The surprising reason why viral infections surge in winter

As the chill of winter sets in, so does the dreaded wave of viral infections. It’s a perennial question: why are we more susceptible to these infections during the colder months? The surprising answer is that it’s not because the cold makes us cold – it’s because the cold air is less humid and that has a knock on effect that makes us more prone to infections. The Dry Air Effect The key factor of cold air is that it’s dry. This dryness plays a crucial role in how viruses like the common cold and flu are transmitted. Viruses, particularly those causing respiratory infections, thrive in low-humidity environments. When the air is dry, the moisture that typically traps and weighs down viral particles is absent. Consequently, these particles remain airborne longer, increasing the likelihood of inhalation. Research shows that more Covid infection and more severe cases – and more deaths – occur when the relative humidity was lower than 40 per cent or higher than 60 per cent. Most viruses have a seasonal cycle. Colds, flu, Covid and other viruses flourish when the cold weather arrives. The virus season starts at about the same time as the air becomes drier. This phenomenon is not just outdoor but also indoor. Heating systems used in homes and offices during winter further dry out the air, unwittingly creating an ideal environment for viruses to disperse and persist. Compromised Defence: The Possible Role of Mucus Membranes Our body’s first line of defence against airborne pathogens is the mucus in our respiratory tract. However, cold air affects this natural barrier. When we breathe in cold, dry air, our mucus membranes – particularly in the nasal passages and throat – dry up. This drying impairs their ability to trap and eliminate viruses. As a result, our susceptibility to infections increases. The drying of mucus membranes is not just uncomfortable but also a significant health concern during winter. People with respiratory conditions like asthma may find their symptoms worsening in cold weather due to this effect. Should we use humidifiers? One practical solution to combat the dryness of winter air is the use of humidifiers. By adding moisture to indoor air, humidifiers can help maintain a level of humidity that’s less conducive to the spread of viruses. This not only helps in reducing the transmission of viruses but also aids in keeping the mucus membranes from drying out, thus preserving our natural defence mechanism. However, it’s essential to use humidifiers correctly. Over-humidifying can lead to other problems, such as the growth of mould and bacteria, in the house and in the humidifier itself which becomes an added risk. Cleaning the humidifier may also pose a risk as disinfectants can leave residues behind which will then be inhaled. What not might work at home, could work in offices, schools and hospitals that have the resources to maintain humidifiers. For example, studies from a team at the Mayo Clinic, which humidified half of the classrooms in a preschool and left the other half alone over three months during the winter showed that flu-related absenteeism in the humidified classrooms was two-thirds lower than in the standard classrooms — a dramatic difference.  A small, simple money-saving trick Lowering your indoor temperature will raise humidity, and provide protection, as well boost your metabolism, keep the weight off and lower your electricity bills.

Anti-virals for every stage of infection

Cold and flu season is almost upon us as, winter’s chilly temperatures and drier air cause more of us to fall ill from viruses like the flu, colds, respiratory syncytial virus, and Covid. We all know the miserable symptoms – coughs, congestion, fever, body aches. But did you know that natural compounds found in foods and herbs can actually help stop these viruses in their tracks? To help your body fend off infection this winter, it pays to understand how viruses infect healthy cells so you can choose the right supplements and diet to slow them down. Let me walk you through the viral life cycle step-by-step and show you which plant-based compounds can intervene along the way. Arm yourself with knowledge and a natural antiviral plan so you can stay healthy even when viruses are spreading like wildfire. Outsmarting viruses: the 6 stages of viral infection and how to block them The virus is the enemy trying to sneak in, take over, and multiply within your cells. To do this, it has to progress through several stages of attack. Understanding this sequence of events allows us to identify where we can set up “roadblocks” using natural compounds to derail the viral mission. Let’s walk through each stage and see how plants are our allies. Adapted from PMID:34953146

