September and October has brought media attention back to the common cold and the possibility of getting closer to finding a possible cure. Colds are our most common infectious disease with adults on average getting 2-4 each year and children between 5-10 (1). Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses, of which there are around 160 different types and as they mutate so easily they rapidly become resistant to drugs, or learn to hide from the immune system, which affects our ability to target them and rapidly stop them in their tracks (2). The latest research has identified a key protein that some viruses need to multiply inside human cells. They have discovered disabling that protein might have the potential to stop a cold virus from developing (3). Many scientists feel this is an interesting step forward but perhaps we’re still a long way off a definitive answer.
However, whilst research in this field continues there are plenty of things we can do ourselves to support immunity and health potentially improving our resilience and resistance to colds, runny noses, coughs and sneezes.
Prevention – Hand washing is a highly effective way to prevent the spread of the common cold and special attention should be paid to the fingernails, between the fingers, and the wrists (2). Teaching children to wash their hands regularly is also important especially given their increased frequency to getting a cold.
Vitamin C – Extra doses of vitamin C could benefit some individuals who contract the common cold and even if they are already taking daily vitamin C supplements. Research has found this may have the potential to reduce symptoms and duration (4). Increasing vitamin C rich foods such as peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, kiwi, broccoli and berries may also be beneficial.
Digestive Health – Improving our gut bacteria may also help to improve our resistance to common cold infections and improve overall mood (5). As 80% of our immune system is found in and around our intestines, the health of our digestive system is a key factor for optimal immunity. Probiotics are the bacteria that help support the natural balance of organisms most notably in the intestines. We can include probiotics as a supplement (see The Food Teacher™ Immune Boost Box for one such example) and/or increase probiotic rich foods in our diet such as cottage cheese, kefir, olives and natural yoghurt. Prebiotics help to nourish and stimulate the growth of bacteria in our intestines and they also work with probiotics to support balance. Prebiotic foods include asparagus, bananas, garlic, honey, leeks, legumes, onions, peas and yoghurt.
Hydration – Keeping the mucus membranes in our nose and mouth may help protect our bodies exposure to the cold virus. Drinking water during the winter months is important and even swapping caffeinated drinks for herbal teas/water can help to increase hydration.
Eat a Rainbow – Eating a diet rich in a rainbow of different fruit and vegetables is a great way to boost immunity. Orange coloured fruit and veg, and dark green leafy vegetables in particular, contain beta carotene, a vitamin A pre-cursor, and other antioxidants that help support white blood cell production, which help us fight infection. Vitamin A is also important for the health and integrity of our mucus membranes. Carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash, kale, cabbage, spinach are all great sources (6, 7).
Vitamin D – Especially in the UK our days are particularly dark and short in the autumn and winter, so we are at increased risk of low vitamin D levels. GP’s don’t tend to test much as they believe we are commonly deficient. It is generally accepted that supplementing vitamin D with K2 in the winter months (October to May) is a good idea.
Garlic and onions – Foods in the allium family may help protect us against the cold virus. These have antimicrobial effects, so include them in your cooking daily in soups, sauces, stews, stir frys and roasted vegetables (8).
Fresh air – getting outside can make us feel better, may also boost white blood cells and generally provide an all round tonic for our health. Build this in alongside some of the other top tips to help feed off the common cold this winter.
At The Food Teacher™ Clinic we offer additional information about Immunity in a minibook which can be ordered or downloaded or you can purchase an Immune Boost Box, which also makes a great gift. This includes Elderberry (rich in vitamin C), probiotics and a soothing Lemon, Ginger & Manuka Honey tea. There is currently 25% discount on this box, available until 18th December 2019.
- Australia, H., 2019. Colds and flu–an overview.
- Sexton, D.J., McClain, M.T. and Hirsch, M.S., 2019. Patient education: The common cold in adults (Beyond the Basics). com.
- Diep et al. Enterovirus pathogenesis requires the host methyltransferase SETD3. Nature Microbiology. Published online September 16, 2019. doi:10.1038/s41564-019-0551-1.
- Ran, L., Zhao, W., Wang, J., Wang, H., Zhao, Y., Tseng, Y. and Bu, H., 2018. Extra dose of vitamin C based on a daily supplementation shortens the common cold: A meta-analysis of 9 randomized controlled trials. BioMed research international, 2018.
- Murata, M., Kondo, J., Iwabuchi, N., Takahashi, S., Yamauchi, K., Abe, F. and Miura, K., 2018. Effects of paraprobiotic Lactobacillus paracasei MCC1849 supplementation on symptoms of the common cold and mood states in healthy adults. Beneficial microbes, 9(6), pp.855-864.
- Konczak, I. and Zhang, W., 2004. Anthocyanins—more than nature’s colours. BioMed Research International, 2004(5), pp.239-240.
- Calderaro, A., Barreca, D., Bellocco, E., Smeriglio, A., Trombetta, D. and Laganà, G., 2020. Colored phytonutrients: Role and applications in the functional foods of anthocyanins. In Phytonutrients in Food(pp. 177-195). Woodhead Publishing.
- Ajami, M. and Vazirijavid, R., 2019. Garlic (Allium sativum L.). In Nonvitamin and Nonmineral Nutritional Supplements (pp. 227-234). Academic Press.