Why we get sick in flu season.
It’s that time of year – the flu season. No one is safe. They are everywhere. I’m talking about the nasty, deceitful, invisible, tiny flu virus bug that sneaks into our body’s cavities and creates an absolute internal disaster. Usually 2-4 days after invasion is when the real fun part starts. We get sick and germs show off with their impeccable ability to turn every corner of our body into a germ party comparable to Carnival in Rio.
We were successfully transformed into a mucous coughing monster with no will to live. We become the hatching ground for new generations of germs and propel them onto our loved ones with powerful reoccurring sneezes. If our cough missed the desired object, then the virus hangs onto any surrounding object and practices patience until someone finally touches it. Then the next virus festival is in full preparation. This is how viruses spread and wipe out entire generations.
But did you ever wonder, why this happens more often in winter and why we get sick in flu season?
Where does the flu virus spend its summer?
Interesting question don’t you think? Well, germs are around, even in summer. Statistics say, that adults on average may experience up to four colds per year, summer and winter. Over 200 different viruses linger around and may be responsible for a common cold. So statistically we have the same chance to catch a flu virus in summer than in winter.
So it must be the cold temperature outside that makes us more susceptible to the flu virus?
Nope. Numerous studies have shown, that colder outside temperatures are not the cause for cold and flu infections. Even if we are shivering our body is perfectly capable of maintaining a steady inside body temperature. It’s magic 🙂 However, this is no excuse for not wearing warm cloth. Because keeping your body’s temperature at a steady level uses resources that might be needed otherwise. So no, cold temperatures are not the main reason why we get sick in flu season.
So maybe the flu virus spreads differently in winter?
Nope. Summer like winter viruses and Co. hold on to doorknobs, elevator buttons, shopping cart handles, ATM and light switches, patiently waiting for us to touch, so they get a free lift to paradise’s door – our face. If you and I belong to the “average person”, then we touch our faces 2,000 to 3,000 times a day, or 3 to 5 times every waking moment. This gives those little critters tons of opportunities for a smooth transfer into their future virus kingdom, summer like winter.
However, since we don’t like the cold outside we more often tend to hang out in closed, crowded rooms in winter. This is a feast for viruses, because we actually make it easier for them to hop from person to person. So in winter our body is probably exposed to a higher amount of viruses, which still doesn’t explain why we get sick.
Why are we more susceptible to the flu virus in winter than in summer?
Now we are getting to the point. Actually your bodies are perfectly armed to put germs into flight. The responsible department is called the immune system, which contains three sub-categories.
The first line of defense is like the bouncer at the club. It responds immediately to all foreign substances. Everyone and everything that doesn’t look like they belong they get the boot. Bouncers are located at different entries:
- Skin – prevents general entry
- Tears and Saliva – have an antibacterial enzyme that rips germs apart
- Mucus lining – sticky mucus traps dirt and microbes that otherwise would enter the digestive and respiratory tract
- Stomach acid – the low pH of the stomach acid and protein digesting enzymes kill harmful microbes
- Good gut bacteria – crowding out pathogenic organisms
If the tricky microorganism has somehow survived the attacks of the first line of defense or sneaked in through a cut in the skin, then the second and third line of defense come into play.
However, this is where it gets very complicated. To make a long story short an alliance of highly specialized fighters (cells, tissues and organs) work together to protect the body. Antibodies and lymphocytes recognize millions of different pathogens. They can distinguish foreign from normal cells, which I find mind boggling. Let me point out just a few other cool players of our internal soldiers (not a complete list):
- Natural killer cells
- The inflammatory response
- Antimicrobial proteins
- White blood cells
Anyway, you can see how freaking complex that whole thing is and if we get frequent colds and flus it means, that our immune system is not up to the task at hand.
So what weakens our immune system?
What are we doing different in winter compared to summer?
Can’t think of anything? Hm? Then let me ask you some questions:
- Do you eat more salad in summer or winter?
- Do you eat more raw vegetables in summer or winter?
- How much fresh water do you drink on a cold winter day?
- Do you eat more sugar and flour products in winter or summer?
- When do you spend more time outside in the fresh air and sunlight?
- When are we more eager to exercise and get in shape?
- When does a bike ride to work sounds appealing to us?
- Are you more stressed in summer or winter?
- When do you crave natural sunlight?
- When do you take more medication?
- Do you drink more alcohol in summer or winter?
- Do you sleep more and better in summer or winter?
- Do you meet friends more often in summer or winter?
- Do you think more positive in summer or winter?
- Who loves summer and hates winter?
- Do you laugh more in summer or winter?
- Do you have an overall better life in winter or summer?
Poor diet and lifestyle choices make it hard for our immune system to work properly. In winter we tend to eat less nutrient dense food. Instead we dip deep into foods loaded with sugar, flour and alcohol. We might sleep less, exercise less and develop a negative outlook of life.
If we want to avoid infections by a cold or flu virus we have the following options:
- Hide in the Canadian backcountry, not even germs will find you there
- Move away from the melting pot, preferable to countries of the southern latitudes Florida, Costa Rica or Cayman Island or so
- Put your complete household under quarantine, no one leaves or comes in
- Cancel all your social appointments at least until March and order groceries online
Other options are:
- Whole-body hazmat suit (hazardous materials suit), which can make daily chores like driving kids to school a little awkward and difficult
- Protective face mask and gloves (I hear they now come in appealing designs)
- Become paranoid and never ever touch something before you have disinfected it with SOS antiviral spray
- Make sure your immune system is in tip-top shape
What? I can hear you say. It is that easy? All we have to do is boosting our immune system and we never ever will suffer from flu and cold symptoms? Well, let’s see
What does it take to support the immune system?
We have seen that the immune system actually consists of tons of different components. So what does it need to build a natural killer cell? What does it take to build protein digesting enzymes that float in tears? What ingredients are necessary to produce potent stomach acid?
Nutrients. It needs nutrients. Zinc plays a key role in immune function. Without sufficient zinc immune cells can’t function the way they should. Vitamin A strengthens mucous membranes and stimulates white blood cells production. Vitamin C immobilizes microbes directly and neutralizes microbial toxins. Vitamin E is crucial for antibody response. Protein is a critical part of antibodies. Probiotics are the most essential component of our immune system. Clean water is needed for the production of saliva, stomach acid, tears, mucus.
Don’t freak out now and worry if you get enough of all these necessary nutrients. But be mindful that there is no actually flu season. If we get sick, we had too much of the bad stuff and too little of nutrient dense food and immune supporting activities. And this is not fun nor does it contribute to happiness.
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