How to safeguard yourself against winter’s wrath
In his 1922 poem “The Waste Land,” T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month. But I’d have to disagree. Instead, I think February should be deemed the cruelest of them all.
February weather is gloomy and the days are short. Holiday festivities are a distant memory, and the renewal that comes with spring is months away.
Not to mention, February is also one of the worst months for your health.
There’s plenty of scientific evidence that cold, wet winter weather can trigger seasonal asthma, make your joints ache, and even cause heart attacks. And, as I discuss on page 5, the seasonal lack of sunlight is associated with mental health disorders ranging from depression to schizophrenia.
And to top it off, February is also prime cold and flu season. Common cold and influenza viruses can spread through the air from person to person. And as people escape the cold by congregating in close indoor quarters, the risk of being exposed to those viruses skyrockets. (For cold and flu prevention tips, check out page 7.)
But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to poor health this winter. Nor do you need to get useless flu shots or take prescription drugs that can actually make some health conditions worse (especially heart and joint issues).
Instead, there are plenty of natural, effective ways to prevent—or even cure—even the most dangerous seasonal health problems. In this month’s issue, I’ll share my top tips for surviving winter’s wrath. But first, I want to explain why and how winter weather can be so tough on your body.
The common surgery that prompts more sickness
Doctors have known about winter’s health effects for centuries. Physicians in colonial America always recorded weather conditions when a patient died, as they believed the outside environment had a great influence on one’s health. They even coined a term for this phenomenon—bad air, or malaria—long before the discovery of infectious disease microbes.
I learned about this firsthand during my medical residency in pathology at Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1752. We recorded every postmortem examination in a huge ledger book, and I noticed that the 18th and 19th century entries always had a notation regarding the weather.
Today, we now attribute weather-related illness to the airborne microbes (like the cold and influenza viruses) that congregate and multiply in the soft palate at the back of your mouth. This is actually Nature’s way of protecting the rest of your body from these microbes.1
It all has to do with an amazing collection of tissue called Waldeyer’s Ring, which surrounds the back of the soft palate. Waldeyer’s Ring consists of immune-system tissues (tonsils and adenoids) and infection-fighting white blood cells. It’s designed to prevent disease microbes in your soft palate from spreading throughout your upper respiratory system as you breathe.
Waldeyer’s ring is also a gatekeeper for your gastrointestinal (GI) system. When it fails at its role, viruses congregating in your soft palate can enter your GI tract, creating what’s commonly known as the stomach flu.
But if you’ve had your tonsils or adenoids (a patch of tissue in the back of the nasal cavity) surgically removed, you’ve eradicated a chief line of defense in your Waldeyer’s ring. And that’s a key reason why you may be more prone to colds and flu.
Cold weather’s constricting effects on blood flow
Of course, you can still get a cold or flu even if your tonsils and adenoids are intact. And it turns out that winter weather plays a big role.
It all starts with blood circulation. Your blood carries glucose, oxygen, and nutrients to your brain and body. It also carries the white blood cells of your immune system that help you fight off infection.
When you’re exposed to cold temperatures, your blood vessels naturally constrict to help you conserve body heat. (That’s why extremities like your fingers, toes, face, and nose, are prone to frostbite. They simply don’t have enough circulating blood to fight off tissue damage from prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures.)
Reduced blood circulation also means fewer white cells in your outer respiratory passages and Waldeyer’s ring—which makes it more difficult for your body to fight off cold and flu viruses.
Frigid winter temperatures can also cause a seasonal form of asthma. Just as it can constrict your blood vessels, cold air can also tighten up your airways. Your lower respiratory tract reacts to this onslaught with asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Cold weather prompts aching, crackly joints
For years, people with rheumatoid arthritis have reported that cold, damp weather or changes in atmospheric pressure before a snow (or rain) storm makes their joints stiffen, swell, and ache.
Their mainstream doctors often tell them these symptoms are psychological. But, research shows that wintery weather conditions really do influence joint pain.
The first real research on weather’s effect on joints was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, back in 1960. Scientists used the school’s environmental physiology laboratory and barometric chamber to study the effects of humidity and atmospheric pressure on patients with arthritis. They found that these people had more symptoms when subjected to a combination of increased humidity and falling air pressure.
Other studies have shown that high air pressure also aggravates joint symptoms. In fact, a recent Dutch study revealed that almost two thirds of men and women with osteoarthritis reported that precipitation, increases in barometric pressure, and cold temperatures caused pain and stiffness in their joints.2
I have a theory about why this happens. The fluid space around your joints has an internal pressure system (just like the middle ear adapts to changes in altitude). When outside pressure changes, it affects the pressure inside the joints. And that can increase pain and swelling in joint tissues that are already inflamed due to arthritis. Meaning that any change in barometric pressure can make you “feel it in your joints.”
The curious connection between cold weather and heart attacks
Winter weather has long been associated with higher risk of a heart attack, as I’ve reported on before.
Every time it snows, we get warnings that strenuous shoveling can put serious strain on the heart, especially in people who are otherwise sedentary.
Lack of sunlight and vitamin D during the winter can also put you at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and many other chronic health conditions.
And now, a new study from Sweden (where cold weather is a chronic condition in itself) shows that winter weather itself can actually trigger heart attacks.2
Researchers analyzed about 280,000 people admitted to a hospital with a heart attack between 1998 and 2013. They also examined nearby weather conditions, and found that lower temperatures, higher wind velocity, lower atmospheric pressure, and shorter daily duration of sunshine were all risk factors for heart attacks.
And some weather conditions were found to be more dangerous for your heart than others.
For instance, lower air pressure (stormy conditions) and higher winds were associated with an increase in heart attacks. Study participants also had more heart attacks on days when temperatures were below 32 degrees. And each 13 degree increase in temperature resulted in 3 percent less risk of heart attacks.
Researchers believe this has to do with the blood vessel constriction I mentioned earlier. That constriction sends less blood to the heart, even when it has to pump harder. Which, of course, is a prime risk factor for a heart attack.
But like many other winter health woes, these seasonal heart attacks are preventable. And you can do it without dangerous, expensive drugs.
Check out all of the drug-free, heart-healing strategies in my popular Heart Attack Prevention and Repair Protocol. For more information about this online learning tool, click here or call 1-866-747-9421 and ask for order code EOV3V201.
1“The soft palate is an important site of adaptation for transmission of influenza viruses.” Nature 2015, October 1; 526 (7571): 122-125.
2“Associations between weather conditions and clinical symptoms in patients with hip osteoarthritis: a 2-year cohort study.” Pain. 2014 Apr;155(4):808-13.
3“Association of Weather With Day-to-Day Incidence of Myocardial Infarction: A SWEDEHEART Nationwide Observational Study.” JAMA Cardiol. 2018;3(11):1081-1089.