Germs and Your Immune System
Northerners are experts at staying warm during the colder seasons. There’s nothing quite like wearing a knitted sweater, a cozy scarf, a snug tuque and a pair of warm mittens. The layers of clothing we dawn can have some fashion appeal, but generally, we’re all more concerned with staying warm and staying healthy.
Which leads us to the notion that you need to stay warm TO stay healthy. Maybe you remember your mom yelling after you as you walked to the bus stop, “Button up or you’ll catch a cold!”. Indeed, most people hope that by staying warm they can avoid catching a cold. Is that true, though? Does feeling cold really lead to catching a cold?
It’s not that simple. In truth, colds are not caused by low temperatures or cold weather, but by germs that are more likely to survive in dry air. Considering that during these cold months, we spend a lot more time indoors and that most indoor spaces are heated, we are almost always in dry air spaces. The germs that cause us to get sick are lurking everywhere: around doorknobs, keyboards, sinks, light switches and so on.
Now, don’t panic. Our immune system is there to do the job of keeping us healthy and fighting off germs. But, again, it’s not always that simple. You see, our immune system slows down and is often weakened during the colder seasons, which makes us particularly vulnerable to, you guessed it, germs. Many experts associate our weakened immune system to our decreased intake of Vitamin D. Which is another reason why it is so important to try and stay active and continue to benefit from sunshine as regularly as possible.
Germs (bacteria and viruses) are also more resilient and spread faster during winter. The fatty coating of the flu virus, for instance, hardens in the cold, making it more difficult to beat. Think of butter when you put it in the fridge. Low temperatures seem to encourage the transmittal of germs at a quicker pace.
How are colds and the flu different?
The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses that are caused by two different viruses: the rhinovirus and the influenza virus. While the cold gradually creeps up on you and is generally milder, the flu begins rather suddenly, feels more severe and is often accompanied by a fever.
Considering that both colds and cases of flu have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart. We should be aware of what symptoms to look out for as the flu can have more serious associated complications such as pneumonia.
In the case of the cold, you may notice such symptoms:
- A stuffy nose
- A sore throat
- A cough (mild to medium severity)
- Slight muscle pains
- Some fatigue or weakness
In the case of the flu, these are common symptoms:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Chest discomfort and coughing
- Headaches and migraines
In the case of the flu, some sneezing, a stuffy nose, and a sore throat can sometimes occur; mistaking those symptoms for the common cold. Similarly, chills, a fever, and a headache can occasionally manifest during a cold. Since the symptoms are generally interchangeable, it is usually the severity of the symptoms that distinguish a common cold from a case of the flu.
While colds typically last about a week, the flu can last much longer. If you notice a shortness of breath following or during your flu, it’s best to speak with your doctor.
How Can I Prevent a Cold or Flu?
As we mentioned previously, it’s important to stay active, even during the winter season. Getting some fresh air and direct sunlight can help keep your immune system well-functioning. It’s also suggested to disinfect your home and office regularly. Wipe away germs on doorknobs, light switches, handles, countertops, tables, closet doors, etc.
Always remember to wash your hands – especially when out and about! Avoid rubbing your eyes, eating with your hands or touching your face since these germs primarily make their way into our bodies through our mouths, nose, and eyes.
Another great way to avoid getting sick is by boosting our immune system with healthy, whole foods that are full of nutrients. We all want warm and comforting food during the colder seasons, and it’s much easier than you’d think to get that same warmth and comfort through wholesome meals that respect your dietary needs.
Consider firstly, that green vegetables directly impact the efficiency of your immune system. Research shows that mice who were fed a diet that did not contain many green vegetables rapidly lost specialized immune cells in their digestive system.
Essential white blood cells, which combat germs and bacteria, are found in our intestine. Therefore, gut health is crucial to a healthy and well-functioning immune system. It is worth noting that while other vegetables and fruits may contain all sorts of essential vitamins and minerals, green vegetables contain particular chemicals that are needed for optimal gut health.
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods are particularly beneficial as well, as they decrease the effort the immune system must make to keep the body functioning optimally. If the immune system is spared unnecessary or constant work, it is better equipped to fight off germs. Add more berries, garlic, turmeric, ginger, and kale to your daily diet.
Which Foods Cause Inflammation?
A lot of the foods we label “comfort foods” are in fact not comforting to our bodies at all. Foods like white bread, pastries, pasta, fried foods, soft drinks, sweet beverages, red meats, processed meats, margarine, shortening, and lard, all cause inflammation and directly harm your gut health and weaken your immune system. Most of these are also void of nutrients. So your body, which needs nutrients when you’re feeling sick, has to work twice as hard to get you back to health.
A healthy and well-balanced diet will inevitably contain foods that are nutritious and good for your health. Our in-house nutritionist can give you great tips and ideas on how to support a good immune-system through your diet while also making sure you’re not skipping out on any of the delicious, comforting flavors we all love so much during the cold seasons. Regular exercise, good hygiene, and fresh air can also help you avoid catching the rhinovirus or the influenza virus this winter. Make sure to visit your doctor if you begin to feel ill or if you are having difficulty breathing.
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