Behind the Forecast: 7 ways Winter affects your body

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Published: Dec. 11, 2019 at 11:06 AM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - We’ve talked about how changes in the weather can cause migraines before on Science Behind the Forecast. There are even more ways the weather can affect your body, especially during the winter.

One of the first things cold weather can affect: your blood pressure. A study in the European Heart Journal found that blood vessels narrow in cold temperatures leading to a spike in blood pressure. After being adjusted for age, sex, and region, the data found significantly higher systolic blood pressure (SBP) during the winter versus the summer. The study, which was conducted in China, found that above 41°F, each 18°F drop in outdoor temperature lead to a 6.2 mmHg higher SBP.

The cold not only increases your blood pressure but also the risk of heart attacks. The Harvard Health Letter states that “the tiny blood vessels in outlying areas such as the fingers and toes constrict to stem the loss of body heat into the environment. The flip side of this protective maneuver is that the heart must beat against extra force to overcome the resistance it meets in the narrowed vessels.” While healthy people can typically deal with the extra work their hearts do during the winter, those with existing heart issues may have problems. “They may experience symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath because of a mismatch in the available supply and demand of oxygen to the heart,” Dr. Viviany Taqueti, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said. In rare cases, the increased strain may lead to a heart attack.

Your DNA acts differently as the seasons change; this is thanks to gene expression. When the weather gets colder, inflammation increases, according to a study in Nature Communications. This change helps our bodies fight colds, flus, and other diseases in the winter.

Hypersomnia is characterized by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke as recurrent episodes of excessive daytime sleepiness or prolonged nighttime sleep. As temperatures drop in the winter, hypersomnia increases for some people, according to a study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. "Among the 1571 individuals across four latitudes surveyed at random from the general population, winter sleep increases of < or = 2 hr/day relative to summer were reported by nearly half," the study states.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that typically begins in the late fall and early winter and ends during spring and summer. Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of SAD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, are as follows:

  • Having low energy
  • Hypersomnia
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Craving for carbohydrates
  • Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)

An article published in Psychiatry showed that high melatonin levels combined with lower serotonin levels make you feel sleepier and less happy in the colder months. Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. This hormone helps to time the body’s circadian rhythms (our 24-hour internal clock) and with sleep. Serotonin stabilizes mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Less daylight during the winter causes the body’s pineal gland to produce more melatonin, which makes you sleepier.

One more obvious way that winter weather affects the human body is shown in the skin. Less moisture in the air when temperatures are cold means your skin is getting less moisture than it typically does from the environment. Warmer air holds much more moisture than cold air.

Last but not least, extremely cold temperatures can lead to difficulty breathing. Dry, cold air can irritate the airways of people suffering from bronchitis, COPD, or asthma, according to Cold air can also cause tiny cracks in the lining of your lung’s bronchial tubing, which may lead to swelling and fluid production. This can all lead to shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing.

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