The worst of the summer heat is gone(or it's just starting depending on when you read this), and as temperatures drop, our immunity drops too.
The sniffles, the flu, cough, cold, and fever all become more common as the winters roll around, and with the added threat of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and the Monkeypox virus, keeping your immunity up is important.
The first step to staying healthy is to understand what lowers your immunity. The second step is to take action. Today we'll help you understand what causes your immunity to fall, and how you can counter it.
As the weather gets colder your immunity falls, not because of the cold, but because disease-causing microbes can survive for longer in cooler temperatures. This is also why we boil water before we drink it. To rid it of microbes.
Hot, humid air also prevents respiratory droplets and particles from bursting and dispersing in the air. This is because the air is already saturated with moisture. But in the cold, respiratory droplets burst and the particles disperse further, increasing the chances of infection.
Another reason for increased proneness to falling ill in the cold, is that the mucous and membrane linings of your nostrils and lungs tend to become dry in the cold, allowing microbes to pass through easier.
Further, studies have suggested that a drop in temperature could suppress the body's ability to fight off infections, because it suppresses something called B-Cell Activating Factor (BAFF).
BAFF is responsible for immunity in the body. A temperature drop of as little as 1.5 °C can trigger suppression of immune response.
The combination of cold temperatures allowing viruses to live longer, decreased immune system response, and wider dispersal of infected particles makes you fall sick more often in cold weather.
Tip: As it gets colder, wrap yourself in layers. Jackets, blankets, gloves, socks, anything that maintains your body's internal temperature closer to 37°C. Even the most prepared people can fall ill in the cold, but the more care you take now, the faster your recovery will be, because your immune system will be in better condition to fight off infection.
Chronic Stress and Increased Cortisol
Several studies have pointed at the relationship between chronic stress and lowered immune function. Here's a quick refresher: Stress, physical or psychological, triggers the release of cortisol.
Cortisol, in the short term can be beneficial - it activates your muscles and prepares your fight or flight response, and this keeps you alive in dangerous situations.
The problem, however, is that while brief, restrained amounts of stress can be beneficial, in fact, even boost your immune system, chronic stress leads to the opposite effect.
Some studies speculate that this may be because your cortisol receptors grow accustomed to the increased stress levels. Further, studies have shown that increased cortisol secretion for long periods of time can lead to decreased immune system response. Like this 2015 study:
"Cortisol is ordinarily anti-inflammatory and contains the immune response, but chronic elevations can lead to the immune system becoming “resistant”, an accumulation of stress hormones, and increased production of inflammatory cytokines that further compromise the immune response"
Tip: Practice stress relief exercises like mindfulness, deep breathing, pranayama, meditation, and even exercise. If you suffer from anxiety, speak to a medical expert to identify the best course of action to treat your chronic stress. It also helps to identify the stressors and tackle them at their root.
We've spoken in detail about the effects of sleep deprivation in the past.
This 2012 study highlights the impact of chronic sleep deprivation and acute sleep deprivation on immunity, by recording that individuals with restricted sleep exhibited increased inflammation markers, and also showed lowered antigen-response to vaccinations for various diseases.
This included vaccination for Hepatitis and Influenza. In fact, adults who failed to get adequate sleep showed only half the immune response to vaccines compared to adults who slept adequately, two weeks after vaccination. It also states that proneness to the common cold and flu were heightened after sleep deprivation.
"Although the enhancement of pro-inflammatory markers accompanying prolonged sleep curtailment is generally small, its persistent nature is associated with a wide variety of serious medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. "
It adds that the inflammatory markers after chronic sleep deprivation fall in the same range as the markers in individuals with high risk of heart disease.
Tip: If you have trouble sleeping check out this article on tips to help you optimize your sleep. In short, ensure your sleep environment is cool, dark, and comfortable. If you suffer from chronic sleep disturbances consult a doctor to identify and treat the root cause of sleep deprivation.
Nutrition Deficiencies and Ageing
A prolonged deficiency in any of the essential vitamins and minerals can lead to a corresponding health condition.
Like an iodine deficiency can lead to goiter, an iron deficiency can lead to anemia, a calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, and so on for the other vitamins and minerals.
Many of the foods that we find in the present are often less nutritionally dense than their older counterparts. So, supplementation might be necessary to meet your daily requirements.
Additionally, as you grow older, your body's ability to fight off infections grows weaker. We've mentioned before how ageing takes place because of telomere shortening.
Unfortunately, telomere shortening also reduces your body's ability to fight off infections. So, as you grow older, your immunity tends to fall gradually.
Usually taking care of the other aspects will help you maintain your immunity at healthier levels, but an age-related decline in immunity is ultimately inevitable.
Tip: Consult a doctor and based on their advice, get an analysis of your health markers - whether you're getting enough vitamin D, whether your other health markers are fine, and start supplementing with the nutrients you're deficient in.
Again, only supplement if your doctor recommends it. Otherwise getting regular physical exercise and eating a diet rich in vegetables, lean protein, and natural foods, will help keep your immunity up as you grow older.