Remember the old adage: “Feed a cold and starve a fever”, or is it “Feed a fever and starve a cold?” With the advent of the rainy season and a greater chance of catching cold, I thought that writing about recent insights on how one can avoid catching the cold virus. or treating it when you have it, would be appropriate and timely. In fact, at this writing, I am recovering from a cold while friends, colleagues, and loved ones are suffering from the discomfort of colds.
We are all susceptible to colds and fortunately, present day research suggests that by utilizing “speed and science”, we could beat the malady at its onset. Some recommended strategies to adopt at a cold’s initial symptoms, like the first “tickle” in the throat, after the “suspicious double sneeze,” or right after the “vague feeling of blah creeping in” are the following:
1. Eat big and early. Upon waking up and feeling sick and tired, research suggests that a good morning meal could help fight off the cold, lending validity to the advice “feed a cold”. Researchers from the Netherlands recently analyzed the effects of a 1,200-calorie breakfast on the immune system versus eating nothing at all. They found that “eating big and eating early increased blood levels of gamma interferon, a natural antiviral agent, by 450 percent and going hungry actually caused a 17 percent decrease”. This makes sense because during cold rainy days, our bodies need extra energy to produce more heat to keep us warm, healthy, and alert.
2. Stress out your symptoms. When Ohio State University researchers had 34 male subjects take either a 12- minute memory test or watch a 12-minute surgical procedure video, they found that the test takers’ levels of SigA, a key immune-system protein, increased dramatically. The moral of the study is to charge your immune system by exposing yourself to short-term stress, the kind that you have some control of.
“Stress response is a normal protective coping mechanism,” the researcher concluded. “The body prepares itself for potential harm, and activates its immune resources. It shouldn’t take longer than a day or half a day,” he says. “If the stress response is continuous, then the immune system will be suppressed.”
A good form of a mild stressful activity is exercise. When you feel the symptoms of a cold setting in, you will feel your body getting weak and your mind clouded. These symptoms can be prevented from developing to a full-fledge fever by sweating it out. And a good way is through exercise – not under the heat of the sun — but in the early morning or late afternoon, such as brisk walking or jogging, or, dance aerobics, just to sweat out the symptoms of a cold or flu.
Also, in a recent study of 547 subjects, researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that the most physically- active people had 25 percent fewer upper-respiratory infections over the course of a year than did the couch potatoes.
It is believed that exercise strengthens the immune system by increasing the body’s production of white blood cells. “If you exercise, you should see two benefits: One, you’ll have a reduced risk of catching a cold, and two, if you’re unlucky enough to get a cold, you should have it for a shorter period of time,” says Charles E. Matthews, lead study author.
3. Sleep. UCLA psychiatrist and sleep researcher, Dr. Michael Irwin, claims that if the amount of sleep a person logs decreases by 40 percent or more (for instance, you sleep four hours instead of the usual seven), the effectiveness of the immune system will decline by 50 percent. For the immune system to operate at full strength, a straight eight-hour sleep is needed to produce the highest level of “natural killer cells” which attack viruses.
“Wear light clothing–shorts and a T-shirt–during your waking hours at home; Japanese researchers found that this adjusts a person’s core body temperature enough to improve sleep quality and boost the immune response.”
4. Clean hands, close nose. There are two ways we commonly catch a cold: by unconsciously putting our hands in our noses or mouths or by sucking in the germs from someone else’s sneeze or cough. According to medical researchers, the easiest way to contract the common cold is by having dirty hands. To keep yourself safe, wash and clean your hands regularly, and always bring a hand sanitizer. While hand washing takes care of the first avenue of infection, what about the airborne source?
“Do the obvious–hold your breath for as long as you can after someone sneezes or coughs near you,” recommends Murray Grossan, an ear-nose- throat specialist at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, and author of The Sinus Cure. “Think of germ- laden air as colored smoke,” says Dr. Grossan. “If you hold your nose, the colored smoke won’t go in.”
5. Take a shower when you are drenched by rain. At first glance, this suggestion seems unusual. But if you think about it clearly, taking a shower right after getting wet in the rain actually makes sense. Diseases develop when your body experiences a drastic change in temperature. Taking a shower stabilizes the cold temperature caused by rain, then it produces a gradual shift back to your normal body temperature once you dry yourself. Towel yourself dry vigorously after your shower.
6. Drink green tea. When Canadian researchers added green tea to laboratory samples of the adenovirus (one of the bugs responsible for colds), they found that it stopped the virus from multiplying. This is because of a chemical compound called EGCG, found in certain kinds of tea, but in the highest concentration in green tea. At the onset of a cold, start drinking green tea to stop the production of adenovirus. “It’s the difference between staying home for two or three days, and going to work and just sniffling a bit,” says Joseph M. Weber, lead study author and a professor of microbiology at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec.
In my case, when I noted the symptoms of a potential full-blown cold (nasal drip, frequent sneezing, ticklish throat), I took Tylenol cold capsules for two days, with 30- minutes of light walking in the afternoon. And I made sure I had three full meals daily, and had a snack when I felt hungry. Feeding a cold, indeed, has a scientific basis.