It seems that fall is finally upon us, and we happily herald in a season of corn mazes, hay rides, pumpkin spice, and tricks and treats! At the same time, we less joyously prepare for the season of throat lozenges, endless Kleenex, sniffles and all the other miseries that accompany cold and flu season. The drastic rise of these ailments is traditionally considered a result of plummeting temperatures, but this misconception often masks the true culprits of cold and flu season. Cold weather does not give you a cold (or flu)- viruses do!
Our immune system is the body’s natural defense against bugs, but multiple factors accompanying this time of year weaken our immune system and increase our vulnerability to pathogens that are present all year round. Take stress, for instance. Though school begins session in August, students don’t truly begin to feel the pressure until midterms hit, typically in mid-October. Ample research has indicated that stress and anxiety can lead to depressed activity of NK cells, immune agents vital to host defense against viruses and other invaders.
Another consideration is decreased time spent outdoors. As people congregate indoors for school, work, or holiday events, germs and viruses become concentrated on common surfaces such as door knobs, tabletops, etc. Less time outside also results in decreased exposure to sunlight, which leads to declined production of vitamin D, a crucial regulator of immune responses.
Diet is a third contributor to compromised immune function during cold and flu season. Emotional eating to combat stress, lack of seasonal produce, and holiday traditions can all contribute to a diet composed of calorie dense foods. While pumpkin spice lattes, Halloween candy, and steamy cinnamon rolls provide the comfort and warmth we crave when it’s cold and gloomy, they fail to provide micronutrients and other bioactive components necessary to maintain proper immune function and boost the charge against cold- and flu-causing viruses.
This season, it is vital to do more than just “bundle up”- we must arm ourselves against these microscopic predators. Tune in this cold and flu season for tips to help you do just that! - Danielle Ashley, Laboratory Specialist