The Common Cold & Immunity - Practical Preventative Medicine.
Why do some people get lots of coughs and colds while others seem to cruise through winter with barely a sneeze? “I hardly ever get a cold” they cheerfully assert much to the frustration of others. So while conventional medicine attempts to boost immunity through immunisations, a lot of research has been done by complementary medicine to understand factors that affect our immune systems. Some of the most important factors include diet, stress and sleep.
It seems our ability to fight infection is directly related to adequate sleep, while increased stress levels also depresses our immune response. Trials have shown that 20 minutes of meditation helps fight infections, so relax and get plenty of sleep if you’re run down. Recent studies on type 2 diabetes has found that eating sugar has a measurable decrease in immune function, so keep sugary foods to only a treat, not every day.
Supplementation to boost immunity depends on what you take when, vitamin A, C and E work best when taken prior to getting a cold. This includes cod fish liver oil for the kids (eg. Hypol) as this is full of vitamin A and D that is vital for immune function. Astragalus is a Chinese herb that has shown real promise in clinical trials in boosting immune cell count, as does Shitake and Reishi mushrooms. Zinc and selenium are important for fighting infection and is effective taken as a preventative as well as when you have a cold. Echinacea has shown repeatedly to be most beneficial when taken during the early phases of a cold, as well as Koran ginseng, while both are useful to take as winter takes hold to boost what we know of in Chinese Medicine as your ‘defensive Qi’.
Food wise, this time of year eat nourishing warm slow cooked foods. Salads and raw foods are difficult to digest when your body is adjusting to a colder season and cold drinks also put cold in our tummies while the body is trying to keep warm so drink warm water and hot teas and lots of healthy soup. Keeping yourself warm inside and out is paramount as it ensures your immune system can resist the invasion of pathogens so adding warming spices such as a good 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon on your brekky each morning really boosts inner warmth, as does ginger which you can have a few fresh slices with lemon and honey as a tea, and add ginger to your stir fries and curries. Tumeric, chilli, garlic and black pepper are all very warming and directly fight cold and flu. The trick is to eat these things daily in which ever way takes your fancy. Stewed fruits are best so a great excuse to eat warming apple crumbles with cloves nutmeg and cinnamon or poached pears and cinnamon and ginger are really lovely ways to get that inner cosy going.
Remember antibiotics do nothing to viruses, only bacterial infections, while they kill your good digestive bacteria that have also been clinically shown to assist in immune function, and with anti-biotic resistance becoming a serious issue the use of them should be kept to an absolute minimum. With a cold damp winter that we are having so many people are struggling this year with cough so boosting your intake of leeks, onions, spring onions, garlic etc are very good for warming lungs and clearing phlegm. These are best in soups such as leek and potato or add to any soup or stew. So get into some immune boosting herbs now, and eat well, rug up and stay cosy this long cold winter.
Until next time
Dr Angie Palmer
Registered Chinese Medicine doctor.