Most Americans rely on their heat and air conditioning systems to stay safe and comfortable. The harsh winters that hit much of the United States would not be tolerable without furnaces, boilers and heat pumps to keep us warm. A recent review of scientific literature, however, has suggested that central heating and other modern amenities like indoor lighting can actually be contributing to human illness.
Letting Our Immune Systems Off Easy
Your heat and air conditioning system can cause illness directly, of course, if it leaks carbon monoxide or other gases, or dust and allergens build up in your vents. That’s why it’s important to receive regular HVAC maintenance in order to protect indoor air quality and your health. However, research has shown that our indoor heating might actually cause problems even when it’s working exactly the way it’s supposed to.
The issue has to do with human evolution. Before we lived in homes equipped with central heating, people were far more exposed to cold winter months than we are now. Many scientists believe that our immune systems consequently became more active during the winter so they could better fight off seasonal illnesses. When we effectively bypass that exposure to cold with ubiquitous central heating, we may be repressing our immune systems as well, the research suggests.
Increasing the Probability of Disease
“When the outside environment is seasonal but your internal environment is constant you have a disconnect,” study author Tyler Stevenson told The Guardian, “That can increase the probability of different diseases or pathological states.” This isn’t the first study to suggest that our heating habits might be disrupting some of our natural systems. Other research, for example, has found evidence that turning down the thermostat can help people lose weight by forcing their metabolisms to work a little harder.
So does all this mean that we should shut down our heat and air conditioning systems and live like our ancestors did, huddled around fires to stay warm? Of course not – the benefits we receive from living in comfortable indoor environments year-round surely outweigh any consequences. However, this knowledge could be a good excuse to turn the thermostat down a few notches. You could help give your immune system a little conditioning, and if nothing else, you are guaranteed to save money on your winter heating bills.
When in doubt, call your trusted HVAC professionals at Debord’s One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning.