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How to avoid getting colds and what to eat when you’ve got one

August 19, 2012

I have a vested interest in not catching colds; most colds, all except very mild ones, will home in on my too small and definitely uncooperative lungs resulting in a chest infection that can take from a fortnight to a month to shift.  The flu I had well over 15 years ago turned into pneumonia.  Either situation involves guaranteed rapid weight loss, sleep loss and an increase in swearing, turning your  usually mild-mannered Trish into one of the cast of Trainspotting.  The NHS is always ever so helpful in these instances, perhaps because I’m asthmatic and whingey rather than just whingey but I’d still like to learn how to help prevent these horrible, hindering and icky situations from happening.

Colds are interesting (probably more so when you don’t currently have one) – there are over 200 types of virus that can give you a cold and you don’t catch the same one twice, although the viruses do mutate so you might catch a mutated version of something you had previously.  All the sneezing and coughing is caused by your body’s own immune response stepping in to deal with the virus and get rid of it.  This may be why me asking the person who gave me the cold “how long did it last?” is not likely to give me good information; their immune response and healing time may be different to mine.

How to avoid colds?  You could invest in a space helmet and wear it whenever you venture near people but that might lead to other problems, like appearing on the news as their ‘And finally’ item.  We catch colds when people cough or sneeze near us and it we breathe the germs in or they go in our eyes.  Also we can get colds by touching something someone with a cold has touched and then putting our fingers in or on our eyes, nose or mouth.  Using sanitizing hand gel is a good idea after using public transport or if you are around someone you know has a cold, but it’s not a guarantee you won’t catch a cold.  There’s a product you can squirt up your nose to catch colds early, which I was sceptical about till someone told me the Cancer ward of a hospital told visitors to use it so they wouldn’t get colds and pass them on to patients.  It’s called ‘First Defence‘ or, if you’re in the States, ‘Vicks Early Defence’.  I’ve heard various anecdotal evidence that it works but let’s move on to how we can get our immune systems strong enough that they’ll be in fighting mode ready to send cold viruses scarpering without the need to keep buying things to squirt on our hands and up our noses.

If your immune system is strong, you’re less likely to catch stuff, period.  So what sorts of things strengthen (and weaken) your immune system?

  • Get enough sleep and have a regular sleep pattern – your body recharges during the night.  We all recharge our phones, we need to recharge ourselves too.  I raise my hand here as someone with a terrible sleep pattern.  I blame working shifts but that’s such a cop out, as my shifts only involve a time difference of a couple of hours at a time.  Note to self: the internet will still be there tomorrow – go to bed!
  • Stay hydrated – again I am a culprit.  This is also extra important if you already have a cold; the doctor I saw at the out-of-hours service told me to drink 2 pints of water before I went to bed.  I asked how I was supposed to get that much water in me and he just said, without looking up from his computer or missing a beat –  “swallow”.
  • Exercise for 30  minutes a day – this boosts your metabolism and your body’s ability to fight disease.  Although, asthmatic people who have a cold already, take it carefully and wait till you feel well enough to work out.
  • Don’t eat sugar – it makes your immune system sluggish.  I blame my current, chest-infected state not just on the food poisoning of a few weeks ago but on the sugar-fest I indulged in the minute I felt better.  Avoiding sugar at all is going to be tricky as it’s in a load of stuff but you can be wise and set your own limits.  Remember this is but one of a series of cold-avoiding measures rather than the whole story.  Also, my lovely partner, whose sweet tooth is legendary, missed out completely on getting this cold.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet lots of fruit and veg, protein and carbs.  Carbohydrates are not evil, they give you energy to burn up and the fibre they contain helps you not get colon cancer or loss of kidney function.  Health-conscious persons might want to stick with brown rice, wholewhat pasta and bread and also remember that fruit and veg contain carbohydrates and fibre.  I’m not going to wave a stick at people on very low carb diets just suggest that people read up and be informed
  • Take vitamins – I’ll add to this “if you think you’re not getting enough from your diet”.  Probably some of us have diets that give us enough of what we need and some of us don’t.  If you smoke then you may be low on vitamin C because nicotine destroys it – one of the reasons smokers might get more colds and find them harder to shift.  Supermarket brands of vitamins tend to be cheaper, more full-on brands, like Solgar, can turn your pee fluorescent – combine with eating beetroot and you can pee back-lit cocktails, now there’s a trick.
  • Reduce stress – stress releases chemicals in our bodies that directly depress our immune systems.  Remember that table of stressful life events where you add up your points and it tells you how likely you are to get ill in the next year?  We can’t always change what happens to us but we can change our reactions and how much we let stuff ‘get to’ us.  Watching comedy can help reduce stress 🙂 <-This is a link to a funny video, please feel free to click it 🙂

