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.
I don’t know about you, but even the smallest of colds can largely affect my performance at work and in the gym.
Frankly, that’s not an option for high-performing individuals like you and other readers of this blog.
That’s why I’m going to share with you 5 simple strategies for surviving and staying illness free this cold season.
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’re exposed to this cold virus doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to catch the symptoms.
The determining factor in whether or not you get sick boils down to your immune system.
If your immune system is operating at an 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
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 up your immune system for an assault from viruses.
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 if you’re insulin-resistant.
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.
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. 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.
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 … but 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, taking a quality vitamin D3 supplement could help.
3. Poor Sleep
Over time, lack of proper sleep 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 you could call “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.
T-cells orchestrate an immune response and play important roles in all facets of immunity because they are in charge of:
Alerting other immune cells of 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.
It is not exactly known how exercise increases your immunity, but there are 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) and 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.
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, which can show itself as redness, itchiness, swelling and pain.
Inflammation occurs 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. As a result, they produce levels of inflammation that promote disease.
Because inflammation plays a role in many conditions such as cardiovascular disease, 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.
All together, by addressing each of these risk factors, you can put yourself in the best possible position to avoid illness this cold season.
Let us know you’re own personal immune system building strategies by leaving a comment in the comment section below.
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