Along with the sound of crinkling leaves and football crowds, fall often brings choruses of coughs and sneezes. Be it allergies, a cold or the flu, chilly weather is all too often associated with poor health. But as it turns out, your less than stellar hand washing stats might be playing second fiddle to a more important issue. Studies show that your genes have seasonal shifts and attempt to take charge to fight against germs. But this may actually have a reverse effect on your immune system. So how do you keep your immune system tempered? Let us explain.
First, Explaining Gene Expression
You have your own, unique set of DNA. And each one of your cells contains that exact set. But the reason your hair follicle cells grow hair and not, say, a fingernail, is due to gene expression. Certain lengths of DNA (͚genes) encode for specific characteristics- your long toes, your tan skin, etc. But cells have a way of individually turning genes’ expression off and on according to their purpose (your skin cells have no use in knowing that your toes are long). And while the expression of certain genes is set in stone, others are less rigid. And now we proceed.
Your Body͛s Response to Winter
A study published last year focused on thousands of individuals over the course of seasonal changes. It found that expression of certain genes (as many as ¼ of all the genes in your DNA) do in fact follow seasonal shifts. During wintertime, immune-based genes take charge to prepare for possible cold & flu attacks. In fact, researchers believe this is why conditions like type-1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis peak in the cold months. Similar patterns were found in countries closer to the equator, despite the fact that instead of cold winters, they get rainy seasons. And while these genetic shifts are done with your best interest in mind, they can cause excessive inflammation (swelling, irritation, etc), which can actually weaken your body͛s ability to fight back. It͛s like strapping so many pads on a hockey goalie that he can͛t even bend his elbows. How backwards is that? Luckily, you have some say in finding the balance; what you͛re looking for is a strong, but not helicopter mom-ish, immune system.
How to Keep Your Immune System Even-Tempered
Being immune-conscious hardly requires much more than making easy swaps and adds to your daily routine. Probiotics are exactly the guardians your gut needs from illness-causing bacteria; you can sneak them into your diet with fermented foods ranging from kimchi to kombucha. And if you͛ve been meaning to add a multivitamin to your regimen, now͛s the time to start; your body will best defend from germs if it has all necessary resources. Practice destressing techniques to minimize your body͛s cortisol (the stress hormone) levels; A stressed body is a vulnerable one. So by the same token, get plenty of sleep. Finally, since the wintertime gene expression we͛re talking about causes inflammation, reduce your intake of inflammatory fried and high-sugar foods, and increase anti-inflammatory ones like dark berries and greens, fatty fish and turmeric. Adding an antioxidant infusion to your diet is probably a good move, too.