Are you one of the lucky ones that never seems to catch a cold? If not then you might want to read on. This article is for those people who want to know about some evidence based strategies for preventing a common cold.
Of course there are plenty of remedies for reducing the symptoms and duration of a cold, but isn’t it true that prevention is better than cure? In fact, in traditional medicine systems such as herbal medicine, the ability to resist infections comes down to the innate health and vitality of the individual. A person in robust health is more able to resist infections such as the common cold. So, a herbalist would seek to support the vitality or vital force of the person so that they are less liable to infection and better able to resist disease.
Feeling run down is a sure sign that you need to look after yourself. Your natural resistance can be lowered by a number of lifestyle factors such as a period of stress, overwork, lack of quality sleep, or a diet lacking in nutrients. The immune system is compromised and the lowered vitality leaves you predisposed and open to attack by microbes.
The main thing you can do to boost resistance to infection is to maintain your immune defences and counter those predisposing factors. For instance, by learning how to manage your stress, such as with a regular meditation practice, yoga or by spending time in nature. By making it a priority to get enough good quality, refreshing sleep. And, by ensuring that you eat a diet rich in micronutrients, such as the Mediterranean diet.
Supplements for cold prevention
While the research shows that some herbs and supplements may help to prevent the occurrence of a common cold it could be argued that it is not really necessary to take a supplement all year round in order to prevent what is usually a mild and self-limiting illness. Especially when lifestyle factors and a decent diet might do the trick. However, a case could be made for supplementation in certain circumstances, such as short term periods of high physical stress or when you know that you’re unlikely to get quality sleep.
Vitamin C is an essential component of the diet since humans have lost the ability to make it. It is a water soluble vitamin that can give a boost to the immune system through increasing the activity of several immune cells. So it should be no surprise that there is evidence that vitamin C supplementation may help to prevent the incidence or reduce the duration of common cold infection. Though its fair to say the studies are inconsistent in their results. For instance, a meta-analysis of the available data showed no significant difference between vitamin C and placebo for reducing the incidence of the common cold. However, in a subgroup of six trials that involved soldiers, skiers and marathon runners exercising in cold climates, vitamin C supplementation reduced the incidence of colds by 50% compared to placebo. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables might typically include 200mg/day of vitamin C. Yet even this amount is quite low compared to some of the studies on vitamin C supplementation, where typically 1000 to 2000mg/day might be given.
Green tea contains chemicals called catechins that enhance immunity against some of the viruses responsible for the common cold. Several studies in Japan found that gargling several times a day with green tea reduced the occurrence of influenza and common cold infection, though researchers were unsure whether the benefit was due to the gargling itself or to the green tea. In any case, it seems at least a safe and simple way to improve your immunity against respiratory viruses.
Vitamin D has a number of important roles in the body, including effects on immune function. In this study vitamin D at a dosage between 400IU to 2000IU per day was shown to help prevent respiratory infections such as the common cold. The best source of vitamin D for most people would be the vitamin D they make themselves in the skin during exposure to the sun. Though there are also food sources of vitamin D such as cold-water fatty fish and shellfish, most other foods are low in this vitamin. However, when we are talking about your blood levels of vitamin D, both low levels and high levels can be a problem, so it’s always wise to have your vitamin D status checked before supplementing.
Garlic is a traditional herbal remedy for fighting infections caused by bacteria and viruses. And, its antimicrobial effects have been confirmed by several studies. In a Cochrane Database review researchers state “a single trial suggested that garlic may prevent occurrences of the common cold but more studies are needed to validate this finding.” However, garlic has so many other health benefits that it’s a favourite herbal remedy of mine. I usually add fresh garlic to food, about a clove per day, per person, raw or lightly cooked. One tip with garlic is to crush or chop it ten minutes before use, to allow the medicinally beneficial constituents to form.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that confer a health benefit when consumed in adequate amount. These beneficial microorganisms are available as supplements and are also found in fermented foods. As well as improving gut function they have also been found to improve immunity. This meta-analysis of studies on the effect of probiotics on prevention of the common cold found a marginal benefit.
Other tips to reduce infection
Regular exercise of moderate intensity is beneficial to the immune system. For instance, one trial suggested that 45 minutes of moderate intensity, brisk walking daily for 15 weeks increased levels of certain antibodies by 20%. On the whole, a meta-analysis of available trials found that regular, moderate intensity, aerobic exercise may help to prevent occurrence of a cold, but researchers admit that larger studies are needed to confirm the data.
Lastly, a major tip for prevention of the common cold, is to wash your hands regularly. Viral infections such as the common cold are easily passed from person to person through exposure to surfaces such as doorknobs and stair rails or bannisters. Touching your nose, eyes or mouth with contaminated hands allows viruses easy access to your body.