We are muddling up our genes at our peril

Many of us live in airless, centrally-heated environments
Many of us live in airless, centrally-heated environments

When we get those up and down moments in life what do we blame it on? Bad luck? Someone else? The weather? Only occasionally will someone, mostly in jest, blame it on their genes.

Sandra Chapman

Sandra Chapman

I pose the question because every time I watch a programme on television where people have updated their homes in the latest fashion which, incidentally, is open style living where the ground floor appears to be one united space with no partitions, I wonder how all this is heated in winter?

I know heating oil is cheap at the minute but don’t expect that to last. The solution appears to be underfloor heating, heavily insulated walls and ceiling spaces and triple glazed windows. The well-off can have systems which tap into natural underground heat.

Living in such an airless house might be something to boast about since it cuts energy bills but what does it do to our health? Quite a lot according to Dr Tyler Stevenson, senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen and other scientists at Cambridge University whose research is published in the journal Proceedings of The Royal Society B.

They describe the ‘‘permanent summer’’ effect provided by ‘‘central heating and artificial light’’ as damaging for our immune systems and consequently our health.

Nature has designed our immune systems to ‘‘fire up’’ in winter to help us ward off colds and flu but they return to normal in the spring and summer months when we are less likely to pick up an infection. The scientists suggest that keeping our homes to an even temperature all the year round could be ``confusing seasonal genes’’ leaving the body to think it is permanent summer time. We are not, therefore, fired up to fight off the winter bugs leaving us at risk of illness and early death.

Dr Stevenson: ``Disconcertingly, human lifestyles under artificial conditions provide the most extreme example for disconnect from natural sense, making humans vulnerable to increased morbidity and mortality.’’

Autumn is currently providing us with a splendid, colourful landscape. It’s the time of year when we bring out the winter woollies for outdoors and the onesies for indoors. We get a thrill from seeing the first frosts of the year and take great delight in sitting before a nice fire content that the lined curtains are keeping out the chill. We get that bedding-down-for-the-winter feeling.

It’s how we all used to live before central heating and some would say we were much healthier for it. We change our attitudes about life while cocooned in our homes in winter.

When spring comes we change again as we revel in the joys of nature and soak up the sun for our health’s sake. It’s all in the genes.

But how will it be for those living in their new-style invisibly heated homes (built to official specifications for saving energy) who don’t need a onesie or a pair of super fluffy slippers to keep warm while watching Coronation Street or Downton Abbey?

If the experts are right then their genes will be thrown out of kilter, they may get ill and not understand why.

I don’t know about anyone else but I feel stifled in a place which is kept at a consistent temperature the whole year round.

After an hour I want out for a breath of fresh air. I can’t stand sleeping in a bedroom at night i.e. hotels, that doesn’t have a window opened.

I love the practice of lighting a stove for heat, a job I will have prepared for months in advance by gathering the wood, cutting and storing it. It’s what our ancestors did. They understood the seasons. We try to defy them by having the all-the-year-round heated home. It’s not good for our genes.