It’s that time of the season again. Here are a few tips from Dr. Mercola on combating the common cold:
“The common cold is the leading cause of doctor visits in the U.S.1 There are several factors that increase your risk for a cold, including:2
•Season — A majority of colds occur during fall and winter months,3 and research reveals there is more than one reason for this. For starters, cold weather drives people indoors where exposure to those who are already ill increases. Cold temperatures also weaken the first line of immune defense in your nose.4
Research5 reveals the immune system responds slower at cold temperatures than at body temperature, and the rhinovirus — known to replicate faster at lower temperatures — typically invades your body through the nose, where the air tends to be cooler than body temperature. Dry winter air may also dry your mucous membranes, making the symptoms of a cold worse.
•Age — The immune system in children younger than 6 is still developing and they have not yet developed resistance to many viruses, which is why children tend to have far more colds than adults.
•Weakened immune system — Poor diet, lack of sleep, stress, food allergies, overtraining and concurrent or chronic illness are factors that can weaken your immune system.
•Smoking — Compared to nonsmokers, smokers are more prone to colds and have a greater risk of developing subsequent infections.6
•Exposure — A cold passes through direct physical contact with one of nearly 200 viruses that can trigger symptoms.7 Someone who has a cold can pass it to you by touching your hand, sneezing near your face, or through contact with their body where the cold virus has been sprayed after a cough or sneeze. Hence, being in close proximity and contact with others, such as at school, day care or on an airplane, increases your risk for contracting a cold.
Once inside your body, the virus attaches itself to the lining of your throat or nose, triggering your body’s immune system to send white blood cells. If you’ve built antibodies to this virus in the past, the fight doesn’t last long.
However, if the virus is new, your body sends reinforcements to fight, inflaming your nose and throat. With so much of your body’s resources aimed at fighting the cold, you’re left feeling tired and miserable. The good news is there are simple ways to strengthen your immune function to ward off both the common cold and influenza.
Four nutrients known to offer powerful protection during cold and flu season are vitamins C and D, zinc and beta glucans. These can also be used acutely if you feel like you’re coming down with a cold or flu. Getting plenty of prebiotic fiber and sleep are also important.
Vitamins C Offers Powerful Protection Against Cold and Flu
Research8,9,10 supports the use of vitamin C during a common cold to reduce the duration of symptoms. Typically, the higher the dose you take the better the results during a cold. However, there are limitations when taking oral vitamin C, as it can cause loose bowels.
You can get higher doses when using intravenous vitamin C or liposomal vitamin C. Personally, I use 3 to 4 grams of liposomal vitamin C every hour in the rare occasion when I get sick, with great results.11
As a general rule, I don’t recommend high doses of vitamin C unless it’s in liposomal form. I also don’t recommend long-term or chronic high-dose vitamin C supplementation as this may cause nutritional imbalances.
For example, taking large doses of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) on a regular basis lowers your level of copper, so if you are already deficient in copper and take high doses of vitamin C, you can actually compromise your immune system.
So, whereas temporarily taking megadoses of liposomal vitamin C to combat a case of the cold or flu will be helpful, for year-round support, get your vitamin C from food instead.
Kiwi fruits, for example, are exceptionally high in vitamin C. Research12 published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that a kiwifruit-packed diet reduced the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections symptoms in older individuals. Other foods high in vitamin C include: citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, papaya and sweet potatoes.
High-Dose Vitamin C for Viral Infections
According to Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, a biochemist who was the first to isolate vitamin C and who received a Nobel Prize for his work with the vitamin, “health” occurs when there is an ample flow and interchange of electrons in your cells. Impaired or poor electron flow and interchange equals “disease,” and when the flow and interchange ceases entirely, your cells die. Oxidation, caused by free radicals in your body, involves the loss of electrons.
Antioxidants counter the disease process caused by oxidation (loss of electrons) by supplying electrons. Vitamin C is a major antioxidant, and perhaps the most important electron donor to maintain optimal electron flow in your cells. As reported by Orthomolecular Medicine News Service (a nonprofit and noncommercial informational resource):13
“High dose vitamin C is a remarkably safe and effective treatment for viral infections. In high doses, vitamin C neutralizes free radicals, helps kill viruses, and strengthens your body’s immune system. Taking supplemental vitamin C routinely helps prevent viral infections.”
For severe types of influenza, such as swine flu, very high dosages of intravenous vitamin C are recommended, typically between 200,000 to 300,000 milligrams or more.14 For this, you would need to see a physician. Vitamin C, at saturation, can even replace antiviral drugs in many cases.
Vitamin D Deficiency May Be an Underlying Cause of Cold and Flu
Low vitamin D also increases your risk of contracting a cold or flu.15 Vitamin D — produced in your skin in response to sun exposure — is a steroid hormone with powerful antimicrobial activity, capable of fighting bacteria, viruses and fungi. The evidence is clear that the lower your vitamin D level, the higher your risk of developing a cold or the flu.16
Dr. John Cannell, founder of the Vitamin D Council, was one of the first to introduce the idea that vitamin D deficiency may actually be an underlying cause of influenza. His hypothesis17 was initially published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection in 2006.18
His hypothesis was subsequently followed up and supported by studies published in the Virology Journal in 200819 and the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2009.20 Since then, a number of other studies have come to similar conclusions. Most recently, a scientific review21,22 of 25 randomized controlled trials confirmed that vitamin D supplementation boosts immunity and cuts rates of cold and flu.
Like Cannell before them, the researchers believe vitamin D offers protection by increasing antimicrobial peptides in your lungs, and that “[t]his may be one reason why colds and flus are most common in the winter, when sunlight exposure (and therefore the body’s natural vitamin D production) is at its lowest …”23
According to this international research team, one person would be spared from influenza for every 33 people taking a vitamin D supplement, whereas 40 people have to receive the flu vaccine in order to prevent one case of the flu. Among those with severe vitamin D deficiency at baseline, 1 in 4 people taking a vitamin D supplement would be protected from the flu.
For optimal protection, get tested at least twice a year and aim for a level between 60 and 80 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) year-round. While sensible sun exposure is your best source of vitamin D, many cannot get enough sun during winter months, which may make oral supplementation a necessity. Your best source is sensible sun exposure.
If this is not an option where you live, using an oral vitamin D3 supplement is advisable. In this case, keep in mind you may also need take additional calcium and vitamin K2 (MK7 form) to protect your arteries, and magnesium to activate vitamin D.
Cold or Flu Symptoms? Try This Crash Treatment
If you are coming down with cold or flu-like symptoms and have not been taking vitamin D on a regular basis, you can take 50,000 international units (IUs) a day for three days to treat the acute infection. (Cannell believes the dose could even be as high as 1,000 IUs per pound of body weight for three days.)
That said, there’s still the possibility that vitamin D won’t work, even in these mega-doses, if you’ve never been exposed to the antigens before. (Ultimately, your best bet is to maintain a vitamin D level between 60 and 80 ng/mL year-round.) Alternatively, take 3 to 4 grams of liposomal vitamin C every hour until you feel better.”
Find out his other recommended remedies including zinc and getting more sleep. Finish reading the rest of the article over on Dr. Mercola’s site at: Mercola.com