Most of us have found ourselves and our health impacted by the weather at at least one point in our lives... Maybe your joints have felt more achy or stiff when it's cold and wet. Maybe your skin dries out without any humidity or moisture in the air. Maybe your immunity is under attack in winter, and you catch numerous colds. Or maybe you have terrible hay fever... But why are we so influenced by the weather?
It turns out there are some quite serious health risks as a result of changes in the weather...
J O I N T P A I N - cold and damp weather conditions can lead to increased joint pain. 7 in 10 people, according to a study of 1,000, say that they are more achy in cold or damp weather. Experts say that this could be a result of people exercising less in the cold and wet, or as a result of decreased Vitamin D levels in most during winter months, but there is also a theory that low levels of air pressure can cause further swelling in already-inflamed joints.
H E A R T A T T A C K S - a cold change or heatwave can bring an increased risk of heart attack with it. In the UK, a 1°c fall in temperature sees 200 additional heart attacks in the 28 days following the drop. Dr Donaldson at University College London explains that when you go into the cold, "blood vessels constrict, forcing water to leave circulation. Blood thickens and is more likely to clot, increasing heart attack risk.”
Alternatively, "in hot weather, you lose water through sweat. This means there’s less water in your blood, so it’s more concentrated and likely to clot.”
L U N G D I S E A S E - those with lung diseases such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis are easily affected by temperature changes too. Whilst the cold poses obvious threats, the heat can also exasperate these conditions as we rely on more energy and oxygen (i.e. bigger, harder breaths) to keep our bodies cool.
M I G R A I N E S - some migraine sufferers experience attacks with sudden changes in the weather. A study of 7,000 people in the USA in 2009 found a migraine risk increase of 7.5% per 5°c temperature increase. There have also been links drawn between migraines and lightning storms in studies, although an explanation for this has not yet been found.
E C Z E M A - the cold, heat, and wind can all worsen dry skin conditions such as eczema. Wind and the cold can both cause the skin to dry, which can worsen symptoms for those suffering from eczema. However, a rise in temperature can also cause further dryness and irritation. And you'll probably find you feel more hot more easily in the warmer weather if you suffer from eczema, as your skin's temperature-control mechanism function is hindered by the condition.
In everyday Chinese language, the word 'Qi' may be used to describe anything from an emotion, to a vibe, or to the weather. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM for short), 'Qi' refers to life energy. Qi flows through meridians in the body when it is in healthy abundance; but should these meridians become blocked, or should our Qi levels be too low, the body becomes imbalanced and disease kicks in.
TCM considers a person to be an intrinsic part of their environment, and the weather is considered one major influence on the flow of Qi in the body. In fact, according to TCM, there are six factors comprising the external causes of disease and illness:
- w i n d
- d r y n e s s
- c o l d
- m o i s t u r e
- f i r e
- h e a t
Should any of these be in excess, health can be negatively impacted.
TCM explains this impact of the weather on the body through an understanding that if the body is already in excess of Yin (or cold) but lacking in Yang, for example, that cold weather can then "tilt the scale", resulting in pain, illness or disease. These complaints associated with strong Yin are often treated with heat - heat packs, warming rubs, acupuncture or movement.
A person with strong Yang would not be affected by cold weather in the same way; instead, hot weather would throw out the Yin Yang balance in this case, causing irritability or restlessness for example. Cooling treatment options would be recommended in this case.
A person's constitution is carefully considered in TCM, as an individualised treatment plan is required for appropriate and effective relief of a variety of pains, ills, and diseases.
So what can you do to prevent suffering from imbalance, and illness, pain or disease?
The key is in stabilising your body temperature when there are sudden changes: don't go crazy with the heating or air conditioning in your home or office; wear layers if the weather seems interchangeable; wear cotton clothing and put cotton sheets on your bed; and, make sure that your immune and other body systems are in tip-top condition year round to avoid falling victim to those sudden weather changes.
We also recommend seeing a Naturopath or a TCM practitioner to improve your general health, as well as to prevent health issues such as those above. You can search for practitioners across a wide variety of modalities using the Green Goodness Co search, but we can recommend Renae Trivic, Naturopath, and, for your Chinese Medicine and acupuncture needs, Fabulous Health.
References: Mirror UK, Harvard Medical School, Australian Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Association, Imperial Chinese Medicine.