Poop and Seasons

Before we go into the main topic, let us do a little geography. A popular quote says, for everything under the sun there is a time and season. We now know how the different seasons come along. From autumn; to winter; to spring; to summer – these seasons have different characteristics. First, let us talk about winter. It comes from a Proto-German word “wintruz” or winter meaning water (or anything that has to do with water). This is the coldest season of the year and you normally see lots of water, snow, hail, and rain. In addition to that, the winter season is caused by the earth tilting away from the sun what this means is that you will have longer nights than days. It might even be dark by 11:00 am in the mornings. The winter is less pronounced at the equator which is the center of the earth but more pronounced in the tropic of cancer and tropic of Capricorn. It is most pronounced around the north and south poles which tend to tilt the farthest from the sun. During an event called the solstice which happens twice a year, one pole has 24 hours of daylight while the other pole has 24 hours of darkness. This reverses during the other solstice. The spring is like a transition between winter and summer. Here, the earth is starting to tilt towards the sun. It’s a very short period. It starts to get warmer here. There is still rainfall and plants and flowers start to blossom; animals begin to come out of hibernation and we begin to see the beauty of nature. It’s like a season of rebirth – hence, the name spring. This leads to summer which happens when the surface of the earth faces the sun. Logically, we can say that this is the hottest season because the earth is facing the sun. In addition to that, you also have the longest days. It may still be bright as noon by 10:00 pm. Take note that the earth’s north and south pole tend to tilt to and away from the sun. This is due to the fact that the earth has a tilt on its rotational axis by around 23.5 degrees – so as it revolves around the sun, different parts of the earth are exposed to the sun at different times. This means that as the north pole faces the sun, the south pole faces away from the sun – as a result, we see summer at the north pole and winter at the south pole. When the south pole faces the sun, the reverse happens and this happens in a continuous cycle. Around June, you would have mostly summer on the north pole and winter around the south and sometime around December you would have more summer around the southern hemisphere like Australia and winter on the northern hemisphere in places like America. These seasons influence everything around us from the weather to us as a person. That brings us to the main topic. We are going to tell you how the seasons affect your poop. How are you likely to poo differently during the different seasons?

First, let’s make a little disclaimer, most of the things we are going to discuss are based on studies that are still ongoing. There are many variables in the environment and ourselves like access to good drinking water, personal hygiene, health and so on that affects our poop. However, the weather has a contributing factor to the way we poop. We are going to discuss how the elements of the seasons affect your poop.  

How does the weather affect your poop?

The weather does not seem to directly affect poop but it definitely has some effect on poop. Elements of the weather like temperature, humidity, and rainfall have different effects on our poop. This effect is more pronounced in children especially in children under five according to some studies.

Temperature

Very hot or cold temperatures have been observed by a study to have an effect on diarrhea: especially in children. Children are more prone to diarrhea during heat waves. The longer the heat wave or the stronger the heat wave, the worse diarrhea tends to be and the more prone children are to diarrhea the study observed. The study which was done in Brisbane observed that though the children of Brisbane seem to have adapted to mild heat, they were still vulnerable to more intense heat. The spread of infectious diseases including organisms that can cause diarrhea have been an increasing concern with climate change. Extreme weather changes whether hot or cold during seasons can cause stress. The release of cortisol (a stress hormone) and other glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids from the adrenal glands reduce immunity (the steroid medications that we use which reduce our immunity like hydrocortisone are derived from these stress hormones). A reduction in immunity means an increased chance for the microbes to cause diarrhea. This is a reason why the increasing number and duration of heat waves due to global warming and climate change are a cause for concern. Other studies have shown that warmer temperatures also affect the way foods are prepared and stored. More care has to be taken to prevent spoilage of food as the warm environment is very conducive for bacteria to thrive. According to the studies, the warmer environment can lead to a higher chance of food poisoning because it is conducive to diarrhea-causing bacteria like Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp, and cholera-causing bacteria. In fact, some studies done in Fiji, Peru and Dhaka showed that a 1°C increase in temperature was directly proportional to about a 3%, 8% and 6% increase in diarrhea cases respectively. This will, of course, lead to a higher chance of getting diarrhea. To make things worse, we also lose more electrolytes during warmer seasons. That is why we get dehydrated during hot seasons. When we sweat or pee, we lose some electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. We rely on the water we drink to get them back. The symptoms of dehydration are not really due to lack of water (we are 70% water and can’t really lack water). We experience dehydration due to lack of electrolytes. During dry seasons we lose more electrolytes because we pee more and we sweat more. Even when you don’t think you are sweating you lose some water droplets as you breathe out. You will need more water to replace those electrolytes because most drinking waters have these electrolytes. If you have diarrhea due to food poisoning, it could quickly get worse as you would need yet more water to replace the lost electrolytes. In summary, during the dry season better known as the summer, you have more risk of experiencing dehydration and bacterial diarrhea due to food poisoning.

