The changeable weather is not just affecting our mood and how we dress – doctors have warned it is impacting our immune systems, too.
Old wives’ tales tell us that cold, damp weather means we’re more likely to become ill – but there is some truth in the warnings, says Dr Babak Ashrafi.
“Rapid shifts from warm to cold weather can stress the body and shock the immune system, making you more vulnerable to colds and infections,” warns Dr Ashrafi.
To make sure your immune system is as healthy as possible, he recommends:
1. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D
Dr Ashrafi points out that the changing weather has coincided with seasonal outbreaks of viruses, such as flu.
“These infections can put additional strain on the immune system,” he says.
“During colder months, decreased sunlight exposure can cut your main source of vitamin D, which is essential for a healthy immune system.”
Dr Ashrafi says adding more vitamin D-rich foods into your diet, such as fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, mushrooms, egg yolks and certain fortified orange juices, is a great way to help strengthen your immune system.
“It can help protect your immune system by providing an all-important vitamin boost,” he says. “And remember, vitamin D supplements are also a good idea during winter.”
2. Dress for the weather
Prolonged exposure to cold can increase the risk of illnesses such as the common cold or flu, warns Dr Ashrafi, who explains the body’s core temperature needs to remain within a narrow range for optimal function.
“When you’re exposed to cold temperatures, your body works harder to maintain this temperature, diverting energy and resources away from other essential functions, including immune responses,” he says.
“It’s always best to check the weather and layer clothing to help insulate your body, making it easier to maintain core temperature without excessive effort.”
3. Maintain a healthy diet
Consuming a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains will provide essential nutrients to support immune function, says Dr Ashrafi.
“Probiotics from yoghurt or kefir are also great for helping to maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which plays a significant role in immune health,” he advises.
4. Stay hydrated
It’s important to drink plenty of water or sugar-free soft drinks, even in the autumn and winter, as good hydration also plays a role in keeping the immune system healthy, says Dr Ashrafi. “Ensure you’re staying hydrated despite the cold, to keep mucous membranes moist, helping to defend against infections.”
5. Get some rest
Dr Ashrafi explains that sleep is crucial for the production of antibodies, which in turn recognise and neutralise pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. “To boost and support your immune system, it’s essential to prioritise and maintain healthy sleep habits. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night by establishing a regular sleep schedule in a comfortable environment.
“These practices will help ensure your immune system functions optimally and can effectively protect your body from infections.”