During the time when I was finishing my studies in biochemistry I got colds all the time. One cold would go away, another one would follow.
Now while it was fun to discover my mucus was super talented and could change colors like a chameleon (a rainbow chameleon at that), having to stay in bed for days and coughing all the time SUCKED. I went to a few doctors, but they sucked as well.
So I had to save myself.
Luckily, during that same year I developed a little routine that I do whenever I feel I might be catching a cold. Now I almost never catch a cold during winter.
What’s funny is that I do get a cold during summer sometimes (probably because of AC).
If you’re also having a hard time staying healthy during winter this might work for you as well.
Why do we get colds during winter?
There are a bunch of reasons for this, but it’s probably a combination of all the following factors.
Reason #1: Too much time indoors
Cold weather during winter makes us spend a lot of time indoors. We get really comfy, warm and we work in a closed environment with others.
Then we infect each other like lab rats.
When we breathe the same old air everyone else is breathing for hours, it’s easier to catch the flu.
In fact if you have a flu you can infect others within 6 feet (or almost 2 meters) and that before you even realize you have a flu (most people won’t show any symptoms the first day). (source)
Long hours indoors might also give us a cold because that same old air can dry out the skin and mucous membranes of the body.
These two are the body’s first protection against harmful microbes and stop most viruses and bacteria we come across during daily life.
When these two body barriers get too dry, keeping viruses and bacteria out of the body becomes very difficult.
Reason #2: Energy
We need energy for every single heart beat, for every single cell to be formed, for every single thought that crosses our minds.
The body has something like a budget when it comes to its energy. That energy is invested in a very smart way in different “departments”. Whatever is a priority gets some calories to burn, whatever isn’t might have to suffer a little.
We need the most energy to maintain body temperature. In fact we use about 50-80% of the daily energy for that alone.
So when it’s cold during winter – we need more energy to maintain normal body temperature. We start to shiver and our bodies do everything possible to literally not freeze.
The more energy we spend on that, the less we have for other “departments”. Like the immune system.
But! Our immune system needs energy too, when a virus is coming.
We need more immune cells and chemicals than usually to fight off the infection. (source)
So how do you make those when you spend most of the energy on shivering (that’s the priority of the body)?
Well you probably can’t make enough. So keeping warm, eating well and getting enough rest (!) should be your priority if you don’t want to get a flu during winter.
Reason #3: Vitamin D and other nutrients
Proper nutrition and vitamin D supplementation (if you don’t live somewhere super sunny all year long) are essential for optimal immune function.
In fact viruses go nuts when we have even one nutrient deficiency. They multiply faster and make us feel miserable.
Vitamin D especially is a very important vitamin for the immune system as it influences both the innate and adaptive immune system.
When there’s not enough of it in the body, the immune cells are having trouble to produce anti-microbial chemicals.
It’s also speculated that the vitamin D deficiency we can experience during winter (because ain’t no vitamin D, when sunshine’s gone) might be the reason for the higher activity of the influenza virus during this season.
Unfortunately, according to statistics 30-50% of the general population is deficient in vitamin D. (source)
Reason #4: Winter Blues
Winter is the time of the year, when I really wish I could be a bear and sleep all day long. It’s dark, cold and there are not many fun things to do.
But as bad as it is, if you want to stay healthy during this season you need to get yourself some good attitude, go out for a walk and start feeling happy again.
Bad mood attracts infections like honey attracts bears.
Even more importantly – good mood and optimism protect against infections.
In one study volunteers were inoculated (or infected) with the influenza virus and the rhinovirus (common cold virus). Some of the participants had more negative, others more positive attitude.
So what happened to them after the infection?
Well in comparison people who were positive got less sick. In fact for those who were super positive the protection against upper tract respiratory diseases was 3 times higher than for negative people. (here’s the study)
Reason #5: The influenza virus might be more active
Whenever it’s cold outside, the influenza virus (the one that gives you headaches, bone pain and fever on top of common cold symptoms) has better survival chances.
