What Can I Do to Prevent Colds?
Simple stuff works surprisingly well—once you see how immunity regenerates
Posted Aug 02, 2012
See the body as machine and you miss too much. Most of your body is new in three to four weeks. The body continuously processes information, providing input for the regenerative process we use to survive. This is almost opposite to the mechanical degeneration of cars or computers. Life is renewal, and life is fast. We use up our parts quickly. We remake them even more quickly, changing the information flow as we go. With luck you use that knowledge to prevent or even defeat many illnesses.
So let's look at something everyone knows about—colds.
Who Gets Colds?
Pretty much everybody. They are significantly more common when you’re living or working and moving among crowds. Young kids in schools rapidly transmit colds to schoolteachers.
The viruses that create colds are always mutating. And every change in outer environment —wetness, dryness, temperature, density of infection—changes the odds of whether you’ll get infected. Shifts in your inner environment also change susceptibility—meaning you want to shift them in your favor.
How Can We Combat Colds?
Have an immune system that moves as fast and as competently as do cold viruses—by constantly remaking and renewing itself to fight off new challenges.
It’s an arms race—your immune system against the hordes—of viruses, bacteria, rickettsia, mycoplasma, fungi, pollutants, and many other substances living and not. Good thing for you the immune system operates almost immediately through somatic hypermutation—forced evolution that creates new antibodies (among other chemicals) that fight off cold viruses in varied, subtle ways.
How Can I Improve My Immune System to Prevent Colds?
1. Move. People who walk an hour or so each day have about half the number of colds. Surprisingly, their severity also appears to halve. In these studies, the overall reduction in colds’ illness potential harm was about 75%.
How does physical activity limit colds? Remember, the body is a giant, psychologically sophisticated information processing unit. How physical activity helps reprogram such a complex system mainly involves guesswork. It appears that more physical movement directly jacks up immune cell activity, and through increased blood flow, shifts those cells around to places where they may be more useful. Also, greater physical activity generally exposes people to different populations of cold viruses—letting your system learn to fight them under better conditions.
2. Sleep well. Several studies demonstrate that relatively small decreases in sleep efficiency (time asleep divided by time in bed) make people more susceptible to colds and other infections.
Why does lack of sleep worsen immune regeneration? Lots of learning goes on during sleep—and not just knowledge we consciously understand. The brain also processes immune information while you rest, sifting and summarizing. And sleep lets your cells rebuild and regrow.
3. Stay away from tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco does terrible things to immunity—look at cancer rates. It tends to clog up sinuses which can then become viral staging areas. Low dose alcohol may modulate some forms of immunity in positive ways, but that doesn't seem to be the case for colds.
4. Make body clocks regular. All of us have different times of relative viral susceptibility throughout the 24 hour clock. Which means regular activity—eating, moving, resting at standard times—should aid overall immunity. And one of those regular patterns which can help your body regenerate to prevent colds is:
5. Regularly wash your hands. Certainly try to do it A. Before and after meals B. After shaking hands or handling kids. C. When you wake and before you sleep—which can help ritualize both activities in ways that condition them more effectively.
Alcohol based cleaners or soap? Hospitals opt for the alcohol based formats, which may be quicker and kill larger groups of bacteria and viruses. But A. Alcohol/chemical cleaners may eventually provoke resistance in some pathogens B. Add more chemicals to the environment C. Get people away from the simple, useful regimen of washing hands with soap and water—a lot more pleasant if you’re about to eat a meal.
6. Get out in the dirt—particularly gardening—and especially get out in the dirt if you’re a kid. In kids, later age onset asthma and other autoimmune illnesses decrease with greater exposure to nature and its innumerable bugs. MS traditionally has appeared more commonly in upper than lower class households. Gardening lets people watch things grow; involves them in a kind of physical activity that boosts immunity; gets them out in nature which can improves mood; can grow the kinds of natural foods that may improve immunity.
7. Eat lots of whole foods—particularly vegetables, fruits, herbs. The data is not overwhelmingly positive, but getting more plants into your gut probably changes viruses and bacterial populations in ways that may help keep colds at bay. They also require necessary substances for the immune system to function, and may directly, through microRNAs, affect immune function.
Remember—eat a whole plant or animal and you also eat its genetic material.
Your body regenerates to survive. Part of that survival is the capacity to keep bugs—like cold viruses—from infecting and causing illness.
The bugs will always be there. They are in the air, in the ground, on your fingers. What saves you and humanity from pandemics is an active, fast, versatile immune system. Living the regenerative way—in terms of food, activity, rest, socializing—can make that system stronger and more effective.