It’s getting a whole lot darker in the mornings and with the end of daylight savings, it’s fair to say cold and flu season is nearly upon us.
Why is it that the changing of the seasons means we get sicker?
For a long time, I was frustrated when people would tell their kids to “come inside or you will catch your death of a cold.”
I had dismissed this as an Old Wives’ tale – cold weather doesn’t really increase your chance of catching a flu or cold virus – the reason you get more sick during winter months is to do with the fact that you are inside more during winter and in closer contact with others who are sick – more easily passing viruses and bacteria from person to person.
However, new research shows there may be truth in the Old Wives’ tale after all - colder weather can actually make us more prone to viral or bacterial infection. This is because, even a 5°C drop in temperature can alter cells within the mucus lining of our respiratory system, killing off the good microbes present which fight off the bad viruses and bacteria.
You can read more here.
Similarly, as we transition from winter into spring, we are more exposed to allergies, such as pollen. These also can alter the mucus lining in our respiratory system and increase inflammation, reducing our immune response and making us more susceptible to pathogens.
There are many other physiological responses at play in our bodies as we shift from season to season – as the days get shorter and winter approaches, our bodies re-route energy from reproduction and growth to increase immune function. Daylength or photoperiod mediates compounds like melatonin in our bodies – which also affects our energy levels - there is a reason we want to stay in bed on a dark, cold morning! There is also evidence that our brain functions differently in different seasons (read more here). For example, we experience higher serotonin levels in summer which may contribute to us feeling more focused, emotionally stable, happier and calmer.
What’s the answer to warding off the winter blues and the winter chills?
As we approach winter, we need to do all that we can to build our innate immune system with a diet rich in probiotics and prebiotics, and plant bioactives, like vitamin C and anthocyanins. It’s also great to include some good quality protein sources, rich in B-complex vitamins, iron and zinc – like lean read meat. Supplementation is also useful, especially as we age.
Eating well helps with our gut and brain health - add exercise to the equation and the winter blues will be banished! If you can, try to exercise in the daylight, in the middle of the day when there is maximum exposure to natural light.
And of course, when nothing else works, hot soup, toast soldiers and a Rom Com, or if you are like Darcy, Star Trek, will always do the trick!
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