Sore or scratchy throat, runny or stuffy nose, cough, sneezing, and all-over blahs and achiness? Have you had a winter cold yet? Each year in the United States children will get an average of 6 to 8 colds, and adults 2 to 4. The common cold, caused by two hundred different virus strains, is the most frequent acute illness in the world. Colds are not a serious medical problem, but occasionally they are complicated by bacterial superinfection – such as sinusitis or otitis media and bronchitis. A little knowledge might keep you from having to suffer even one cold. Staying healthy is about keeping your exposure down and your defenses up.
Colds require human contact, not cold weather. Colds are primarily spread via hand-to-hand transmission of virus contaminated nasal secretions from close, prolonged contact among individuals. The eyes and nose, highly susceptible to viral penetration, are believed to be the gateway of entry for cold viruses. Viruses are picked up on your hands and then you transmit them when you touch your nose and eyes. The cold virus can survive for hours on your hands, and also on doorknobs, countertops and phone handles. The aerosol route of transmission via sneezing and coughing has actually received little scientific support. In fact, even kissing is unlikely to spread a cold because most viruses are shed from the nasal mucosa, not the mouth.
If you can keep your hands away from your eyes and nose you will have gone a long way towards not giving yourself a cold. But that can prove difficult for most folks – one study has found that our fingers go to our eyes or nose at least once every three hours. We can counteract the effects of this behavior by washing our hands often – at lease after using the bathroom and before you eat, and more often if you are in contact with anyone suffering with a cold. Make it a habit to lather up, for a good 10 seconds with a non-bacterial soap (this will discourage drug resistant bacteria). Although not very high tech, hand washing remains a first line of defense against infection. Along the same lines, salt water nasal rinsing on a daily basis has also been found to significantly reduce infection.
Keep your Defenses Up
Despite your best measures, cold virus can penetrate the first line of defense in your nose and eyes. The stronger your immune system, the greater your resistance to infections. The foundation to an optimally functioning immune system is basic good health advice; a nutrient-dense diet, enough rest and sleep, adequate exercise, plenty of fresh air and water, and a positive outlook.
In a nutshell, a nutrient-dense diet that will support the immune system includes adequate protein (eggs, fish, meat, soy), high quality fats and oils (olive oil, nuts, seeds, organic dairy), and plenty of complex carbohydrates (garden vegetables and whole fruit). It is low in processed foods, fast foods, partially hydrogenated oils, starchy carbohydrates (bread, pastas, potatoes) and sugars.
Sugars, even natural sugar such as honey and fruit juices, depress the immune system. After a 100 gram (4 oz.) portion of sugar (fructose, glucose, honey, fruit juices) the ability of white blood cells to engulf foreign virus and bacteria is reduced by 50%, beginning less than 30 minutes after ingestion and lasting for over 5 hours.
Even if you follow an optimum diet you may choose to take nutritional supplements to insure you are getting adequate amounts of proven immune-boosting agents. These might include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, garlic, echinacea, astragalus, and/or elderberry.