Kim family snow

We all grew up listening to adults telling us ‘Put on a jacket, you will catch a cold’, we all knew that was a myth….. viruses give us colds not weather…. don’t they?

Well the winter months are here and low and behold we are all getting sick! The dreaded lurgie is upon us and whether it be a cough, sniffles, the flu or just feeling downright crappy we struggle to get through the winter without our immune system caving to something!  

But does being cold affect us catching a cold?

We know that viruses make us sick. The virus must bust past our bodies immune system to infect us.. The symptoms we feel when sick, coughing, sniffling, dry throat  etc is the inflammatory response to the virus which has invaded our system. Scientists have long told us that the reason we get sick more often in winter is behavioural, meaning we don’t go outdoors as much and hence closer to each other spreading viruses more readily.  

The virus itself also seems to be affected by the cold though, theories exist regarding lack of UV not killing off certain viruses, but also cold weather helps to toughen up the outer shell of a virus so it can survive longer. The viruses’ outer shell is made up of fat like substances called lipids. In cold weather, this lipid outer shell toughens, and in higher temperatures, this outer shell softens. In simple terms, cold weather makes the virus more ninja like and harder to kill.

But what about us…. What happens to our bodies when we are cold? Below, I will discuss two possibilities which may lead us to believe that being cold can actually give us a cold!  Surely our grandmothers can’t be right?

In the last few years scientists at Yale University have produced research that shows the nasal passages have decreased defense mechanisms when the temperature is lowered. Preliminary studies in labs have shown that at body temperature, the cells responded with a sophisticated defense, sending out warning signals to uninfected cells around the virus.  These cells produced an onslaught of antiviral proteins which they used to destroy the cold virus. Once exposed to the cold however the neighbouring cells had a much weaker defence allowing the virus to invade and multiply.  So….. a cold nose means less protection against those viruses.

More research needs to be done with humans however this research is so far supporting the old wives tale that we have previously discredited!  

Another theory lies in stress. A drop in body temperature results in a stress response from the sympathetic nervous system. This response is enabled to preserve heat, imperative for survival! Does this stress response actually result in our immune system being compromised?  At the moment the jury is out….. Its is looking like long term stress is needed to actually affect our immune systems. The desensitisation of our immune cells after chronic exposure to cortisol results in increased inflammation to the virus and feeling crap.

So what can we do?

So even though it looks like maybe Grandma was possibly a little bit right…. Does putting a jacket on actually keep your nose from getting cold?? Hmmmm….. In my experience no……. but to tell you the truth I have never actually measured the temperature in my nasal cavity with and without a jacket on.  

So maybe the best thing we can do is get outside in winter, but keep your jacket and hat on to keep Granny happy. Get out of the heated offices and get some fresh air!  Eat well, rest when you need it and get good quality sleep!  Make some good old fashioned chicken soup ‘cause science has shown that there is truth to that old wives tale too!

What can physio do to help with this? To tell you the truth….. not a lot……..we can definitely help with your overall wellness which may help you fight that next virus you encounter or you can just ask me about my super Chicken Soup recipe!