Why Winter Can Play Havoc With Your Immune System

Make Well - girl in warm clothes

Many things are associated with the season of winter: open fires, Christmas wreaths, crisp rambles in barren, beautiful landscapes, and delightfully layered clothing. These are the positive things. The negative things are also unfortunately omnipresent – chills, coughs, aches, pains and the ever-decreasing temperature. It's no secret that winter can play absolute havoc with our immune systems, and although you can get sick in any season, the threat ramps up significantly in winter. But why is that, exactly? How do the colder months pose more of a danger to our health, and take a bigger toll on our immune system?

Flu is the most common illness we come down with in winter. Nearly everyone on the planet has grappled with it at some stage or another. It's unpleasant, debilitating and leaves you very little treatment options. You can take the edge off with OTC medications and painkillers, but ultimately, you just have to ride it out. So first of all, let's dispel a common misconception: colds and flu are not caused by decreasing temperatures. The condition is caused by the influenza virus, which doesn't require cold temperatures to flourish. Instead, there are a number of other factors at play that benefit this opportunistic virus, mainly due to how our lifestyles change as winter sets in. For reasons unknown, the influenza virus seems to flourish in the cold – but that's totally different to being caused by the cold.

 

Make Well - winter walk
There are many reasons why colds and flu flourish throughout the colder months.

 

Most of us are chronically deprived of sunlight in the winter months. This is unavoidable; the weather is usually grey, rainy and consistently cloudy. The problem is that sunlight provides us with a crucial ingredient: vitamin D. If we haven't built up enough vitamin D reserves over the course of the summer, then we can start to feel the effects as the winter drags on. The complications involved in not getting enough vitamin D should not be underestimated. As well as depriving your immune system of precious fuel, leading to increased chances of bouts of cold and flu, a lack of vitamin D can severely compromise your mental health. A study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reported that people with low reserves of vitamin D are around ten times more likely to suffer from depression than those with high levels. On top of this, vitamin D deficiency can cause sustained aches in joints and bones, exacerbating symptoms of an existing chronic condition like Lyme disease, arthritis or fibromyalgia.

Another contributing factor is that we tend to favour staying indoors in the winter, with windows and doors tightly shut. This leads to the same air being circulated, which eventually beats our immune systems into submission as virus and bacteria sustain a continued assault. This is why flu is especially contagious in the winter. If someone in your household is suffering from it, there's a good chance you'll catch it too, thanks to decreased air circulation. There's not a lot you can do about this one, as it's obviously impractical to keep windows open in the coldest months of the year. Prevention is the best defence here; if no one in your house comes down with an illness, it's unlikely to be circulated.

 

Make Well - flu season
Winter is the most likely time to catch cold or flu, especially if your immune system is already weakened.

 

So what can you do to prevent getting the flu in the first place, and bolster your immune system so that it can fight back against the winter invaders? Well, one thing you shouldn't do is rely on vitamin C. There's a commonly held belief that vitamin C strengthens our immune systems and reduces our chances of infection. There is no scientific evidence for this; while it does play an immune-boosting role, the data that shows it protects against infection is simply not there. So while supplementing large amounts of vitamin C into your daily diet might help you get over an illness quicker, it certainly won't help protect against them. Instead, a considered number of herbal supplements can help fortify your defences. The team at Make Well produces an all-natural line up of supplements to support chronic disease treatment, working with doctors to facilitate patients. If you're concerned about potential illness this winter, speak to your healthcare professional about strengthening your immune system with a run of natural supplements.

Natural supplements are most effective when implemented as part of a healthy diet. The food you eat also plays a major part in how your immune system operates; indeed, your diet can be a vital component of your overall health. A seasonal menu can be a good starting point, as foods that ripen in the winter months often contain the base nutrients that we require to get us through the colder spells. A final thing to cut back on, if you can, is stress. Stress can send our immune system haywire, so try not to worry too much about potentially getting sick. Instead, sit back, relax and enjoy all the delights that winter has to offer. It'll be spring again before you know it.