Ask anyone which season is filled with the most sickness, and the answer will be "winter!" Winter is often associated with illness, and research supports this! But, why would winter "cause" illness? What can you do to protect yourself and your family?
Why Are Illnesses So Common In Winter?
While it might seem like only an urban legend that illness increases in the winter, there are actually a number of reasons for an association between the onset of illness and the cyclical changes this time of year. Let's take a look at them.
1. Decrease of Sunlight
If you live in a Northern latitude, the season of winter has notably fewer hours of daylight than summer. Lack of sunlight (and lower temperatures) leads to fewer opportunities to soak up the sun, which means less production of Vitamin D for your body. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to respiratory problems and chronic infection. In fact, some researchers theorize that lack of Vitamin D explains the seasonal rhythm of the influenza virus.
How to combat this issue:
- Food. The National Institutes of Health encourages people to get most of their Vitamin D through natural food sources. The flesh of fatty fish, such as salmon, is a wonderful way to add Vitamin D to the diet. Egg yolks are another source of Vitamin D. Some research suggests that the Vitamin D in animal products is more potent than in other foods.
- Supplements. Cod Liver Oil is an excellent supplement for natural Vitamin D (and also Vitamin A, which is important for the immune system), and has been used throughout history as a panacea for good health. Look for sources from pure waters, so the oil is not contaminated with heavy metals. Members of my family use this brand of cod liver oil daily. Supplements of Vitamin D can be bought inexpensively. Do use with caution, however, to avoid side-effects from too much Vitamin D.
2. Increased Sugar Consumption
Celebrating the holidays, for most of us, includes many indulgent treats. Starting with the sugar-laden door-to-door collection that our kids bring home on Halloween, through the decadent desserts of Thanksgiving and the cookies of Christmas, to the extra alcoholic beverages on New Year's Eve, research from Cornell University demonstrates that holiday weight gain is real. With the average American consuming over 150 lbs of it each year, sugar can cause immune disruption, as well as a host of other health challenges.
How to combat this issue:
- Choose Treats Wisely. While there may certainly be a place for sweets in celebration, moderation is key. As delicious as an extra helping of dessert may be, is it worth risking the sore throat or cold a few days later? Also, beware of the harms of sugar substitutes. Make a majority of your indulgences whole foods.
- Focus on a Healthy Diet. Include rich nutrient-dense meats and healthful fats in your meals with friends and family to enjoy tasty food without immunity compromise.
- Consider Intermittent Fasting. IF is a power tool which encourages the consumption of all of one's calories within a few hours of each day. Those who practice it find many health benefits, including decreased inflammation. It may also help you kick the craving for sweets, as your body heals from the hard work of digestion for most of the hours each day.
3. Increased Stress
Holidays ought to be a time of joy and celebration; but for most people, they also include a fair amount of stress in the form of shopping, planning, baking, interaction with distant relatives, and more. Not only does chronic stress contribute to a depressed immune system, it may also lead to poor digestion at a time of year when we indulge more than usual, which means fewer nutrients absorbed.
How to combat this issue:
- Simplicity. Plan ahead to focus on the meaning of this season. It's okay not to have elaborate meals and dozens of gifts.
- Self-Care. Getting enough rest and exercising regularly help your body deal with stress. (Just don't stress about not getting enough sleep or forgetting to exercise!) You could also experiment with stress-relieving breathing techniques.
- Essential Oils. Essential oils are concentrated liquids from plant sources that are effective by means of the frequency of the oil. They can promote relaxation and healing by their ability to bypass the blood-brain barrier. Many essential oils are calming and may relieve stress, such as lavender and frankincense. Many essential oils can also kill air-borne viruses and bacteria.
- Consider supplements. If you aren't able to relieve stress in the ways listed above, consider adaptogenic herbs or supplements to support your adrenal system on a short-term basis.
4. Low Humidity and Temperatures
Winter air is dry air. Research has connected low humidity with increased respiratory illness. However, if one tries to combat low humidity by making the air too humid, it can backfire by creating a perfect environment for mold. The ideal humidity, neither too high nor too low, will be good for you and bad for pathogens, such as the flu virus.
How to combat this issue:
- Pay attention to your home humidity level. Optimum levels are between 35% and 60% humidity.
- Consider which kind of humidifier would best suit your situation.
A Wellness Toolbox For Your Family
Aside from implementing the solutions listed above, here are some general wellness tools to consider for your family. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, as well as children, should consider these with caution and in conjunction with a health care provider.
This combination reduces the severity and duration of the common cold, with little to no side-effects. Further, taking a daily C supplement may help your body produce collagen, which is excellent for nail and hair health.
Elderberry has been used as a folk remedy for thousands of years. Moreover, science has now shown that elderberry compound can kill the flu virus in a laboratory. It also seems to reduce the duration of colds.
Echinacea is an herb used to reduce the likelihood of catching a cold, as well to shorten the duration of colds, among other health benefits.
Numerous studies show that probiotics play a key role in boosting the immune system.
The Centers for Disease Control state that handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent yourself and your family from getting sick. Don't eschew this easy and effective wellness choice! (Pro Tip: Hand sanitizer is not an equal substitute!)
Immunoprophylaxis is the attempt to prevent disease by the act of innoculation, also known as vaccination. While there are many preventative means for supporting the immune system, vaccination is in a vastly different catagory than natural support for the immune system; there is strong evidence that vaccinations cause many serious side-effects. The concerns regarding vaccination for prevention of the flu are numerous. First, real influenza is a respiratory virus that produces a fever, not a "stomach bug." Influenza shots and mists are helpless to fight this kind of illness. Second, proponents of the flu vaccine will claim that it is "safe and effective," but show little evidence to support this, with a vast majority of studies compared to other vaccines, rather than a true placebo. In fact, scientific studies show a) that repeat flu shots increase the risk of contracting the flu, b) that children who received the shot were 3 times more likely to be hospitalized and 4 times more likely to develop a respiratory infection, c) that the supposedly safe ingredient in the flu shot called ethylmercury has a higher concentration in the brain and longer half-life than methylmercury, and d) that it has a low efficacy rate and little safety evidence for young children. In the face of all of this evidence, talk to your doctor about whether it is really a good choice for your family. Making use of many of the tools above (especially vitamin D and Elderberry!) should leave you confident in the face of illness, not victimized, as vaccine manufacturers would have you feel.
Sometimes even the best preventation can't stop an illness. Remember, though, that many illnesses' durations can be shortened with some of the supplements listed above. Also, your diet is vital for healing. Stay hydrated with herbal teas, spring water, and ginger kombucha (and skip the high-fructose corn syrup lemon lime sodas). Get some protein with gelatin stirred into antioxident rich juices (and skip the sugar-laden dye-heavy Jello)! Make your own stock by boiling a whole chicken in water in a covered pot on the stove for a few hours (and skip the canned noodle soup).
Wishing your family good health this jolly holiday season! (3 John 2)
(Please see our disclaimer on the bottom of this page regarding medical advice.)
Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Casper, Wyoming, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is a certified Classical Lutheran Educator (Consortium for Classical Lutheran Educators), author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (Old Testament vol., 2018; New Testament vol., 2023), and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).