Wow! Summer seems bad enough, what about winter? Well, we are not completely out of the loop. As it was mentioned earlier, the effect is more pronounced with children. It is not the opposite of hot temperatures as some of us might be thinking. We are still susceptible to diarrhea. Apart from your stress hormones which lower your immunity during extreme cold, viruses love the cold environment more. Think about the flu season. It’s during the autumn and winter where the cold rules. For those who have not guessed about it already, we are talking about viral caused diarrhea. Viruses that cause diarrhea like rotavirus thrive more during the winter. So while bacteria-caused diarrhea rules during the summer and spring, viral diarrhea which is usually milder rules during the winter. In fact, according to a study, a higher number of diarrhea cases was recorded during the summer and autumn periods. Although, the study was not done in America, like the Brisbane studies done in Australia. However, the results still show a logical correlation and we may find similar results if we do the study in America. Though factors such as the difference in hygiene levels may play a role. For example, good hygiene standards which are usually seen in America will curb the spread of bacterial diarrhea but may not be able to curb the spread of viral diarrhea as much.

So it may not be out of order to say that although we are at increased risk of diarrhea during summer, it is mostly threats from bacteria and we may not have to worry too much about that because America has a good hygiene standard. However, we will have to worry more about viral bacteria during the winter.

Rainfall

The heaviest rainfall is seen during winter – remember that we said winter is named after water. However, due to the extreme cold, the rain freezes up and we see snow. We see actual rain during the spring season which is a transition period from winter to summer. Hence, more rain and thunderstorms are seen during the winter and spring than during autumn and summer. Higher rainfalls increase the risk of getting water-borne diseases like those caused by bacteria. During the spring, there is a rise in temperature and because of this, it stops snowing and starts raining. As we said earlier, spring is life, plants start to get reborn, animals come out of hibernation and so on. Diarrhea-causing bacteria are also reborn and come out of hibernation “maybe to get some fresh air” (since they are part of life). What is worse about this is that the bacteria and viruses that cause bacteria also get to have a good means of transportation: water. Heavy rainfall tends to wash away bacteria and viruses from contaminated poop into waterways. These germs may find their way into drinking or cooking water and where there is poor hygiene or food is improperly cooked you may have an outbreak of diarrhea. The summer season usually has the tendency to have the highest cases of bacteria-caused disease like some types of diarrhea, but the spring actually poses the greatest risk of the spread of diarrhea, both viral and bacterial. The spring is a short season of about 4 weeks and there is an incubation period of about 3 days to 2 weeks from infection to when you actually see the signs of the disease. Due to this, people tend to get infected with diarrhea-causing germs during the spring and then come down with diarrhea during the summer. Some studies have found an association between high rainfall, flooding events and outbreaks of gastrointestinal diseases of which diarrhea is a symptom in America and some other countries. A study conducted in America showed that diarrhea incidents increased when there was a heavy rainfall period following a dry period. There is a lot of rain during the spring followed by a dry summer. It makes some sense to say that the microbes that can cause diarrhea spread more during the spring but we start seeing more of actual diarrhea as we approach summer. This, as we mentioned earlier, could be due to the short period of spring and the incubation period of diarrhea (the period between when someone is infected with a bacteria or virus that causes diarrhea and when the person actually starts experiencing diarrhea). The study recommended that more attention should be given to water treatment during rainy seasons. Since, this issue is usually worse in children due to the fact that children have relatively lower immunity and more tendency to do unhygienic things (let’s admit it, children are not the most hygienic of people), we have to pay more attention to the hygiene of our children especially during the spring season and also during summer. It is a good idea to make sure the water we and our children take is treated properly. In America, there is more availability of treated water. However, it is advisable to meet a health professional for advice to find out if additional water treatment options are necessary. This will vary based on water treatment being practiced in our locations of course.

In putting it all together, we can see that diarrhea cases tend to be higher with higher temperatures. The spread of microbes that can cause diarrhea is higher during spring but more cases of diarrhea, especially bacteria caused diarrhea, come up more during the summer season. Hence, there is a need to be extra careful and practice more hygiene during spring and summer, especially for the children. You may also want to be careful of food during festivals and celebrations at summer. By winter, the risk seems not to be as much as summer, but there is an increased risk of viral diarrhea spread by organisms like rotavirus. In all, temperature and rainfall are only part of the factors that affect the spread of diarrhea. We also have to consider other factors like hygiene, environmental sanitation and so on in order to have a clear picture of what causes bacteria. Good hygiene at all times and good sanitation with water we use to drink and prepare food are vital in preventing diarrhea caused by viruses and bacteria.

References

Elizabeth J. Cariton, Joseph N. S. Eisenberg, Jason Goldstick, Karen Levy. “Heavy rainfall events and diarrhea incidence: the role of social and environmental factors.” Am j Epidemiol. 179, no. 3 (2013): 344-352.

Fidele K. Mukinda, Gentille Musengimana, Hassan Mahomed. “Temperature Variability and Occurrence of Diarrhoea in Children under Five-Years-Old in Cape Town Metropolitan Sub-Districts.” Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 13, no. 895 (2016): 1-12.

Shilu Tong, Zhiwei Xu, Yang Liu. “Assessment of the temperature effect on childhood diarrhea using satellite imagery.” Scientific reports , 2014.

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