What do you do when you feel a cold coming on? In many ways, most of us probably have a very similar mechanism in place when we feel our immune system weaken and the very first symptoms of the flu, cold or virus coming on. The usual steps are hot drinks, superfoods filled with vitamin C and possibly even medication of some sort. But how many of us, out of all the grandmother potions and tricks we’ve been told since age 3, work to balance our circadian rhythm to fight a looming cold? The answer is most likely, very few.
According to a recent study by the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and the Université de Montréal in Canada, the immune system does not respond equally at all times of the day, and indeed functions at its best when exposed to the peak daylight hours. Granted the study used mice and not humans, but given the fact that many surgeons now consider what time of the day to go into surgery according to a patient’s circadian rhythm, this certainly means that our immune system is linked to our circadian rhythm mechanism.
There were several earlier studies that already pointed out that the time of day might influence the strength and quantity of immune cells, including T cells. But it wasn’t until this latest study that circadian rhythms and their influence in this process truly became part of the equation.
And it was during this latest research, as a result of working with genetically engineered mice as well as regular mice, that the researchers were finally able to establish that body clocks do play a role in modulating the effectiveness of immune responses. But before you get too excited, it’s important to note that how exactly this happens continues to be a mystery. Sorry, spoiler here.
In an interview with Medicine News Today, co-author of the study Prof. Nathalie Labrecque said that “Our study shows that T cells are more prone to be activated at certain times of the day. Identifying the mechanisms through which the biological clock modulates the T cell response will help us better understand the processes that regulate optimal T cell responses."
So what does this mean for you this winter? Sadly we do not yet have a solid answer or guideline, but one thing we can say is, next time you feel a cold coming on, why not pair your ginger tea with a dose of natural light?