Many cultures talk about the change of seasons affecting us. They believe that this “borderline time” affects our bodies and minds. Does science back it up? How true is it?
Light affects our body clock – an internal mechanism which controls many daily functions, including how long we sleep for. (You are a night owl or a lark depending on your body clock.) It therefore makes sense that we are going to be affected by less light on shorter days.
While many creatures are seasonal, we human beings are not supposed to be that affected. But there is evidence that the change in daylight is very important. Shorter days and less time outside can have an impact on our wellbeing.
There is a condition called seasonal affective disorder (rather appropriately named SAD for short) thought to affect 10 million Americans, according to Psychology Today. Sufferers have depression linked to the change in seasons. Symptoms also include sleeping too much, lack of energy and a craving for sweet things or carbs. It's like getting ready for hibernation really, except that you don't hibernate.
The weather and temperature also play their part. Some people thrive in cold weather and enjoy the general cosiness of winter. Others get very moody and depressed when faced with rainy days, snow, cold and fog. Which are you? This will have a bearing on how you cope with the change of season.
Is the immune system affected by colder weather? The immune system is a dynamic thing which is constantly reacting to external circumstances, so it is not too surprising to think that the approach of winter would play its part. In fact, scientists have recently discovered that the seasons actually affect how human immune system genes work. In a study published in Nature Communications in 2015, researchers describe how genes affecting the immune system are more active during the winter months. This sounds a good thing and it is, if you are fighting flu. But if you have an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks itself, such as arthritis, your symptoms actually get worse.
Tips to Deal With the Change of Season
You can do a lot to help yourself cope with the arrival of winter, you don't just have to lie back and suffer!
- Let the sunshine in. Another benefit of getting outside is that you get a shot of sunlight. It may not be a strong shot or a big shot, but it is better than nothing. We humans need sunlight for our wellbeing, as well as for the Vitamin D it gives us.
- Exercise. This doesn't have to be complicated or daunting. Wrap up and let the frost tingle your nose! Walk more, play with the dog outside, take your kids to the park. Regular exercise is a huge boost to body, mind and spirit, and it is free!
- Try a dawn simulator. This is a device that gradually turns on your bedroom light in the dark winter morning, mimicking the appearance of natural sunlight at dawn, so that your brain thinks it is summer.
- Boost your immune system with diet. There are certain “superfoods” which help your body's immune system to stay strong and healthy.
- Citrus fruits. Grapefruit, oranges, clementines and limes contain lots of lovely vitamin C which helps fight infection.
- Papaya and kiwifruit. They contain large amounts of vitamin C as well as potassium, vitamin K and other nutrients which are anti-inflammatory and help beat infection.
- Garlic. Sometimes known as nature's antibiotic, garlic fights infection and helps the immune system as well as lowering blood pressure naturally.
- Leafy greens. Greens like broccoli, spinach provide an array of vitamins like A, C and E as well as antioxidants.
- Ginger. The gingerol in ginger may prevent you getting a cold and also helps you fight a cold if you've caught one.
- Green tea. Lots of antioxidants here as well as the germ-fighting amino acid L-theanine.
- Sunflower seeds. With magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin B6 and vitamin E, sunflower seeds really are superfoods.
- Shellfish. Our bodies need zinc to help with immune system function and shellfish like crab, mussels, lobster and clams are an excellent source of zinc.
- Avocado. Lots of good things in avocado, including a good high dose of vitamin E, which helps the immune system function well.
- Chicken and turkey. It's not just an old wives' tale, chicken soup really does help you if you are sick! That's because of the massive amounts of vitamin B6 in poultry. Vitamin B6 does a variety of good things, including help form new red blood cells.
For more tips or relevant products for immunity, refer to our Immune Support Health page.
What do you find works best for you in winter? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
In good health.