Sometimes a cold virus feels inevitable. That’s why we resign to call it the common cold. While colds can spread in winter. However, in tropical countries, colds spread during the monsoon season, as rain also keeps people indoors. In Antarctica where it is always uncommonly cold, colds happen when a new work crew comes. In other words, cold viruses are like forest fires. The initial spark can spread when conditions favor it. If Smokey Bear were preventing colds, he might say, “Avoid the initial spark. Wash your hands.” But he’d also say, “Don’t be a dry forest with lots of underbrush. Help your body stomp the embers. Take care of yourself.”
It’s bad advertisement to be a sneezing congested doctor. It makes patients wonder who’s the patient. As a traveling doctor in general practice, I felt like a walking bad advertisement, even though I was the poster-child of hand washing. So, one day I literally got sick and tired of it. Here’s what I now do to prevent colds.
Hydrate. If location, location, location is the answer to real estate, then water, water, water is the answer to virus and fire fighting. Avoid over-the-counter decongestants, sleep aides and cough syrups, which are likely to be dehydrating and ineffective [BMJ 2002 Feb 99; 324:329-31]. They tend to treat the smoke rather than the fire. Also, just because something is a beverage, doesn’t mean it’ll hydrate you. Soda pop, concentrated fruit juices, coffee and alcohol are like watering plant leaves and not the roots. Hydrate with water or herbal teas. Humidify bedroom air in dry climates and high altitudes. Since ginger is the anti-cold ingredient in ginger ale, eat the fresh ginger without the sugar and drink water.
Cut sugar. A common mistake in cold-fighting is to drink orange juice. Eating an orange is healthful, but drinking five of them is not. Orange juice is such a quick form of sugar, that’s it’s what we give urgently to treat someone with low blood sugar. Yes, orange juice has vitamin C, but the body needs all that vitamin C just to process the truckload of fructose sugar that the juice also delivered. Vitamin C is best taken in less sugary forms.
Take 1 gram of vitamin C as a supplement on cold-fighting days. Vitamin C’s main job is to recycle glutathione. For added protection or if you don’t tolerate vitamin C, take two other vitamins that fight viruses in the same way. Alternatively, take 1 gram of N-acetyl-cysteine.
Oxygen is an excellent virus-zapper. So what can you take? A walk. Since cigarette smoke gets in oxygen’s way, smokers are among those who most benefit from these prevention strategies.
Zinc is one of the body’s precious metals. Take 50-100mg of zinc on cold-fighting days. Once your sense of taste comes back after our cold, do an experiment called the zinc taste test. If the zinc challenge liquid is tasteless, swallow it and consider daily zinc/copper supplementation. If the zinc liquid tastes bitter, your body has enough zinc.
More black tea, more coffee and more pseudephedrine is not a remedy for the tiredness a cold brings with it. Taking these stimulants is like taking out a high-interest loan. What should we do when we are tired? Rest. Without our rest, colds are more likely to jump firewalls. A cold virus can blaze into bacterial infections such as sinusitis, bronchitis, otitis and pneumonia. Clearing the sinuses can also help sleep.
Sinuses are air spaces that become overflow ponds during a cold. The sinus ponds can stagnate, ripe for bacterial infection? Home remedies, medications and surgery all have the same goal. Open the sinuses. Use nasal sprays, steam with eucalyptus oil or use nasal irrigation. Nasal irrigation is unpleasant but effective. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda in a paper cup of warm water. Shape the cup into a spout and pour the mixture into your nose – best done in the shower. Alternatively, hum. If laughter is good for the soul and whistling is good for the spirit, then humming is good for the sinuses. A research letter in JAMA [Jan 15, 2003 – Vol 289, No. 3] demonstrated how humming vibrates the sinuses open. So, if a cold has you down, just hmmm.
Prevent the 1-2 punch of a cold followed by bacterial pneumonia. People age 65 or over and those with lung disease and certain chronic health conditions are encouraged to ask their doctor about the pneumonia vaccine.
Colds trigger other viruses such as fever blisters, also called cold sores. The amino acid lysine fights cold sores from the inside out. Take 1.5 grams of lysine on cold sore fighting days.
Here’s what you’ve been waiting for. Why chicken soup works…and it does! Soup is good hydration. It has enough salt and starch to help get water into cells. It has enough fat to help the body absorb fatty vitamins. Chicken soup has a good protein energy source, with little sugar. It’s packed with herbs and spices, which are concentrated vitamins and minerals. Naturally it’s full of vitamin C-are.
Economists estimate $40 billion are lost annually to cold-fighting [Arch Intern Med 2003;163:487-494], with $17 billion health care dollars and $22.5 billion for staying home sick. In addition 69% of cold-catchers dip into personal budgets to self-medicate. So with prevention and soup the U.S. could be healthier, and also a little richer.