Sneezing, sniffling, coughing … it’s officially cold season.
It’s estimated that the average U.S. adult typically has two to four colds each year, while children may have up to a dozen. Each year, between 5% and 20% of the U.S. population also come down with flu-like symptoms, according to Medline.
I don’t know about you, but even the smallest of colds can largely affect my performance at work.
For many of us, we simply cannot afford to bring anything less than our best each and every day. This is why I would like to share with you today some simple strategies for preventing the common cold before it’s too late.
How Do You Catch a Cold?
The common cold is actually caused by a variety of viruses, not bacteria.
The most-common way these viruses spread is by hand-to-hand contact. For example, if someone with a cold blows their nose and then shakes your hand or touches surfaces that you also touch, you’re more than likely going to catch a cold as well.
So first and foremost, it’s crucial to wash your hands throughout the day to lessen your chances of catching the cold virus.
However, just because you are exposed to this cold virus doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to catch the symptoms.
The determining factor in whether or not you do catch a cold all boils down to your immune system. Whether you catch a cold or not is not dependent on simple exposure to the virus, but rather the quality of your immune system.
If your immune system is operating at optimal level, then your body should ward off the virus relatively easily. But, if you have a weak or compromised immune system, then such a virus can easily take hold of your body.
5 Major Immune System Dangers
Listed below are five common factors that can depress your immune system and put you at risk for catching a cold.
1. Eating too much sugar — particularly fructose and grains.
Fructose, a type of sugar, can devastate your immune system by unbalancing your gut flora.
Sugar is "fertilizer" for pathogenic bacteria, yeast and fungi that can set your immune system up for an assault by a respiratory virus.
Most people don’t realize that 80% of your immune system actually lies in your gastrointestinal tract. That is why controlling your sugar intake is critical for optimizing your immune system.
Related story: New Research Adds Fuel to the Fructose Health-risk Fire
The average American consumes around 75 grams of fructose a day. Doctors recommend it would be wise to limit your total fructose consumption to below 25 grams a day if you’re in good health, or below 15 grams a day if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or insulin resistance.
2. Vitamin D Deficiency
It’s no coincidence that cold season occurs during the time of the year when we receive significantly less sunlight … and as a result, our bodies produce less vitamin D.
In the largest and most nationally representative study of its kind to date involving about 19,000 Americans, people with the lowest vitamin D levels reported having significantly more recent colds or cases of the flu …
And the risk was even greater for those with chronic respiratory disorders like asthma.
At least five additional studies also show an inverse association between lower respiratory tract infections and Vitamin D levels.
Related story: There’s a Nutrient Deficiency Crisis in America
Vitamin D is a very effective antimicrobial agent, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi. Optimizing your levels of Vitamin D will not only help you recover faster if you have a cold … it will also prevent viruses from invading your body in the first place.
Because access to sunlight is limited during the fall and winter months in a lot of the country, a quality vitamin D3 supplement is recommended.
3. Not Getting Enough Rest
Lack of proper sleep over time has been shown to lower what are called "T-cells." Produced by the thymus gland, T-cells are a type of white blood cell critical to the immune system.
T-cells have what could be called "X-ray vision," as they are able to see inside our bodies’ own cells simply by scanning their surface. This mechanism allows T-cells to hunt down and destroy cells infected with germs or that have become cancerous.
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T-cells orchestrate an immune response and play important roles in all facets of immunity. That’s because they are in charge of alerting other immune cells about ingested germs and/or making antibodies.
T-cells are also responsible for the body’s response to all autoimmune disease including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, etc. …
As you can see, proper T-cell levels are essential to the immune system. If you routinely get less than seven to nine hours of sleep, then this may one of the major reasons you always seem to catch a cold.
4. Lack of Exercise
There is evidence that regular, moderate exercise can reduce your risk for respiratory illness by boosting your immune system. In fact, one study found that people who exercised regularly (five or more days a week) cut their risk of having a cold by close to 50%.
And, in the event they did catch a cold, their symptoms were much less severe than among those who did not exercise.
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It is not exactly known how exercise increases your immunity, but there several theories. According to MedlinePlus:
Physical activity may help by flushing bacteria out from the lungs (thus decreasing the chance of a cold, flu or other airborne illness).
It may flush out cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) by increasing output of wastes, such as urine and sweat.
Exercise sends antibodies and white blood cells (the body’s defense cells) through the body at a quicker rate. As these antibodies or white blood cells circulate more rapidly, they could detect illnesses earlier than they might normally.
The increased rate of circulating blood may also trigger the release of hormones that "warn" immune cells of intruding bacteria or viruses.
The temporary rise in body temperature may prevent bacterial growth, allowing the body to fight the infection more effectively. (This is similar to what happens when the body has a fever.)
Exercise slows down the release of stress-related hormones. Stress increases the chance of illness.
This leads me to the final factor that may compromise your immune system …
As we covered before, T-cells are critical to a healthy immune system. There is a stress hormone called corticosteroid, which can suppress the number of T-cells in the body. The more stressed we become, the more corticosteroid we produce — resulting in weakened immune system.
Another direct effect stress can have on the immune system is through inflammation. This can show itself as redness, itchiness, and swelling and pain — occurring when the immune system spots an infection. It is a vital first step in fending off disease.
However, when it persists, it not only raises the risk of colds but many other illnesses.
Sheldon Cohen, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said of the impact of stress on disease:
"The immune system’s ability to regulate inflammation predicts who will develop a cold, but more importantly it provides an explanation of how stress can promote disease."
When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control. So, they consequently produce levels of inflammation that promote disease.
Because inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress affects them as well.
Knowing this is important for identifying which diseases may be influenced by stress … and for preventing disease in chronically stressed people.
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As you can see, proper stress management is also very important to a healthy immune system and preventing colds.
I hope these five factors will help you prevent illness this cold season so you can remain functioning at optimal levels all year long.
Happy and Healthy Investing,