To Your Health: Avoiding A Cold

To Your Health: Avoiding A Cold

You know the symptoms all too well: runny nose, sore throat, a cough, watery eyes, sneezing, low-grade fever, congestion, discharge, headache, and malaise.

common cold

You’ve got a common cold,  an acute, self-limiting viral infection of the upper respiratory tract caused by members of several families of viruses; the most common are the more than 100 serotypes of rhinoviruses.

So should you stop reading right now and run out to the store to buy the newest medication that claims to support my immune system and prevent illness? The words on the box will probably state “doctor recommended” or “proven in clinical trials.” Sad truth is these claims are usually misleading at best: a clinical trial does not mean a well-designed double-blinded, placebo-controlled study.

To drive my point home, I can probably prove the world is absolutely flat with a scientific study. All I have to do is take my measurements over a short enough distance on a very flat landscape, which will prove this portion of the world is indeed flat. Then the headlines could read “The World is Flat”  – although it would leave out the fact of  my small area of sampling, because, well, over a 100 meters the world may truly be flat.

So how exactly do I really improve my chances of staying well and avoiding a cold?

Here are a few practical tips.

Start by making sure to wash your hands frequently.

Get your flu shot (early indications are they are more effective this year).

Use disinfectant wipes on airplane arm rests and tray tables.

Eat a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables.

Stay away from sick people as much as possible.

Another time-tested supportive intervention is ingesting lots of liquids, especially warm liquids such as tea and soup. Inhaled steam and an ultrasonic humidifier may help loosen respiratory secretions enhancing their removal. Also topical saline may help soothe the nasal cavity.

One of your most effective tools in avoiding viral illnesses this winter is getting plenty of sleep.

A fascinating fact that came out of one study is that shorter sleep duration measured behaviorally prior to viral exposure was associated with significantly increased susceptibility to the common cold. Specifically, those sleeping < 5 hours or sleeping between 5 to 6 hours were at greater risk of developing the cold compared to those sleeping > 7 hours per night.

In the absence of bacterial superinfection in treatment of the common cold, there is no role for antibiotics. In fact, when antibiotics are prescribed for a cold, there is no benefit and potential significant harm.

Here’s why.

The bacterial flora in our colon can take up to six months to recover and during that time, we risk an infection of the colon called C. dificile colitis. Colonic bacteria are very beneficial to our overall health. Remember that if we look at all the DNA in a human being we are only 10 percent human. We are 90 percent bacterial.

Antiviral therapy is not available for most of the viruses that cause the common cold although they are available and do work for influenza.

Bottom line: over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications have no proven efficacy and potential for serious adverse effects.

Keep in mind there have also never been any quality studies showing benefits from Vitamin A, C, D, E, or Zinc supplementation in preventing upper respiratory illnesses or colds.

And remember complications from colds can occur, which may include acute sinusitis, lower respiratory tract disease, asthma exacerbation, or acute otitis media or ear infections.


Editor’s Note: Our relationship with Dr. Alan Safdi started several years ago when we attended a Wellness Conference at The Peaks Resort & Spa. Dr. Safdi, is a gastroenterologist with a talent for offering evidence-based medical findings for healthy living in easily digestible sound bytes. We next heard him speak at Telluride First’s inaugural Integrative Wellness Conference, where the audience got just taste of his encyclopedic knowledge on mind-body wellness. To fill in the gaps, Telluride Inside… and Out plans to post nuggets from Dr. Safdi regularly.

More about Dr. Alan Safdi: 


Dr. Alan Safdi

Dr. Alan Safdi

Dr. Alan Safdi is a speaker, contributor and serves on the advisory board of the Telluride First Foundation.

He is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Gastroenterology and is a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. A proven leader in the healthcare arena, he has been featured on the national program, “Medical Crossfire” and authored or co-authored numerous medical articles and abstracts. He has been an investigator in over 581 studies and is President of both the Consultants For Clinical Research and the Ohio Gastroenterology and Liver Institute.

Dr. Safdi has been involved in grant-based and clinical research for about 35 years and is passionate about disease prevention and wellness, not just fixing what has gone wrong. He is an international lecturer on the subjects of wellness, nutrition, and gastoenterology.

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