time. But UVB rays are at least blocked by window glass from the house and car and are less intense in the winter months. UVA light, on the other hand, penetrates top and deeper layers of skin, causing cell damage that can lead to cancer, plus it is also responsible for prematurely aging skin with wrinkles, blotchiness, spots, sagging, looseness, and increased photosensitivity as you get older. UVA light is tough to avoid because it passes through window glass and stays the same strength ALL YEAR LONG! This is why sunscreen is also critical in the winter months regardless of where you like to spend your time.  So find a moisturizer that contains broad-spectrum SPF 15 protection.

3. Get a flu shot—if only to be a good citizen. I think we doctors make a big mistake by telling people to get a flu shot because it can protect them from getting the flu. Most people are less freaked out about getting the flu than they are about the flu shot. And the truth is that predicting who will or will not get the flu isn’t easy. But when 36,000 people in the U.S. die from complications from the flu and 200,000 are hospitalized, doctors should be telling people to get a flu shot because it’s a random act of kindness and a selfless act.  I get the flu shot to promote the concept of “herd immunity,” which means I’m protecting my parents, my kids, their teachers, and librarians, too. By getting the flu shot you reduce the chance that you’ll harbor the virus and pass it on to someone who is more immunologically vulnerable, so to speak.

4. Take a class—with a friend. Winter can be a tough time for many of us. All that darkness can take its toll on our mental health. Plus, humans are social animals that don’t do well in isolation, and the winter months can be very isolating for many people. My suggestion is that you and a close friend sign up for a yoga, cooking, sewing, or scrapbooking class (or for a pasta or olive oil class like my wife and I do every year). Not only do these kinds of classes improve your mental and physical fitness, but they help to fill that social craving that we have as human beings, too; we like to be around others, and not in a stressful situation but in a happy and relaxed atmosphere.  After you read this, please pick up the phone and call your closest friend and sign up for a class—and let me know honestly whether or not you feel better after the first session.

5. Eat more plants—the ones that are sources of omega-3 fatty acids. I have nothing against fish and fish oil, but plant sources of omega-3s have as much to offer, and my prediction is that in the future they may be found to be more beneficial compared to fish sources of omage-3. One of the primary omega-3 fatty acids, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found in many plants and plant-based cooking oils, but flaxseed (powder or oil), chia seed, and walnuts are especially good sources of ALA. Recent research is suggesting omega-3s have anti-inflammatory effects, skin protection, and hydrating impacts, as well as some cardiovascular disease prevention and perhaps even some impacts on mental health with greater intakes of plant omega-3 fatty acids.  For example, in the famous Harvard Nurses’ Health Study of almost 77,000 women after 18 years of follow-up there was no relation between depression and intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fish, but they did find a reduced risk of depression in those with moderate intakes of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. And, again, the wintertime is when many folks have a higher risk of depression.


Dr. Moyad is the Jenkins/Pokempner Director of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center. He lives in Ann Arbor, MI, with his wife, Mia, and their dog, Chauncey.



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12 Responses to 5 Surprising Winter Health Tips

  1. Peter B. December 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    Maria: Perhaps Dr. Moyad would be surprised that vaccines are classified (or used to be) by the CDC as immuno-supressants because guess what – vaccines suppress the anti-inflammatory immune response. As such, vaccines do not provide herd-immunity. Herd-immunity is achieved by believing in it, nothing more. I’m never one to under-estimate the power of belief, especially in belief of non-factual things because most of these beliefs do work. People’s beliefs negate or support their desired outcome. For the rest of us who prefer factual reality, there’s a sustainable way of living to be lived; vaccines are a money-making fantasy exploiting a deeper belief system than how GMOS can feed the world, and how safe they are.

    Who’s your next guest-poster – Dr. Oz?

  2. Kathleen December 6, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    I am surprised that a doctor who practices alternative medicine would promote vaccines of any kind. I was going to share this article until I saw that.

  3. Judi Hendricks December 6, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    Vaccines are a big money maker for Big Pharma and precious little else. They can also do more harm than good. Thanks, I’m opting out.

