In previous times, we lived in sync with nature and the changing seasons controlled which foods were available and how much sleep we had. Nowadays though, we spend more time indoors than outdoors, exotic fruits are available all year, and the use of screens and other artificial light sources manipulates our circadian rhythm. But despite us being more disconnected nowadays from the changing seasons, our bodies and health are still affected – whether we want them to be or not.
Common problems with changing seasons
Changes in weather and light often make us change our behaviours, which in turn affects our health. For example, we move less when it gets cold, to save energy, and we tend to spend more time indoors. This can lead to infections and viruses spreading more easily and we also miss out on the positive effects of physical activity. Some examples of common problems with changing seasons are:
- Increased susceptibility to infections and viruses
- Changes in mood
- Changes in energy levels
Even our gut flora is affected
Our gut flora is in constant flux and is affected by things such as what we eat, how much exercise we get, how much time we spend indoors, where we live, and how much contact we have with animals and people. For example, people who live in colder climates have a different collection of gut bacteria compared to people who live in warmer places, and exposure to cold temperatures has been shown to have a temporary effect on gut flora.
One of the most important factors for how gut flora changes over the years is diet. One study that was done on the gut flora of the Hadza people from Tanzania – one of the few hunter-gatherer societies still in existence today – showed that their gut flora varied greatly from season to season. During the rainy season, when food mostly consisted of berries, honey and other plant-based foods, certain types of bacteria increased significantly. During the subsequent dry period, their diet was more focused on meat, which led to the previous types of bacteria being reduced so much that they almost disappeared, while bacteria connected to meat consumption increased. The result was then compared with people in the West, and it was confirmed that their gut flora did not have as much seasonal variation and was more like the Hadza gut flora from during the dry period.
Tips for a smoother change of season
1. Eat seasonally
Our bodies are adapted for seasonal eating – this gives us a natural variation in our diet which makes it easier to get all the nutrients we need for a strong immune system, among other things. Besides being cheaper, it’s better for the environment and often tastes better. At times that fresh fruit and vegetables that aren’t in season are hard to find, consider frozen veg and berries, and produce that is in season.
2. Adjust your circadian rhythm to daylight
Shorter days during the winter make us more tired, which is an indication that we need to sleep more – so going to bed earlier is a pretty simple remedy. When spring is on the way, we can start using the sunrise as a guideline for when it’s time to get up, and ideally make use of the morning light to take a walk, for example. Try to get some direct sunlight in the middle of the day, too, as it helps the body to regulate the circadian rhythm.
3. Keep your sleep in order
Read our earlier article about gut flora and sleep here. Good sleep is vital for our health!
4. Exercise – preferably outdoors
The body is designed for movement and physical activity can even improve our cognitive abilities. If you also combine exercise with getting outdoors, you get daylight, fresh air, and lower stress levels. And your gut flora will feel good from being out in nature, as it can help towards more variety among your gut bacteria.
5. Take extra vitamin D
Be aware of your vitamin D levels, even while living in sunny Singapore. Latest studies show that close to 50% of people in Singapore are deficient or very deficient for Vitamin D.
6. Take extra care of your gut flora
Feed your gut bacteria with prebiotic fibre, which can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, but also in pulses, nuts, quinoa, buckwheat and more.
A supplement for your gut health
Want more energy and less bloating? It might be time to take better care of your gut. To strengthen or restore the balance in your gut flora, it's important you feed your gut with a daily dose of pre- and probiotics. A healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is usually sufficient. If you want an extra boost or make sure you get a daily dose of good bacteria, you can complement your diet with a supplement.
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