Blackmores Why do we get sick in winter

Why do we get sick in winter?

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Ever wondered why people get sick more often in winter? Mel Hearse discovers how our immune systems vary with the seasons, and tells us it’s not our imagination- we're usually healthier in summer.

Researchers have found the seasons affect gene activity - almost a quarter of our genes differ according to the time of year, with some more active in winter and others more active in summer. This seasonality also affects our immune cells – and therefore our immune system function, and the composition of our blood and adipose tissue (fat).

LEARN MORE: Immune system basics

So what’s in the line up? Heart health, some chronic conditions, and vitamin D metabolism have all been shown to show seasonal differences.

It also seems the gene responsible for suppressing inflammation - the body’s response to infection, may well prove to be more active in summer than winter. Because inflammation is a risk factor for a range of conditions, this may well be a key reason why winter is the harshest season when it comes to our health.

How can you stay well in winter?

Knowledge is a powerful thing, and if you’re lax with immune boosting measures, now’s the time to get back on top of them.

Lowering stress through regular relaxation, taking regular time out for yourself and dealing with issues as they arise rather than letting them fester; through to consuming a balanced diet with plenty of immune boosting foods can all support your immune system.

There are a number of foods, herbs and spices that reduce inflammation, and boost the immune system. Turmeric, garlic, flaxseeds and omega three fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and are easy to incorporate into your diet.

EAT MORE: Foods to help beat back a cold this winter

Not sure how to use them? Soups, casseroles and smoothies are the easiest ways to add these ingredients, or try a supplement (you can get odourless garlic supplements if you are concerned about garlic breath!) Also consume oily fish, cook with olive oil, get in plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and snack on nuts and seeds.

Conversely, there are foods that can aggravate inflammation, so it’s a good idea to cut back on them, especially during the colder months. Fried, processed, heavily salted and sugary foods can promote inflammation. Replace fast foods with healthy one pot casseroles, grated veggie filled meatballs or get adventures with Moroccan cooking that can simmer in the slow cooker all day, ready for your return from work.

DINNER TONIGHT: Quinoa, pumpkin and carrot winter stew

How you prepare food can also make a difference - advanced glycation end product (AGE), is a toxin that appears when foods are heated, grilled, fried, or pasteurized. The body tries to break these AGEs apart by using cytokines, which are inflammatory messengers, so avoid cooking your food at high temperatures.

References available on request