Fast Fixes for Winter Woes

CorbisIf your lips are chapped, your mood grim, and your skin itchy, it must be midwinter. Your drugstore would like

Winter Health ProblemsCorbisIf your lips are chapped, your mood grim, and your skin itchy, it must be midwinter. Your drugstore would like to sell you something to remedy those complaints, but sometimes the best fix can be found in your own cupboard. WebMD’s chief medical editor, Michael Smith, MD, weighs in on what works and what’s a waste:
Do I really need …

… to take vitamin D in the winter?
“A recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reminds us not to go overboard with any supplement—even vitamin D, which has gotten such good press. But some experts continue to think that many of us don’t get enough of this vitamin, which helps keep bones strong and may even cut your risk of cancer. Sun exposure raises your levels, but that has obvious risks and in winter may not be adequate anyway. And it can be tricky to get vitamin D through food (though wild salmon and mushrooms are good sources, and milk and many cereals are fortified). A supplement can be a good insurance policy, if you don’t overdo it. The IOM recommends 600 IU a day (or 800 IU if you’re older than 70), and you can safely take that much in a pill.”

… prescription eyedrops for my gritty, scratchy eyes?
“If your eyes feel dry all the time, see your eye doctor to determine the cause. The culprit may be a medication you’re taking (an antihistamine, for instance) or an undiagnosed medical condition. For most people, over-the-counter artificial tears do the trick, and you can use them as often as you like—they’re just lubricant saline. If those don’t help, the prescription eyedrop Restasis is effective, though it can be expensive.”

… a light box for my low energy?
“If your low energy is from something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a light box can help. SAD resembles depression, but it’s caused by the winter decrease in sunlight. Before you spend the money, though, make your home sunnier, take daily walks outside, and exercise regularly—these changes might be enough.”

… a pricey moisturizer for my painfully dry skin?
“Many people get the same relief from a cheap brand. Look for one of these ingredients, which pull water into the skin or keep it there: ceramides, hyaluronic acid, dimethicone, lanolin, mineral oil, petrolatum jelly, and glycerine. Use a moisturizer, humidifier, and milder soap for a couple of weeks. If you’re still bothered, see a dermatologist.”

For more, go to and search for “winter tips.”

-Published in Reader’s Digest, February 2011

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest