Almost like clockwork. There is the bi-yearly (serious) flare up again. Moving from the cold weather into the warmer and the other way around, my Crohn’s Disease symptoms are heating up. I can feel the inflammation and I’m currently under strict watch. So what is this thing with seasonal changes anyway?
Literally speaking, the cause of seasonal changes in weather is directly tied to the angle of the sun and latitude, as well as to the astronomical phenomenon of the Earth’s orbit around the sun. So how does this affect our bodies? Well, we simply behave differently throughout the year. Both our body and our mind is affected.
When we move from cold/dark to warm/bright, I slowly move into a pattern of less sleep; during wintertime we sleep approximately 2 hours more everyday, Harvard Medical School found out in a study. Also the deepness of sleep is more intense, thanks to the lack of sunlight in my eyes in the darker months of the year. So when I embrace the brighter days, my body actually might suffer due to the lower sleep quality. Resulting in all sorts of (possible) issues, ranging from low energy to being more irritated and stressed out.
The other way around, from summer to winter, is easier for me. But I guess for most people that might be a different story. After a long and hot summer I’m glad to see colder days coming. I usually feel better in the middle of winter. But the transition is not that easy. The decrease in Vitamin D from the rays of the sun is clearly felt. And my mood might be not as stable due to the darker / shorter days. Which is a result of what was once a benefit: the longer and deeper sleeping makes me a bit more grumpy and less clear in the head.
All these things seem pretty innocent. So why is my Crohn’s flaring up during those seasonal transitions. Let’s have a look at the scientific explanations.
Unfortunately, science is not always a big help. In ‘The Role of Seasonality in the Exacerbation of Inflammatory Bowel Disease’, Paul Henderson and David C. Wilson perform a systematic review of past studies to prove the seasonal impact on the disease. This is what they conclude:
“The conclusions of published studies to establish a relationship between seasonality and IBD relapse are variable. The level of evidence is poor due to inadequately defined outcome measures, reliance on self-reporting and the inability to provide objective measures of seasonal change to allow the comparison of studies in different climates.”
But hey, as years go by, other scientists take on the responsibility for more insights. A Chinese study a few years later stated that “previous research has yielded conflicting data as to whether the natural history of inflammatory bowel disease follows a seasonal pattern”. They decided to set up a neural network to analyze the data of IBD hospitalizations. And guess what? There is a proven spike of inflammations for Crohn’s Disease patients in July and August. Surprisingly they did not see this trend for people living with Ulcerative Colitis.
This was co-signed by another group of scientists that published on Nature about the impact of heat waves on IBD-related hospitalizations. And there was an immediate impact. Their conclusion: The presence of a heat wave increased the risk of IBD flares by 4.6%. That’s pretty big.
Most studies report on the impact of heat / summer. This period shows the most correlations when it comes to physical symptoms and inflammations. For me personally, changing to colder weather works almost exactly the same. But maybe that’s just me?
For me personally it’s all about preparing. The next change in seasons I will make sure that everything within my lifestyle is optimized for the upcoming change and its impact. My co-founder at Nori Health and RD Lisa Booth did a great write up on a Crohn’s Disease treatment diet which will be the foundation of that preparation.
So now that we know that there is definitely proof on the impact of seasonal changes, especially for Crohn’s Disease patients, what are we going to do?
Also reducing stress by looking closely at my work/life balance, implementing a strict exercising routine, and avoiding going outside during heat waves are part of that plan. So that next year everything will be better.
What are your personal experiences with seasonal changes? Share your thoughts!