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10 ways to support your family through the common cold

Colds are minor infections of the nose and throat caused by more than 200 different viruses. Rhinovirus is the most common cause, accounting for 10 to 40 percent of colds. Other common cold viruses include coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Although many people can often fight off a cold with little need for intervention, there are many complications that can occur as a result depending on the virus itself and the terrain in which it has entered (being the individual). Our ability to fight off an infection comes down to a complex interplay of many factors. Complications can include acute ear infections, asthma, acute sinusitis and other infections such as strep throat, pneumonia and croup or bronchiolitis in children. These complications can often result in the need for more aggressive interventions such as antibiotics which short term can be life saving but long term we are seeing more and more the devastating effects they can have for our health. Not to mention antibiotic resistance! Wouldn't it be great if we could help reduce the risk of complications from a common cold and the consequences?

To build the best possible resilience against the common cold, speed up recovery and reduce the risk of complications-being conscious of our diet and lifestyle all year round will of course have the greatest effect. However, if you are looking for a super boost when you feel a cold coming on or if you know you have a family member who has a cold and you know it is lurking on your doorstep then these 10 suggestions may be of interest to you.

  1. Take the load off the digestive system to encourage healing and ensure that you are eating easily digestible food such as chicken and vegetable soup and vegetable/chickpea/lentil stew. These meals are not only hydrating but they are easily digested (for many people, not everyone!).

  2. Stay hydrated. An obvious one but probably the most important. First and foremost, staying hydrated helps keep the mucus membranes of your nasal passages moist so they can catch viral invaders before entering your body. This is your body’s first line of defence. If something does slip through—fluids help your body circulate blood more freely, enabling virus fighting white blood cells to reach their target faster so they don’t have as much time to replicate. Furthermore, drinking water also adds oxygen to your blood—which helps ensure all your body’s systems have enough oxygen to function at their best level to remove toxins and speed up recovery.

  3. Reduce stress levels and try to make time for stress reducing activities such as taking a bath, reading a book, meditation, listening to music...The more you can do the better as quick fixes to bring your stress down. Stress makes it harder to fight of a common cold or any infection for that matter. Cortisol is a stress hormone released when we feel anxious. Cortisol temporarily suppresses the immune system, reducing the body's natural inflammatory response to viruses and bacteria.

  4. Increase antioxidants. Antioxidants are capable of stabilising, or deactivating, free radicals before they attack cells making you better able to ward off colds, flu, and other infections. I'm not going to list foods with antioxidants here but put simply just think lots of vegetables and fruit as these are the foods they are most abundant in. You may find that vegetable juices will be very beneficial. Again, it depends on the individual if this is a good idea but for most people they are incredibly supportive.

  5. Sleep well. Not always possible with kids (i know!) and many people suffer with poor sleep without a cold let alone with one. Sleep is an important period of bodily rest, and studies indicate that sleep plays a crucial role in the robustness of our immune system. In fact, sleep contributes to both innate and adaptive immunity. Researchers have found that during nightly sleep, certain components of the immune system rev up. For example, there is an increased production of cytokines associated with inflammation. This activity appears to be driven both by sleep and by the circadian rhythm, which is the body’s 24-hour internal clock. When you have the common cold, this inflammatory response may help with recovery, fortifying innate and adaptive immunity as the body works to fight off the infection.

  6. Check out my post this week on the top 5 foods to avoid. By following this you are really helping to support your body to recovery. Things like sugar and alcohol can be very detrimental to the immune response so i'm sorry to break up the party but they really should be avoided before, during and a little after the common cold at least.

  7. Vitamin D binds to receptors on immune cells such as neutrophils, macrophages and natural killer cells. Vitamin D stimulates these cells to produce peptides with antiviral properties that defend the body against foreign pathogens. The best source of vitamin D comes from the sun’s UV rays absorbed through the skin. Since many of us live in areas where UV rays are weak, or we just don’t want to be exposed to the sun, a supplemental option is the next best thing but please consult before taking any supplement. If possible, try around 15-30 minutes of sun exposure to help boost levels.

  8. Get some fresh air. Every cell in your body and therefore every function in your body relies upon a constant, fresh stream of oxygen. If you stay indoors for long periods of time, the same air can be breathed in again and again, causing the air to become stuffy and stale. Simply stepping outdoors and breathing in some fresh air can have a huge amount of health benefits. For example, when sitting indoors, it’s common to breathe shallowly, inhaling the air into the top of your lungs, known as apical breathing. When outdoors, moving and walking-it encourages increased diaphragmatic breathing. This means that you breathe more deeply, drawing more air deep into the bottom of your lungs. This not only brings more oxygen into your cells but helps the lungs to expel more airborne toxins from the body. This therefore helps you to cleanse from the inside.

  9. Vitamin C. Of course I would not leave you out. Many of us reach for it when we are sick but do you know why it is so important? Vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. Vitamin C supports epithelial barrier function against pathogens. Being an antioxidant, it can also fight free radicals in the body, thereby decreasing inflammation and boosting immunity. Did you know that oranges are not the most potent source of vitamin C? Guavas, kiwis, bell peppers and strawberries have more vitamin C per cup serving.

  10. Probiotics and prebiotics can influence the intestinal microbiota and modulate the immune response. With 70-80% of immune cells being present in the gut, there is an intricate interplay between the intestinal microbiota, the intestinal epithelial layer, and the local mucosal immune system. Building strong gut health is not as simple as taking a probiotic or consuming prebiotics however it is certainly supportive.

There are many additional nutrients that can be especially supportive when faced with the common cold. If you would like personalised suggestion for yourself and/or your family then please enquire regarding the supplement consultation package that I offer. More details can be found here.

I am a registered Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist and specialist in Clinical Paediatric Nutrition. If you are interested in starting Nutritional Therapy for yourself, your family or your child then please contact me for more information/FREE discovery call or you can check out my services on my website.

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