I don’t quite understand how a virus that would replicate with the speed of light inside the human body would be more infectious in cold temperatures, but that’s what some reports suggest.
It might also have to do with the winter air being drier and not humid.
What to do to prevent a cold?
Now there’s nothing we can really do about the influenza virus being more active during winter. But we can do a lot about the other points.
- Stay warm, but don’t just stay indoors. Go out for a walk, but wear a hat, scarf, and keep hands and feet warm.
- Wash your hands more often.
- Don’t let skin and mucous membranes dehydrate – moisturize and drink more water.
- Drink teas and eat soups more often.
- Exercise, but don’t overdo it – walking might be enough.
- Listen to music you love, write down 3 things daily you’re grateful for and be creative to improve mood.
- Take a vitamin D supplement and eat as healthy as possible to leave no room for deficiencies
Why just eating foods like garlic might not work?
There are three things that matter when it comes to healing: time, energy and dosage.
The immune system needs time and energy to fight off the infection and to recover the body.
Well, energy and time are already there.
And in theory we would need less of them both to get healthy if we raise the dosage of a natural remedy.
This means for example if we have a flu and eat enough garlic we would get healthy quicker and won’t feel tired for that long.
While there are, yes natural remedies like garlic that might work when isolated and tested in high dosages in experiments against influenza virus, there is little hope to get better within a day by just eating garlic.
We love hacks, tricks and we love natural remedies. But the truth is like with most things in life, there are not many “hacks” when it comes to health.
So trying to cure your cold with garlic?
Well good luck with that.
And I know, if you have read anything else here, you’d know I LOVE garlic.
It fights everything – viruses, bacteria, cancer, high blood pressure, vampires, snobs… But the thing is, one garlic is just a tiny thing in a sea of virus, when you’re sick. It can’t do much.
Garlic is more of a prevention type of food (look here for more truths and myths about my friend garlic). To get rid of a cold you would need unthinkably stinking amounts of garlic that might be more harmful than helpful.
Also the phytochemicals that were shown to help against influenza virus might not even be able to make it into the body, because they’re not very bioavailable.
I’m not saying that garlic won’t help at all. But instead of relying on garlic alone, just supplement a healthy diet with some garlic.
Here’s what I do when I feel a cold coming
Sometimes even with all that in mind, you still might catch a cold if you can’t tell what weather would be that day.
If you don’t want to make it easier for a virus to get into your system and spread, you’ll need to take some action. So within a few hours of noticing I might be getting a cold this is what I usually do.
A little disclaimer here. This is what I have found works for me and for people I know who have tried it. It’s very common sense, but please consult your doctor if you’re not feeling well.
- Take a warming shower.
- Dress up. Since I don’t know how to seduce a virus, I don’t mean high heels and a dress. I mean my pajama and a few more layers of sweaters and pants, very warm socks and depending on whether or not I’m shivering – a scarf. Yes, drastic, but it’s just for one day.
- Drink tea(S!) and eat a soup – this is KEY. I don’t say one tea, I mean 2-3 teas in a row until I really feel warm from the inside. And start sweating. Now while heating from the outside might dry out the skin – this won’t. Then it’s time to change clothes, because the other clothes are sweaty.
- Go to sleep. The body needs to concentrate all of its efforts on one thing only – removing the virus (or bacteria). And the immune system needs all the energy to produce more cells and anti-microbial substances.
The goal of this “exercise” is to get the body really warm from the inside and let the immune system work.
Here two soup recipes you’ll love:
If you do get a cold…
If you do get a cold the most important thing is to rest, drink enough fluids and keep warm with soups and teas.
Don’t try to rush it, give your immune system time to do what it can do best. Otherwise you might end up dragging an infection that could’ve been gone in 3 days for weeks.
And in no case you wanna to be exercising or stressing about work when you’re still sick – those are two very energy-dependent activities. Let the immune system have that energy.
And that’s it! Stay warm and healthy through winter and especially February – apparently it’s the peak month for flu.