Maybe your immune system is missing something. It seems that everyone is getting sick right now – missing work, school, and social activities. The following information might help you a lot in many ways.
A Good Offense Is The Best Defense
Want to go on the offense against the common sickness – cold this winter? Do you sleep a reasonable number of hours and eat pretty well but still get sick multiple times a year? Maybe your immune system is missing something.
The Common Cold Defined
The common cold (also known as nasopharyngitis) is a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract which affects primarily the nose. Symptoms include a cough, sore throat, runny nose, and fever which usually resolve in seven to ten days, with some symptoms lasting up to three weeks. Well over 200 viruses are implicated in the cause of the common cold; the rhinoviruses are the most common.
The Sick Model
Several sicknesses can make you visit the doctor. You get antibiotics. Antibiotics only help you fight bacterial infection – they do nothing to fight the common cold. $1.1 billion is spent annually on unnecessary adult upper respiratory infection antibiotic prescriptions. They were prescribed in 68% of acute respiratory tract visits – and of those, 80% were unnecessary according to CDC guidelines (CDC’s antibiotics fast facts). Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. To their credit, the American Medical Association has been trying to curb unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions for years but many MDs have been slow to change their old habits.
There are no known cures for the common cold, so cold and flu prevention should be your goal. A proactive approach to warding off colds and flu is apt to make you and your family’s life a lot healthier.
There are a number of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients that have been linked to improved immune function. Why not recommend all of these immune boosting nutrients for every patient? Nutrients, through diet or supplementation, will have great results only if your body is low or deficient in that particular nutrient. For example, if you are deficient or low normal in vitamin D, getting more vitamin D may be just what you need to stay cold free all winter but adding vitamin D if you already have normal vitamin D levels will not help. Below are the key nutrients to focus on:
1. Vitamin C: The Veteran Role Player
This was the “wonder” vitamin of the ‘80s that was supposed to stop people from ever getting sick if taken in high doses. Well, it turns out that didn’t work exactly as hoped. However, vitamin C does still have a role in fighting the common cold.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that supports normal growth and development. Vitamin C also helps your body absorb iron. Because your body doesn’t produce or store vitamin C, it’s important to include vitamin C in your diet. Any extra vitamin C will simply be flushed out of your body in your urine.
Fifty years of research on vitamin C and the common cold have yielded conflicting results. Most people eating a healthy diet including fruits and vegetables do not need to supplement their diets with additional vitamin C (remember its water soluble so you just pee it out). However, vitamin C levels drop dramatically when your immune system is fighting a cold. Supplementing with large doses of vitamin C (1000mg or more) at the first sign of a cold can help.
Advice – Add vitamin C at the first sign of a cold.
2. Zinc: The Big Hitter
Zinc is involved in many biochemical functions. Over 300 enzymes require zinc for their activation and nearly 2000 transcription factors require zinc for gene expression. Zinc is essential for immune function. Zinc is also an effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. In therapeutic dosages, zinc has been used for the treatment of acute diarrhea in infants and children, common cold, Wilson’s disease, sickle cell disease and for prevention of blindness in patients with age related macular degeneration.
Several clinical trials document that adequate intakes of vitamin C and zinc ameliorate symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections including the common cold. The U.S. National Research Council set a Tolerable Upper Intake of 40 mg/day of zinc. Too much zinc can be as much of a problem as too little. Most experts recommend 20-30 mg/day.
Advice – Zinc taken daily may help prevent the common cold. Adequate zinc shortens the duration and severity of the common cold.
3. Vitamin D: The Rising Star
In recent years, evidence has accumulated that vitamin D – most commonly associated with the development and maintenance of strong bones – may also play a key role in the immune system. Circumstantial evidence has implicated the wintertime deficiency of vitamin D, which the body produces in response to sunlight, in the seasonal increase in colds and flu. Although exact estimates vary greatly, all studies agree that vitamin D deficiency is very common.
In one study, participants with the lowest vitamin D blood levels – less than 10 ng per milliliter of blood – were about 40 percent more likely to report having a recent respiratory infection than were those with vitamin D levels of 30 or higher. The association was present in all seasons and even stronger among participants with a history of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema.
Vitamin D may also help treat some cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and more. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) as of 30 November 2010, has increased the tolerable upper limit (UL) to 2500 IU per day for ages 1–3 years, 3000 IU per day for ages 4–8 years and 4000 IU per day for ages 9–71+ years (including pregnant or lactating women).
Advice – Adequate vitamin D levels may actually prevent most colds. Odds are that your vitamins D levels are too low.
4. Probiotics: The Team Leader
Probiotics are naturally occurring “good” microorganisms within your GI tract. But unhealthy diets, stress, antibiotics, and other factors can disrupt the body’s balance of “good” and “bad” microorganisms and affect digestive and immune health. Your gut contains more than half of your lymphoid (immune) tissue. Health-enhancing probiotics serve to prevent the overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria in the gut. These two types of bacteria compete for space and “food,” as there are limited resources within the intestinal tract. A ratio of 80-85% beneficial to 15-20% potentially harmful bacteria generally is considered normal within the intestines. Diarrhea, constipation, or the sensation of bloating may be signs that harmful bacteria are taking over your gut.
Advice – We recommend that everybody should take a good quality probiotic.
5. Other Nutrients: The Minor League Prospects
There are hundreds or thousands of other nutrients that may play a beneficial role in boosting immunity. Many of these nutrients are already in products you may be taking. I’ll keep you posted as new research comes out in support of any of these items.
Advice – The jury is still deliberating. Make sure that any botanicals do not conflict with other medications you may be taking.
If you are below ideal levels of any of these nutrients, you would benefit greatly by supplementing them this year to help prevent the common cold. I want to hear what you are doing nutritionally to help prevent the common cold in the comments section. My next post will be dedicated to all of the new information about vitamin D: “Don’t be deficient in D”.