Cold Comfort

Cold Comfort – Brief Article

Kenneth Bock

Does winter weather reduce you to an achy, sniffling mess? Are you reluctant to get a flu shot? Luckily, there are ways to ward off seasonal sneezing without visiting the doctor. The following program of dietary changes and stress relievers will bolster your immune system and help you escape the ravages of cold and flu–or at least recover from them more quickly.

First, let’s talk about food. Simple sugars, like those you add to coffee or find in soda, can inhibit the ability of phagocytes, or white blood cells, to pursue and devour foreign antigens such as viruses and bacteria–a process referred to as phagocytosis. Hydrogenated or trans fats, present in margarine and common baked goods, can also interfere with metabolism, ultimately disrupting our normal immune processes. Avoiding these sugars and harmful fats, or at least replacing them with more healthful alternatives such as the natural sweetener stevia and olive or canola oils, can improve the body’s resistance to illness.

Second, nutritional supplements can also help. They work by triggering the activity of natural killer cells, which serve as one arm of the immune system’s attack on virally infected cells and tumor cells. Some also boost T-cell counts, which are involved in specific immune reactions and produce antiviral substances called interferons. One of the best cold-preventers on the market is echinacea, a supplement with immune-enhancing and anti-microbial properties. Other immune stimulants include selenium; betacarotene; vitamin E, vitamin A; and garlic, usually consumed in deodorized capsules and with combinations of other Chinese herbs including astragalus, glycerrhiza and codonopsis.

If you’ve already come down with a cold, many of these remedies can also be taken to help lessen the illness’ severity and duration. To treat acute infections, take echinacea for one to three weeks at the earliest sign of symptoms. Golden-seal also works this way, though, unlike echinacea, it should not be taken for more than a few weeks. Despite conflicting studies, zinc lozenges appear to be helpful in relieving cold symptoms if you start popping them early.

The third weapon against winter illnesses is an understanding of the mind-body interaction. Chronic stress can suppress immune system activity by leading to the excess production of stress hormones such as corticosteroids. Stress inhibits the ability of lymphocytes, key immune cells, to proliferate or divide in response to foreign antigens such as viruses; it also squelches the activity of natural killer cells. This can make you more susceptible to infection so that a previously inconsequential exposure to a pathogen now leads to illness.

While major stressors such as bereavement, depression and chronic anxiety can decrease immune response, even everyday hassles can compromise your immune system. A more relaxed approach to life’s ups and downs goes surprisingly far toward protecting the body from infection. If you recline by the fire, frolic in the snow and enjoy the holidays, you may just survive the winter sniffle-free.

Kenneth Bock, M.D., is the co-founder of the Rhinebeck Health Center and the Center for Progressive Medicine in Albany, New York, where he specializes in integrative medicine. He is the co-author of the book The Road to Immunity (Pocket Books, 1997).

COPYRIGHT 1999 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group