How Your Immune System Works
Before answering the question, can cold weather affect your immune system, it’s imperative you understand what this vital bodily system does.
In a nutshell, your immune system is your body’s defense against pathogens, germs and bacteria. It’s designed to fend off anything attempting to threaten your health.
More specifically, your immune system is made up of five liters of blood and lymph — a colorless, clear liquid that passes in and out of the body’s tissues. These two substances work together to transport immune system elements throughout your body and protect it from harmful substances.
One of the most critical aspects of immune system response is white blood cells. These vital cells run to the scene of any trouble and fight off the pathogens.
Your body is made of two kinds of white blood cells: lymphocytes and phagocytes.
The three main types of lymphocytes in your body are natural killer cells: T cells and B cells. Natural killer cells terminate cancerous or infected cells by utilizing a special enzyme or chemical. Your T cells also terminate cells that have been overrun with viruses. The B cells are responsible for creating antibodies that attack toxins, viruses and bacteria infiltrating the body.
Phagocytes move through tissue and blood vessels and absorb invading substances. These cells target toxins and harmful pathogens. And, occasionally, the phagocyte will also send out a special chemical to let the lymphocytes know what type of pathogen they’re fighting.
One drop of blood can contain a total of 25,000 white blood cells, but they don’t live long. In fact, the average lifespan for white blood cells is only a few weeks.
How Cold Weather Affects Your Immune System
Now that you understand how the immune system works, it’s time to answer the question that scientists and laymen have been asking for ages: does the cold weaken the immune system
Cold weather and immune system response are interconnected for several reasons.
First and foremost, cold weather lowers the immune system’s defenses because there is a reduction in Vitamin D levels. In the winter, people receive less Vitamin D because they aren’t in the sun as much, and research states that Vitamin D is needed for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Additionally, people spend more time indoors during colder months. Studies suggest that viruses spread easier indoors and anywhere that people are forced to be really close together.
So what about temperature? And, specifically, does temperature affect your immune system? According to a 2015 study, lower temperatures could have a negative impact on your immune system. This study looked at rats that exhibited a lower immune response when the temperature decreased.
Another reason the immune system and cold weather involves your blood vessels. As you breathe in cold, dry air, the blood vessels located in your upper respiratory tract start to narrow, which conserves heat. As a result, the white blood cells can’t reach your mucous membranes, which means there are fewer fighters warding off germs. This occurrence proves that cold suppresses the immune system.
While it’s possible to get sick any time of the year, the CDC clearly states that people are more likely to catch a cold in the winter and spring.
Does being cold affect your immune system?
Typically when it’s cold outside, your body temperature drops. But does being cold lower your immune system? Studies show body temperature may also play a role in immune system performance.
Solely being cold doesn’t create illness. First, there needs to be pathogens or germs in the area to get sick. However, there are several studies that indicate there may be a connection between the two.
Home HVAC systems run more during the winter months as a way to warm up occupants. Studies show that the heat may keep the house warm, but it also dries out your sinuses. And if you’re struggling to achieve normal nasal mucus flow, your immune system must work harder to fight off viruses.
There are, however, some studies that suggest your body temperature affects your immune system.
A 2017 study showed that chilled immune cells are less effective at fighting viruses. There was also a 2005 study showing how college students who had their feet soaked for twenty minutes daily in cold water were more likely to get sick than those who didn’t have their feet soaked.
Mouse studies show that rhinoviruses can also replicate faster at colder body temperatures.
Additional research would help determine the link between your body temperature being cold and the immune system, but the above studies are a good starting point. Can cold weather affect your immune system? Yes! Does cold body temperature affect the immune system? It’s possible.
Does your immune system respond better in hot weather?
If cold weather negatively affects your immune system, you’d assume it would work great in hot weather. However, there are some challenges for your immune system in warm weather too.
Yes, the peak of the flu season is between December and February, but viruses aren’t spread only at certain times of the year. Typically, viruses are spread by respiratory droplets that are spread when people come into contact with infected surfaces from people talking, sneezing or coughing out germs.
While cold weather causes more people to spend time indoors, closer to one another, being in warmer climates doesn’t change how the immune system works. You can get sick anytime you come in contact with someone that’s infected, regardless of the weather.
Still, the same aspects that hurt your immune system in the cold may help it when the weather is warmer. First off, the days are longer in the summer, which makes it easier to acquire Vitamin D.
And, because Vitamin D is required for a healthy immune system, being in the sun may help you avoid getting sick after coming into contact with a virus.
Additionally, as the humidity rises, flu viruses attach to water molecules in the air. quicker. This means germs may be absorbed into the air before they come into contact with another person.
Due to these reasons, there may be a smaller chance of getting sick in the warmer months than in the colder ones, but you should still protect yourself in any weather.
How to Boost Your Immune System in Winter
If you want your immune system to operate at its best during the winter, there are some steps you can take. First, consider increasing your intake of vitamin D. You can get this vitamin through healthy foods, such as fatty fish, eggs, dairy products and mushrooms. You can also take a Vitamin D supplement.
It’s important to get enough sleep every night as well. Studies show that sleep deprivation can hinder immune response, leaving you more vulnerable to illnesses.
You need to stay hydrated too. Research proves the immune system is dependent on nutrients coming from the bloodstream. But what is the bloodstream made from? The answer is water, mostly.
The CDC also recommends that you wash your hands regularly. Because you spend a lot of time touching your face, mouth, nose and eyes without realizing it, you want your hands to be clean. You can also easily transfer germs from your hands to other surfaces, such as tables, toys and someone else’s hands that you touch. By frequently washing with soap and warm water, you effectively kill dangerous germs.
If you have to sneeze or cough, it’s best to do so into a clean tissue. If you don’t have one available, use your elbow instead of spreading droplets onto your hands. Additionally, you should never share food or drink with someone else, especially if they’re showing signs of illness.
And finally, when you go out in the cold, wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth to maintain a higher nose temperature. This allows the immune cells to carry out apoptosis and protect your body.
What temperature is optimal for immune health?
Warmer weather may be better for immune system performance than cold weather, but preventing illness falls heavily on your habits and actions. You can get sick any time of the year if you’re around others with an illness. It’s what you do to protect yourself that makes the difference.
Of course, the humidity in warmer climates also helps disperse germs faster, allowing them to linger in the air for a shorter amount of time. In any case, you don’t have to fall victim to illness any time of the year if you take the necessary steps to boost your immune system and protect yourself from germs.