Is Your Environment Making You Sick? Part II

snow man

In Part I of this series on environmental illnesses, we looked at the impact artificial wind, in the form of fans and air conditioning, can have on the body. This time, we’ll focus on cold and your immune function.

In Colorado, we have highly fluctuating weather. We inevitably have a streak of warm, sunny days in winter, and people often respond to these sudden bursts of springtime by wearing shorts and sandals outside. No matter what the daytime temperatures reach in February, we can be sure it will be very cold once the sun goes down. As much as we enjoy the psychological respite from winter on those rare warm days, temperature fluctuations are difficult on the body, mostly because we don’t remember what season we’re in.

Your body becomes biologically attuned to your outside environment. If you live in a temperate climate, your body will adjust to having four seasons; if you live in a warm, damp climate, you can be sure your body will accommodate the constant pressures of that environment. Because we create artificial living and working environments within the larger context of an ecological climate, we are exposed to many microclimates on a daily basis. Think of your warm bed, your hot shower, your cold air conditioning, your frigid office, and the comfort of your bathrobe. Your body moves between environments constantly—and your immune system needs to be strong enough to manage the demands of these spaces.

Drafts and cold air make the immune system work overtime. Biologically, we are not built for cold. All of our metabolic systems require warmth to function properly. If you already run cold, forced air conditioning, high-power fans, and ice water are very hard on your system. The outside temperature steals that much-needed warmth, and your body has to work harder to protect itself.

A few ways to keep the cold from robbing you include wearing socks or slippers when walking on tile floors, keeping a scarf nearby if you are in a cold office, covering your ankles, drinking warm tea and eating warm, cooked foods, and not getting cold at night. All of this seems like common sense, but I cannot tell you how many patients I know who will sit at their desks for an hour, freezing, before they’ll stop working to grab a sweater!

If you run cold, consider how important it is to make sure that whichever microclimate you find yourself in, you remember your underlying condition. Don’t be afraid to wrap up, bump the air conditioner up a few degrees, or wear boots a little later into the spring. Your immune system will thank you.

Next time, what to do about living in damp environments.