From SAD to glad: tryp the light fantastic

Do you start feeling sad as the days get shorter in the winter? Do you get more tired, lose your motivation, avoid friends and family, eat more starch and sugar and put on weight? This seasonal cluster of symptoms is associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year, typically starting in autumn or winter and ending in spring or early summer.  The development of SAD is tied to disturbances in circadian rhythms – our biological clocks that determine the rhythm of life – and neurotransmitter activity caused by lack of sunlight. The main neurotransmitter affected is serotonin which is vital for maintaining good mood, and regulating our appetite and menstrual cycles. Women are diagnosed with SAD at a much higher rate than men – about 4 to 1. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why women are more susceptible, but hormones may play a role. Oestrogen seems to heighten the effects of serotonin, making women more sensitive to fluctuations in light. Clinical trials have shown that serotonin significantly increases between days 7 to 11 and 17 to 19 of the menstrual cycle. This indicates that premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is closely associated with mood disorders through oestrogen-serotonin regulation. According to the molecular biology studies, the decreased oestrogen causes the hypothalamus to release noradrenaline, which triggers a decline in acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin that leads to insomnia, fatigue, depression, which are common symptoms of PMS and Premenstrual Dysphoria (PMDD). Low serotonin in PMS can lead to cravings for sugar and starches, so if you already experience PMS, you may find it worsens in the low light of winter. The association of sunlight with serotonin goes back 3 billion years, first evolving in single celled organisms, before the existence of plants and brain neurons. Research shows that as evolution progressed, serotonin evolved as a homeostatic regulator, integrating mind and body with the outside world. The pathway to making serotonin starts with the amino acid tryptophan (you might be familiar with the supplement 5-HTP, 5-hydrohytryptophan) and branches out to make melatonin and vitamin B3 (niacin). Melatonin helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle, serotonin regulate appetites, sleep, mood, and pain, while niacin is needed for energy metabolism and DNA production. Adapted from petersmith.co.uk, using Biorender You can see from the diagram above that what determines whether tryptophan ends up making antidepressant serotonin and brain-protective melatonin, or the brain toxic quinolinic acid is determined by a number of factors including the presence of nutritional deficiencies, our levels of stress, inflammation and physical exercise. Additionally tryptophan is best derived from animal protein, so not eating enough protein will lead to a tryptophan deficiency, creating a problem right at the top of the chain. The highest amount of tryptophan is found in turkey, perhaps this is why we’ve chosen it to celebrate in the dead of winter? The lack of sunlight in the winter has an additive negative effect, which is why the recommended therapy for SAD is exposure to light. Light can be roughly divided into ultraviolet (UV) and visible light. The most effective light type binding to tryptophan and in alleviating the depression associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is blue light – but only in the day. At night, blue light – from emitted from screens of phones, iPads, tablets, computers – will prevent melatonin production and prevent sleep.  Light emitting devices are widely available and for therapeutic benefit the eyes need to be exposed to 10,000 lux for 20-30 minutes in the morning, at a distance of no more than 20-30 cm away from the light box. The benefits of light therapy can be experienced within days. The positive change in mood and sleep can be dramatic. All cells and organs of the body, and especially of the brain, are affected by tryptophan and the serotonin system. Interestingly many other compounds are synthesised from tryptophan, including All these compounds can function as antioxidants in single-cell organisms and many have been used by by humankind for thousands of years as: Serotonin has a special relationship with sunlight that began to emerge at the beginning of life on Earth and this is the magic elixir that helps to maintain our homeostasis between body and mind, improving our internal and social interactions. So tryp out on light (and turkey).

Be cool to boost your metabolism and prevent winter weight gain

In the summer, bright sunlight keeps our metabolism running high, partly because insulin is a solar hormone and is stimulated by sunshine. When the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, our bodies become more insulin resistant, want to conserve energy and store fat. The cold weather makes us want to stay bundled up indoors where we tend to remain sedentary and burn fewer calories. In the winter time, it’s feeling the cold that takes over the metabolic work of summer sunshine. Feeling slightly cold activates brown adipose tissue, which helps burn stored energy for heat generation. The benefits of cold exposure include improved sleep, mood, focus, and metabolic health. So turn down the temperature on your radiators, and don’t bundle up when you’re out, you’ll want to stay slightly cool to keep your metabolic rate high. Just don’t let yourself get so cold that you start shivering, as that causes your muscles to seize up and burn glycogen for heat instead of fat. Don’t use that extra duvet or blanket at night! The natural drop in core body temperature that happens during sleep is beneficial. Melatonin, the hormone associated with sleep, acts to lower the core body temperature, and a decrease in core body temperature is associated with both going to sleep and staying asleep. Feeling too warm at night leads to reduced sleep which impairs glucose tolerance and promotes insulin resistance, leading to an increased appetite, reduced energy use, and weight gain over time. In addition to cooler temperatures, make sure you continue to get regular sunlight exposure, physical activity, and good sleep. Go for a walk first thing in the morning to set your circadian clock. Get some bright light exposure as soon as possible after waking up. Exercise outdoors on sunny days. Take vitamin D3 supplements to maintain healthy levels since you produce less vitamin D from sunlight in the winter. Create a comfortable, cool sleeping environment and stick to a regular sleep schedule. With some seasonal tweaks to your lifestyle habits, you can stay healthy and energetic all winter long.

Immuni-Tea: A Zesty Immune-Boosting Brew

Swap your regular tea – or other hot drink – for Immuni-Tea, a warm aromatic brew of spices, herbs, lemon and honey and it can go a long way to boosting your immunity and both preventing and fighting off viral infections. With this recipe you can make a batch of Immuni-Tea as frozen cubes to be dropped into cup of hot water or into an additionally immune-boosting tea. Immuni-Tea Recipe Ingredients: Directions: Drop a cube in hot water or:

The ultimate anti-viral protocol for winter: prep and kill

As the temperatures drop and winter approaches, many of us become more susceptible to catching viral infections like colds and flu. This winter, instead of just hoping you don’t get sick, why not take proactive steps to boost your immune system and fend off illness? In this post, I’m sharing my anti-viral protocol – a combination of supplements and healthy habits that will prime your immune system and help shut down infections after they take hold. Drawing on the latest research, I’m sharing the vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other immune-boosting compounds that work to support immune function. Prep phase: prime your immune system Kill phase: shut down infections If you succumb to a viral infection, you can support your recovery with these recommendations: Resources While you can never guarantee you won’t get sick, arming yourself with the right immune-boosting strategies can help tilt the odds in your favour.

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