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Why do we catch colds and flus in winter?

It’s no secret that we tend to catch more colds and viruses in winter than we do in the warmer months. Our Ballarat Naturopath Inka, explains why we catch more colds and flus in winter, and how to reduce your risk.

1. Less exposure to sunlight

Our body absorbs vitamin D from sunlight, which is why vitamin D is sometimes known as the “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D helps the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, so it is critical for building bones and maintaining bone health, but it also helps support healthy immune function.

When the days are shorter, wet and cloudy, we have less exposure to sunlight, which means many people are low in vitamin D. Symptoms of being low in vitamin D include:

· Feeling fatigued and sluggish

· More susceptible to broken bones and stress fractures

· Low immunity, recurring colds, flus and viruses

· Muscle pain and aches

Whilst it can vary from person to person, it is generally agreed that most people need around between 1000-4000IU per day to maintain sufficient blood levels. It can be difficult to obtain this level of Vitamin D from food alone.

Vitamin D is only found in a limited number of foods such as fatty fish and fish liver oils. There is a small amount of Vitamin D found in egg yolk, cheese, beef liver and mushrooms; as well as in fortified milks, cereals, yoghurt and orange juice.

Generally, regular sun exposure - 10-30 minutes exposure to the sun in the middle of the day several times a week - is the most natural way to get enough vitamin D. However, this is more challenging in winter when sunlight levels are low or the cold, wet weather prevents us from going outside.

If you cannot get enough vitamin D through foods and regular exposure to sunlight, a vitamin D supplement – available in either capsule or spray – may assist in boosting your immunity through winter.

2. Spending more time indoors

Generally, during winter we spend more time indoors and in close proximity to other people who could be carrying bugs and viruses.

People with the flu can be infectious one day before their symptoms present and up to five days after being sick.

Colds and flus can be transmitted by touching surfaces like door handles, hand rails, buttons and remotes and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. These viruses can also be transmitted by being close to someone who sneezes or coughs.

To reduce your risk of catching bugs during winter, consider wearing a facemask if you cannot physically distance yourself from other people, wash or sanitise your hands frequently, and don’t share utensils, cups or water bottles.

Fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kimchi, yoghurt and kombucha are rich in probiotics (good bacteria) that can help support your immune system.

3. Viruses transmit more easily

Cold weather doesn’t cause colds and flus but colder temperatures provide ideal conditions for viruses to flourish. Viruses such as influenza and rhinovirus (the common cold) thrive in dry, cold conditions. Viruses can stay airborne and travel further in colder temperatures than they do in the heat, making it easier to spread from person to person.

Additionally, the cold air can dry up our nasal passages, slowing down our ability to clear mucus from our noses, making it easier for the viruses to invade and infect.

A humidifier can add moisture to the air helping to prevent the nasal passages from drying out, thus providing a more protective barrier. By creating a moist environment, humidifiers may also make it more difficult for the viruses to stay airborne and transmit through the air.

Prevention is the key

Go Vita Ballarat Naturopath Inka, says that prevention is better than remedying. “As the weather gets colder, we want to increase our levels of Vitamin D, Vitamin C and zinc; and take probiotics to support the immune system through the gut.”

Inka suggests that increasing vitamin rich foods and taking a number of supporting supplements consistently, can help reduce the likelihood or severity of winter colds and flus.

If you need advice on how to support your immune system this winter, our naturopaths are available in store each day to help with general queries. For a thorough health assessment and specifically prescribed supplements, naturopaths Inka and Jasmine are also available for private consultations.


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