This winter, we’ve experienced some uncommonly warm winter temperatures – followed by a plunge to frozen extremes – then back again to balmy, jacket-free weather – all in the span of a week. While these variances in conditions might be toying with our emotions, could they also be toying with our immune system?
Many people believe that having up-and-down temperatures in winter can lead to increased sickness. However, medical experts do not agree with this urban legend.
“While the common cold is more common in the winter, it is a myth to believe that weather change will cause any viral or bacterial infections,” said Dr. Yolanda Yu, a pediatrician.
There you have it. Enjoy the warm weather while you can, because it’s not the cause of you getting sick with a cold or the flu.
However, it can be the cause of certain effects in your body, such as swelling in the sinus passages. This might mimic the appearance of a more serious illness, but can quickly and easily be relieved by taking an antihistamine, nasal spray, or nasal rinse.
Photo by Terry Korte
Most of us hate the winter. We avoid going outside at all costs, and when we must, we dash back into our cozy homes like it’s an Olympic event. And for good reason – death rates peak during this time of year. Chilly temperatures cause your blood pressure to soar, especially in the elderly, leading to an increase of heart attacks and strokes. The cold is uncomfortable and dangerous and annoying and… healthy?
Some studies suggest that the cold may not actually be as bad for us as we thought. In addition to all the obvious problems it can cause, such as frostbite, hypothermia, low vitamin D levels, and flu, it has several beneficial effects that can extend our lives.
When your body gets exposed to the cold, blood travels from the periphery of your body to the interior so that it can better protect your vital organs. While this leaves skin and extremities unprotected, it does train your blood vessels to be responsive. This can be essential if you ever get stuck outside for long periods of time, as your body will be properly trained on how to react.
Your body directs blood to the interior of the body to provide heat to vital organs.
Additionally, it is thought that moderately cold temperatures help to activate brown fat. Brown fat is a heat-producing, calorie-burning fat that helps to regulate body temperature. It is found in babies, but usually disappears with age. Being in the cold helps to reactivate these cells, which means you could potentially lose weight simply by being cold.
A study by Finnish researchers proved that outdoor workers had more brown fat than those who worked indoors. Another study done by the Dutch said that 23 out of 24 volunteers had their brown fat activated when exposed to a temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cold weather is also known to kill off disease-causing insects and microorganisms. This means that all those pesky mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and ticks that you know and hate all succumb during these months. Without this ritualistic cleansing, many of these parasites would continue to breed and spread their plagues, causing epidemics across the nation.
What is the conclusion to draw from all this? Yes, the cold is still bad. But, if you must suffer through it, take comfort in the fact that it is not ALL bad.