Gill Stannard

Monday, April 30, 2007

Preventing colds

While winter is associated with colds and other respiratory infections, it’s autumn that heralds the beginning of the cold season. This makes it the perfect time to put a prevention strategy in place.

Colds are not always contained to the cooler months - children clock up on average 6-10 and adults 2-4 bouts throughout the year. Interestingly elderly people tend to have the least of all. Naturopathically speaking it is considered to not be unhealthy for an adult to have 1-2 colds every year. To reduce infections we tend to look at the role of nutrition, stress, food intolerances, allergies, rest and immune system function.

The ‘flu (influenza) is not a bad cold. The reality is you often feel miserable with a cold – suffering from a runny or blocked nose, fuzzy head, fatigue and perhaps a fever. But the influenza virus is different to that of the common cold and the symptoms, though they may seem like an amplified version– will include fever, aches and pains and total debility. Taking a day off work with the ‘flu is not optional – you’ll be in bed for at least a week, unable to do little at all. The flu vaccine doesn’t stop you from getting a cold, much to popular belief. In fact, the flu vaccine effectiveness and protocol has been seriously questioned by a leading medical peer review organization.

So how do we reduce our chances of succumbing to a cold too many?

Number one strategy in both conventional and complementary medicine is very obvious, if not impractical – stay awake from sick people!

We can’t all live in an isolation bubble, so the second strategy of hand washing is important to follow. The “Oprah” tip of not just using soap but rubbing your hands together long enough to be effective, is to sing the ‘happy birthday’ song right through to ensure you are washing them properly. Rubbing your eyes and nose with germy fingers is an assured way to incubate a cold, so hand washing reduces the route between droplet exposure and becoming sick.

Naturopathic options for adults include:

Vitamin C while there is evidence for and against (though none showing a harmful effect) the most popular protocol for cold prevention, taking a minimum dose of at least 500-1,000 mg of Vitamin C a day is worth including. Remember to avoid taking with caffeine of any kind and increase your dosage at any early signs of infection.

Cod liver oil
Sorry, there’s no vegan alternative for this one. The type of vitamin A found in fish is considered to strengthen the mucus membranes against bugs. This is about fortifying the first line of attack. So far there is no significant meta-analysis for this protocol. I would recommend you take 2,000 iu/day as a preventative (this level is safe in pregnancy but more than 8,000 iu/day is considered potentially harmful).

Have you ever noticed that you come down with a cold after a period of increased stress? While we are in the thick of it, our natural cortisone levels are slightly protective against infections such as colds but when these levels drop a little we become more likely to succumb to infection. To prevent wrecking your next holiday by spending it nursing a cold, stress management is needed now. Reduce alcohol and sugar, do some regular stress busting exercise (as simple as a daily walk), take a B or multi vitamin (with at least 50 mg of B6) and get a minimum of 7 hours sleep every night.

Up the vegetables
Almost as simplistic as hand washing is aiming for at least 5 different vegetables, especially the darker orange and green coloured ones and a couple of fruits every day. Contrary to popular myth, a supermarket bought orange has very little vitamin c left in it (compared to one freshly picked). For some people, drinking orange juice with a full blown cold increases the yucky mucus!

While on the subject of mucus – cutting right down on dairy and flour containing foods may make it flow a little more freely. Sugar is also known to encourage infections.

The rest of the dispensary
Everyone has their favourite remedy for the prevention or treatment of colds.

A new kid on the block is Vitamin E, which performed well in a placebo controlled trial of elderly residents in nursing homes.

A perennial favourite is the immune boosting properties of zinc.

2 herbs that are top of the pops are Echinacea and Astragalus. While I tend to think of Astragalus as a herb for convalescence and general debility, the Echinacea debate amongst herbalists is interesting. Many swear by its preventative properties while traditionalists suggest it is best used to treat acute infection. There is no evidence to suggest that taking Echinacea on a daily basis is harmful but there’s no proof that it is effective. However, quality of product is a huge issue in the efficacy of Echinacea and there is room for better research into this.

Some interesting information and statistics on the common cold at

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