Natural Health Perspectives: Tips For Dealing WithThe Common Cold

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 - 3:16pm

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

Colds usually happen at the most inconvenient times. Most often you get sick when you do not have time for being ill, during the holidays, when work is especially busy, or at some other stressful time. This happens because during stressful times your immune system is depressed, which makes you more susceptible to infection. The common cold is actually caused by a variety of constantly-mutating viruses. You are exposed to these viruses all the time, but you tend to get sick only when your immune system is not functioning optimally.

Cold, flu or allergies?

Generally when you catch a cold, you feel tired, have a sore throat, fever, headache, nasal discharge, sneezing and a cough. The symptoms of influenza are similar, but more severe with a higher fever and added body aches. Airborne allergies also have some symptoms similar to colds with sneezing, nasal discharge, malaise and headaches. However, generally allergy symptoms do not include a fever and many occur seasonally. Food allergies are another cause of cold like-symptoms, but are usually less severe and more constant in their presentation.

Diet to prevent the common cold

The best way to prevent the common cold is to keep the immune system strong so it can fight viruses before a full cold develops. The immune system’s effectiveness is greatly influenced by the body’s good nutritional status. Good dietary habits generally contribute to a healthful nutritional status. Dietary factors that decrease immune function include excess sugar consumption, consumption of allergenic foods and alcohol consumption. Deficiencies of one or more nutrients can also cause a depressed immune system. Most common deficiencies are of zinc, selenium, vitamin C or vitamin A.

What to do if you catch a cold

Rest is critical when you catch a cold. The immune system is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system (sometimes called the rest and digest part of the nervous system). This part of our nervous system functions best when we are relaxed or asleep. During sleep and rest, the body’s energy can be directed inward to support the immune system rather than expended in the external world.

Drink water when you are sick. When the membranes of the respiratory tract are dehydrated, viruses are able to grow and replicate more easily. Water in the body also helps the white blood cells of the immune system function more effectively. Sugar inhibits white blood cell function by decreasing the amount of vitamin C that can be transported into the cells. Vitamin C has been shown in many studies to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold, presumably through its action on white blood cells. All forms of sugar are best avoided when sick, including concentrated fruit juices, honey, glucose, fructose and white cane sugar.

Conclusion: natural therapies fight a cold effectively

With a strong, healthy immune system, a cold will generally last three to four days. Once a cold is underway, the body needs a few days to fight the cold effectively. Sometimes it may seem that cold symptoms worsen using natural therapies to treat them. This is because many cold symptoms are actually signs of the immune system working. A fever creates a temperature at which enzymes work more effectively in the body; a runny nose is white blood cells dying after fighting the virus or bacteria; and body aches come from chemicals it makes to stimulate the immune cells to fight. The cold is not getting worse, but the symptoms intensify as the immune system becomes activated. Using natural therapies, the duration of the cold will decrease and the immune system will be strengthened to fight off the infection. With water, simple foods, rest and avoiding sugar, the body’s immune system can do its job and get you back to feeling strong again.