Weather and The Body – Myth v. Fact. Have you ever woken up to stiff joints or a pressure headache, and suspected there was bad weather coming in? Does going outside with wet hair on a cold day actually make you sick? Stories of a pending storm triggering an arthritis flare-up are so prevalent, we even see it reflected in television and movies. It can’t help but make you wonder, are these claims urban legends and old wives’ tales, or is there a basis in truth? Anecdotal evidence shouldn’t be confused with scientific research, but some of those old wives had some basis in fact to back up their claims.
Have you ever walked out into the cold only to have your nose start running? As part of the respiratory tract, the nose acts like a filter by warming, humidifying, and cleaning the air you breathe before it reaches your lungs. The nose increases mucus production as an automatic defense when it hits cold, dry air.
Your body is filled with defense mechanisms, and the shiver is one of them. Shivering is actually the body experiencing quick muscular contractions, which generate heat and decrease the body’s risk of dropping temperature too dramatically.
Your heart has to work harder to circulate blood when in extremely cold environments. This is one of the reasons we hear about people having heart attacks while shoveling snow. The cold air can cause an uneven distribution of oxygen to various parts of the heart. In most cases, the body can adapt and redistribute, but for some, oxygen may be so severely impaired that it triggers a heart attack.
Cold, dry air can irritate the lungs, leading to wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. This can be especially true for individuals with underlying conditions such as asthma, COPD, and bronchitis. Covering your mouth and nose with a scarf can actually help protect damage to the airways, by trapping some of that precious moisture.
Cold weather can weaken the immune system, but going outside with wet hair on a cold day will not, in and of itself, cause a cold. The common cold is a virus – it can only be caused by exposure to the virus. Some viruses thrive in low-humidity, which we often experience in the fall and winter. Also, when it’s cold outside, people gather indoors more often, increasing exposure.
There are scientific studies showing that damp, windy days with low atmospheric pressure can increase arthritis pain by up to 20%. Low temperatures can also make the fluid around joints thicker, which is why they feel stiffer. A decrease in barometric pressure can cause inflamed tissue to expand, leading to increased pain.
There are a lot of additional old wives’ tales about remedies for cold weather ailments – we’ll address the fact and fiction of those in another post, on another day. In the meantime, if you’re looking to improve your circulation and boost your immune system to stay healthy this winter, set up your next session at Affinity Acupuncture in Nashville, TN by calling 615-939-2787.