That’s all fun and funky but what about if you already have a cold?

  • So your First Defence didn’t work, what are your options for fighting from here?  Ok, firstly be sure to do ALL of the things in the above list, minus the exercise.  Up the sleep, it helps you heal.  More water, you’ll need it to replace fluids if you’re sweating and to ensure any mucus remains thin enough to cough up comfortably.  I have it on authority that you can safely take up to 4 x 1000mg vitamin C tablets per day so go for it with a special Dr Jekyll fizzy vitamin C and soluble Panadol cocktail (for US people, Panadol is a brand name for acetaminophen, although we call it paracetamol over here).  And try to keep chillin like a villain, getting stressed about being ill isn’t going to help (this one is another note to self).
  • So, we have germs to kill, let’s go kill them.  It’s said that hot chicken soup is good for colds but if you don’t eat meat then why not make a hot veggie soup and crank up the garlic?  Drinking hot liquids, like herb tea, is also useful as the heat kills germs.  If you can get hold of a steam inhaler then you can breathe in steam to help clear your airways without leaning over a bowl of boiling water with a towel over your head – otherwise just lean over a bowl of boiling water with a towel over your head.
  • Make curry or chilli!  Hot and spicy foods are said by some people to help ease congestion.  There are a couple of easy curry recipes over on the food  blog I share with my partner and, to be extra helpful I typed in curry recipes, vegetarian curry recipes, vegan curry recipes and gluten free curry recipes into Google for you
  • Garlic is good and may have antibiotic properties so eat plenty, especially raw.  You could try making pesto, or do as I did just now and eat an entire clove raw – it only burns for a minute, honest.
  • Eat more citrus fruits and other sources of vitamin C.  If you look at the table halfway down this page, you’ll see that red peppers almost top the list of foods highest in vitamin C, just beaten by papaya – oranges are quite a way down the list but still good.
  • Ginger is said to be good for coughs so stick it in food you’re making (here’s me assuming everyone cooks from scratch just like the crazy lady) or make tea with it.
  • Junk food, skipping meals and drinking coffee and caffeinated drinks – that’s not a recommendation, that’s a big NO.  Although I might just go get one little sweet from the open bag in the kitchen, raw garlic has one heck of an aftermath.
  1. Information source for avoiding colds
  2. Information source for treating colds

GET WELL SOON

Extra information from a helpful anonymous reader

I saw nothing that stood out as inaccurate, but one thing you might want to mention is the preventative power of garlic and onions (basically, the Allium family). A quick google search brings up:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/health/20real.html?_r=1

http://www.livestrong.com/article/483598-does-garlic-onions-kill-the-flu-cold-viruses/

http://just-rodney.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Make-a-Soup—A-cure-for-Colds-and-Flu

http://www.earthclinic.com/Remedies/garlic2.html

Also, it’s important to crush garlic and let it ‘breathe’ for about 10-20 minutes for full potency. The exposure to air concentrates the allicin, apparently. I know that the garlic is much stronger when I’ve let it age.

http://www.healthy.net/scr/Recipe.aspx?Id=43&RCId=9

http://www.livestrong.com/article/466527-garlic-potency-with-cooking/

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