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If I get sick can I blame the weather? (12/06/10)

December 6, 2010

Can you blame your illness on weather changes? If you’re injured, yes.

Just check your emergency room. Evidence from Warwick University shows significant increases in accident visits when the daily maximum or minimum temperature goes up or down more than five degrees Centigrade (9 degrees Fahrenheit.)  The effects were largest in winter and summer.

With  five degree changes during the summer, children’s accident rates went up about 10%.  A five degree increase in winter increased accidents by 3% in adults.

Researchers argue that such changes are mostly due to how much people are out and about.  In hot weather, kids play longer outside – so there are more accients.  Harsh winter weather causes about an 8% increase in adult accidents.

What about colds and flues?  Here you have to know about your body’s internal environment.

The Environment – Inside You

Your internal environment never stays the same.  Much of you is rebuilt over days to weeks, with many of your proteins, the business end of much biology, lasting only hours. And unlike machines, the processes of rebuilding vary greatly over the 24 hour day as well as through the seasons.

Human body clocks particularly affect what you do best at different times of night and day.  In the night we’re meant to sleep, a particular  kind of passive rest where the brain rewires itself.  Seasonalrhythms also shift our outlook and productivity.  Seasonal depression is highly related to levels of light, affecting up to half of northerners to at least minor degrees in the winter. A southern variant appears in the hot and humid summer, especially among elderly folks who stay inside.  Light resets body clocks, so it’s always resetting basic timing mechanisms.

As our inner environment changes, so does the environment shift for bugs – bacteria, viruses and fungi.  Since since we have 100 trillion of them living inside or on us, how the weather changes powerfully affects what they do.

Your  Environment – The Bugs’ View

Some bugs like cool, dry weather.  Flu viruses spread more readily in dry conditions, so airplanes, set at 5-6,000 feet atmospheric pressure and with low humidities of around  10%, are ideal places for passing flu.  Many cold viruses appreciate similar conditions and particularly human proximity, which may explain why 20-25% of airplane travelers get  ill – a high figure well before the stresses of transport security brought by 9/11.

Other illnesses certainly change with season and weather. Manic-depressive illness generally peaks in November-December and April in the northern hemisphere, six months phase later in the southern.  Many arthritic sufferers feel worse with abrupt atmospheric pressure changes.  Tropical storms make some people sense a flu coming on.  Migraine sufferers often can tell you what types of weather will set off their headaches.

Yet many of these changes are poorly understood.  Most involve interactions between major physiologic actors  particularly the immune, endocrine, and neurologic systems.   Just as bugs have a different environment in the night as compared to the day (and some bugs like to invade you more during the night,) overall functional capacity tends to predict who  gets sick and who doesn’t.

These environmental changes are quick.  The bacteria living on your hands have mainly disappeared and been replaced by others within six hours.

So besides thinking like a bug, here’s some things you can do to prevent weather related illness –

How to Stay Well Through Environmental Change

Your body is already internally shifting for the changes brought by daylight and night, seasons and time of year, but you can help it along.  Some things to try:

  1. Move.  There’s good evidence that people who walk 30 minutes or more a day get less colds, and have far less severe ones.  Immune changes and overall physiologic activation seem to make the difference.
  2. In cold and flu season (as well as the rest of the year) wash your hands a lot.  Generally we get colds, and a lot of other viral illnesses, through hand contact.  Washing in soap and water for 20 seconds seems to make a major difference, and does not have the risk of resistant mutation that may occur with standard alcohol preps.
  3. Keep your hands away from eyes and nose – use a tissue instead. Some studies show one single cold virus is enough to make you ill.  If it doesn’t get to where it can infect you, it won’t get you sick.
  4. Wear clothing in layers that can shift with the weather.  The Swedes declare there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.  Having clothing on hand that is easily shed or added may not fit strict fashion criteria but may keep you comfortable.
  5. Eat your vegetables.  Some argue vitamin C is fairly helpful around weather related illness.
  6. Rest. Viruses tend to cause illness only when the body’s rest functions are not given sufficient time and scope to do what they do best – rebuild your body, which also lets you fight infection.

Get Your Internal Systems Working Together

In the end, it’s all about systems – how your body works through vast and fast inner renewal, how your internal ecosystem of 100 trillion critters is getting along inside you, and how well all your critters are at keeping out other people’s critters.  In many ways, your body’s bacteria, viruses and fungi act like an immigration service – one much more efficient than our national Border Patrol.

And the speed of their activity is astonishing – remember that within six hours most of the bacteria on your hands have changed.

Weather changes, and so does your inner environment.  Keep yourself fit, rested, and prepared, and you can prevent many of the most annoying illnesses and injuries.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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