  4. Sarah Stack December 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Flu vaccines are not holding their own in the Scientific Literature. Dr. Moyad, with this crowd, you need to make sure you’re up to speed. I would kindly suggest Maria, Robin Bernhoft, M.D., board certified by the American Academy of Environmental Research and past-President as a possible Guest Blogger. He’s up on the latest research.

  5. Peter B. December 6, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    Research or not, vaccines suppress the body’s healing response.

    I don’t see how anyone who promotes organic would allow anyone the space to promote synthetic toxins be directly injected into a body. Might as well promote GMOs in this space.

  6. Sharon S. December 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    Thanks for the above comments…I agree..You have said it all.
    I have not had a flu in over 35 years and my Dr. is still trying to get me to ingest toxins…After upsetting him by refusing to use statins; I took to lying…told him I had gotten a flu shot at the drugstore…I am sure the word “non-compliant” is printed in big red letters on my chart (smile).

  7. Nina Coffin December 13, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    Thanks for including librarians in your list of herd mates – we sometimes feel invisible.

  8. beau December 22, 2012 at 12:30 am #

    I agree with the above posted comments about “flu vaccine”. And considering how much I have come to respect material in Marie’s site, I am surprised this one was allowed to get by.

  9. samuel August 19, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    I recently extra your RSS feed to be able to my MSN News Audience.

  10. larissa January 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    I think you are on the wrong site dude.

  11. Xenia January 11, 2014 at 3:45 am #

    Dr. Moyandi is wrong about quite a few things here.

    1. Lowering your cholesterol will NOT raise your D3 levels, quite the opposite since vitamin D3 is MADE of cholesterol (whichis why its chemical name is cholecalciferol).

    2. We have to make sure to have high HDL while the total cholesterol and LDL do not matter too much as long as you HDL is high. The important thing to watch is your TG (triglyceride) and HDL ratio which should be no more than 2:1 (and here is what dr. Stephen Sinatra has to say about that http://www.drsinatra.com/the-blood-lipid-ratio-everyone-should-watch/

    3. The only sun protection you’ll ever need is already right there in your skin. This protection has been good enough for a couple of million years (obviously, or we would have been dead by now due to lack of sunscreens). I haven’t used a SPF in almost 25 years, I’m 55 and my skin is lovely! The less chemicals I use, the better I look. What a shame that this man has the nerve to call himself an “integrative” practitioner and then comes to this site to tout toxic chemicals – that are incidentally the main cause of skin cancer in the first place. The best natural SPF is to increase your skin defense gradually.

    4. Yes, vaccines are immunosuppressants. One of the biggest lies and deceptoins, ever, is to call vaccination an “immunization”. Vaccines can never give you immunity. Whether you will get sick or not and how the disease will progress depends on your immune system, not on how many vaccines you got. Even dr. L. Pasteur, the founder of the ‘germ-theory’, had to admit on his death bed that he was wrong. The appearance of the disease does not depend on the presence of the patoghen but on how well your body is equipped to deal with it. Immunosuppression with vaccines is definitely not a good way to deal with pathogens. That is why it is always the vaccinated people at my office that get the flu, and not us who always skip the vaccine.

    5. Get the flu shot, if only to be a good citizen? I don’t think so. Even if you did get vaccinated (and even if this protected you from getting the flu – which it does not), you still carry the virus and you still pass it on. It is NOT TRUE that getting vaccinated reduces the cnahnce that you harbor the virus in any way. So how would getting vaccinated protect other people?????? Does this man even know what he is talking about? I mean, he does not even understand his own theory. Vaccination does not protect you in any way, from anything, not from flu and not from having the virus in your body, and it certainly does not protect other people! Morever, it is most likely that many of those who die of flu died because they were immunosuppressed after getting the vaccine.

    6. Actually, nobody dies from the flu, they die of complications (like pneumonia), and complications only arise in immuno-compromised people. Pneumonia is not a disease of vaccine deficiency.

    7. Herd immunity is a myth. And it could not even theoretically apply to the flu which is caused by a series of pathogens instead of just one. Pathogens that, on top of it, mutate very quickly and all the time. And guess what? They have developed this capability thanks to our vaccines.

  12. flaxseed oil hair September 27, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

    I read this post completely regarding the resemblance of most recent and preceding technologies, it’s amazing article.

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