Why we get sick in the winter


How your genes are affected by the seasons;

Researchers have found that seasonal changes affect your gene activity.  A recent study found that up to a quarter of our DNA changes with the seasons; during Winter our bodies increase the levels of many of the genes linked with inflammation, triggering the signs of swelling and discomfort that our bodies use to protect us from colds & the flu.

Similar seasonal changes occur in various components of the immune system.  A further study found gene expression in red blood cells shifted with the seasons.

In the summer, a different set of genes are more highly expressed, including some that help regulate our blood sugar, potentially curbing cravings and helping us burn off excess fat.  Researchers looked at 1,000 people from six different countries studied people’s genes and how they changed over time according to their location and exposure to sunlight.  They found that in Europe, the expression of inflammatory genes got ramped up during the Winter months.  But n Gambia, where there is virtually no Winter, these inflammatory genes were amplified in the rainy months, when mosquito populations are at their peak and the risk of malaria is the highest.

How cold weather may help germs to prosper;

Research from the National Institute of Health suggests that in cold temperatures, flu viruses are more stable; the outer shell of flu virus particles get tougher and hardier so they survive longer.  Low humidity also helps the virus particles remain in the air because the viruses float in the air in small respiratory droplets.  When the air is humid, those droplets pick up water, grow larger and fall to the ground.

The cold air also makes it harder for the hairs and mucus in our noses to protect us from germs.  The dryness can thicken the mucus and clog the cilia that sweep mucus from our nasal cavity into the back of the throat.

Some research suggests that both the cold air from outdoors as well as the dry air from indoors may play a role in protecting the aerosol droplets we sneeze and cough into the air, allowing them to spread more easily from one sick person to another.   Add to that the confined spaces with air heating systems that recirculate the air from those who have the virus which causes the cold and it’s a perfect recipe.

Boost your health during these colder months;

Wash hands – the number ONE way to stop the spread of germs.  Wash hand every few hours and after using the toilet before meals and after using the keyboard at work etc.

Keep exercising – Yup you heard it here first!!!  Research has shown that regular exercise strengthens our immune system so it can fight off bacterial and viral infections.  When our blood is pumping, immune cells circulate through our body more quickly helping to seed and destroy infections.  The boost only lasts for a few hours, so ‘HELLO PEOPLE’ exercise needs to be regular for long-term effects!!

Eat Well – various foods, herbs and spices help to reduce inflammation, and boost the immune system eg; turmeric, garlic and omega 3 fatty acids.  Dark leafy greens and red and yellow vegetables are all high in antioxidants too.

Supplements –

  • Vitamin A – essential for mucous membrane health. Cod Liver oil is a good source of vitamin A.
  • Vitamin C – Important for supporting the health of your immune system esp immune cells called phagocytes that are like ‘pac man’ they seek and destroy foreign invaders.
  • Zinc – Is involved in the mobilising and functioning of immune cells, systemic inflammation, and it is an antioxidant. Zinc may also have antiviral properties with respect to the common cold.

Stay hydrated – adequate water will also help make mucous membranes, including those in your sinuses, more resistant to bacteria.

Clean up winter mould – mould can trigger nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, respiratory infections and worsen asthma and allergic conditions.  Spring cleaning in Autumn may help your health.

For supplementation, contact the Mint Nutrition clinic who can direct you to supplementation products and advise the appropriate & recommended dosages specific to your health.