In recent years we have had a number of scares as high infectious and contagious diseases that swept through populations. For example the Ebola outbreak in 2014 which actually got very scary for a time. Whilst there is some debate on how the disease is passed, there is no doubt, that it is the vulnerable with either immature or compromised immune systems that are at the greatest risk. As with any virus, Ebola is opportunistic and wants a host that provides all that it needs.
This is post is not about Ebola but a very much more common viral diseae that does already impact billions around the world every year. Although it does not have the devastating effect of Ebola, constant and repeated cold infections does weaken the immune system and make you vulnerable to more dangerous pathogens.
The common cold.
This time of year many immune systems are compromised by the short days and variable if non-existent sunshine. Vitamin D has been in short supply since October for many of us, and unless we have taken steps to keep our immune system up to scratch with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit as well as plenty of fluids and moderate exercise… we are at risk of catching a cold and being its host for a week or more.
Colds are spread by contact with another person suffering from one and we need to take some basic hygienic precautions to help prevent contagion but we also need to build up our own defences so that we shake off any unwanted bugs that fly in our direction.
What What exactly is the common cold?
- A common cold is an illness caused by a virus infection located in the nose but which can also affect the sinuses, ears and the bronchial tubes.
- There are very few people who do not suffer at least one cold a year and some individuals can suffer 7 to 10 infections.
- As we mature and we are exposed to more and more viruses our body learns to deal more effectively with them by producing more antibodies.
- Babies and the elderly are the most vulnerable and likely to develop chest infections. Also at risk are patients on immune suppressing medications or whose lifestyle and diet have suppressed their ability to fight off infections.
- Remember too, that, in this modern age, viruses are jet setters and can move swiftly from continent to continent on aeroplanes.
- The symptoms include sneezing and sore throat for the first 24 to 36 hours followed by blocked nose, scratchy throat with possibly headaches, feverishness, chilliness and coughs.
- A cold is milder than influenza but a light case of influenza will share the same symptoms.
There is an old saying that “if you treat a cold it will last a week and if you let it run its course it will only last 7 days”. A mild dose may only last a couple of days, particularly if you have a strong immune system or you react quickly with lots of vitamin C in foods and drink. For someone who has a compromised immune system, the symptoms could hang around for up to 2 weeks or longer if it develops into a bronchial infection.
The common cold is not just one virus.
There is not just one cold virus there are over 200 and this makes finding the ultimate cure very difficult. Rhino viruses are the most prevalent and cause over half of the colds we catch.
Cold viruses can only thrive in a living cell, which means your nose. If someone sneezes or coughs on you the first response is to wipe your body off with your hands. The hands are now contaminated and you then touch your mouth and nose passing the virus on. The virus is also passed hand to hand or by touching contaminated surfaces such as door handles.
A cold develops between two and three days after infection.
Cold viruses only live in our human nose and that of our relatives the chimps and other higher primates. Other mammals are lucky and when your cat sneezes it might be down to too much catnip!
Travelling on trains, buses and aircraft are great collecting points for cold and influenza germs with aircraft being the biggest Petri dish of them all.
What causes the symptoms of a cold?
It is not actually the virus that causes all the unpleasant symptoms of a cold. The virus attaches itself to a small proportion of the cells in the lining of the nose. It is in fact the body’s response to the invasion that causes all the problems. The immune system is activated and also some of the nervous system reflexes.
A number of white cells from our defence system, including killer cells, are released into the bloodstream. These include histamines, kinins, interleukins and prostaglandins. When activated, these mediators cause a dilation and leakage of blood vessels and mucus gland secretion. They also activate sneezing and cough reflexes to expel infection from the nose and the lungs.
It is these reactions, caused by our own killer cells, that is treated by the “over the counter” medications, not the actual virus itself. By suppressing our bodies own reactions to the virus we can drive it further into the system causing more harmful infections, particularly if we have already got a weakened immune system.
After the killer cells have dealt with the initial infection antibodies are released that help prevent re-infection by the same virus. This is why as we get older we should suffer from fewer cold infections. Unfortunately, with so many cold viruses available to us we may not have produced enough different antibodies to give us total immunity.
What precautions can we take to prevent catching the cold virus?
There are two main ways to protect yourself from catching a cold virus. One is to minimise the risk of infection through contact and the other is to build up your immune system to enable you to deal with viruses if they do attach themselves to you.
It is almost impossible to avoid contact with people. Some of those people are going to have a cold or influenza and short of doing a ‘Howard Hughes’ and retreating into a sealed room with decontaminants you will have to make do with the main simple but effective precautions.
- Wash your hands frequently to avoid passing the virus into your nose.
- Use a natural anti-viral hand barrier cream. (I use Grapefruit Seed Extract)
There are some interesting areas of contamination – apart from door handles – for those of us who shop, trolley handles have usually passed through many hands…apparently in public toilets the least contaminated surface is the toilet seat but the most concentrated bacterial and viral load is on the tap handles and loo roll holder!
Also, you should exercise regularly in the fresh air and avoid over-heated, unventilated living spaces. If your nasal passages dry out they are more likely to become infected and this applies to those of us who live in air-conditioned and centrally heated environments most of the year.
Boosting the immune system
The second way to protect yourself is to boost your immune system and both Vitamin C and Zinc have been found to help boost the immune system and help with the symptoms for centuries. If you are not able to get out into the winter sunshine at least three times a week with some skin exposure then I do suggest you are eating the few foods that contain vitamin D.. or that you consider taking a supplement during the winter months.
You will find full details of these three vital nutrients in the directory below that gives a breakdown of all the essential nutrients. In the food pharmacy section you find onions and garlic, two very useful ‘over the kitchen counter’ remedies for colds.
A handful of pumpkin seeds as a snack each day will help you boost your Zinc intake.
From a dietary perspective, your diet needs to include all the necessary nutrients for our general health. If you are consciously working on boosting your immune system then certainly you need a high proportion of fresh vegetables and fruit in your diet which contain high levels of antioxidants and other nutrients essential for the immune system.
Drink the juice of a lemon in hot water every morning when you get up and leave 10 minutes before eating your breakfast – a quick shot of Vitamin C before you start the day and also great for getting the body up and running.
Stress plays a large part in the health of our immune system. If you work or live in a stressful environment then you need to find some way of relaxing on a regular basis. Whilst exercise is very good for this, lying on the sofa listening to your favourite music is also very effective.
What do we do when we have been infected?
Cold symptoms are miserable and I realise that to function in this modern world of ours we are sometimes forced into the situation of taking something to suppress those symptoms.
If you work or have a young family, you cannot suddenly take to your bed for three days until the symptoms subside. However, if possible it is better for you and your cold to work with your body and not against it.
It is important, especially within your own family to limit the amount of contagion and the easiest way to do this is to all wash your hands very frequently. Do not share towels, toothbrushes or flannels and do not share drinks from the same cup or glass. When you use a tissue, use once and then discard safely into a plastic bag that you can dispose of later.
Fluids are very important especially as your appetite is likely to be suppressed. High content vitamin C drinks such as hot lemon with ginger, green tea with a slice of lemon and fresh squeezed juice drinks are the best. Other teas that you may find palatable are mint and elderflower or cinnamon with some lemon and a spoonful of honey. These tend to help sore and itchy throats and warm the chest.
A bowl of hot vegetable soup with carrots, spinach, onions and garlic will help warm you and as you will see from the post on onions and garlic they may help you fight off the infection faster.
For centuries eucalyptus and menthol have been used to alleviate the symptoms of congestion and you can buy the essential oils in any health food shop. You can put a few drops of eucalyptus onto a hankie and inhale the aroma or dilute in massage oil and rub on your forehead, chest and upper back. Over the centuries the herb Echinacea has been used to both boost the immune system and also alleviate the symptoms of a cold.
There have been rumours for many years that a cure for the common cold is imminent but in the meantime we may have to resort to some old fashioned remedies to ease the symptoms and help our body do the job it is designed to do, which is protect us. The cynic in me does wonder at times if a cure for the common cold is ever on the cards since worldwide we spend billions each year on medications that are supposed to ease the symptoms!
You will find more information on Zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin D in this directory along with the foods that supply our body with them.