Surviving Cold Season, Part 1: How Not to Get Sick
BY: Michael Castleman
While bundling up before going outdoors can help you stay warm, it won’t keep you from catching a cold. In a recent study, British researchers made one group of people wear wet socks while sitting in a drafty gym in their underwear, while another bunch watched TV fully clothed in a toasty room. Then both groups had cold viruses squirted up their noses. The result: The warm group caught just as many colds as those who had been chilled.
So how do you really catch a cold? Colds are caused by any one of 200 viruses. When someone has a cold, they spew virus particles into the air whenever they cough, sneeze or simply exhale. The most common way to catch a cold is by inhaling the virus or picking it up on your fingers. “We all touch our noses subconsciously several times an hour,” says Dr. Jack Gwaltney, a cold expert at the University of Virginia. “When you have a cold, nose-touching contaminates your fingers with virus particles. If you touch other people’s hands or hard surfaces (counters, doorknobs, telephones, etc.), you deposit virus, and other people literally pick it up with their fingers. Then they touch their noses [or rub their eyes] and get infected.”
How to Avoid a Cold
The best way to prevent colds is to minimize your exposure to cold viruses:
Increase ventilation It will disperse cold viruses. You may not want to open the windows in winter, but keep air moving with fans.
Encourage mouth-covering Coughs and sneezes expel millions of virus particles into the air. If you’re around someone who has a cold, encourage them to cover their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze, preferably with their elbow rather than their hands.
Use soap and water Multiple studies show that “one of the best defenses against colds is frequent hand washing,” says Gwaltney. “It removes viruses from fingers.”
Keep fingers away from nose and eyes That way you won’t infect yourself if you’ve picked up cold viruses on your fingers.
Disinfect surfaces When Gwaltney contaminated a countertop with cold virus, then sprayed it with Lysol disinfectant spray, the disinfectant greatly reduced the amount of cold virus present.
Exercise It boosts immune function. In one study, women who took a 45-minute walk five days a week suffered only half as many days with cold symptoms as sedentary women.
De-stress When Carnegie-Mellon psychologist Sheldon Cohen squirted cold viruses into the noses of 400 volunteers, those who were most stressed were twice as likely to catch a cold. Stress increases susceptibility, Cohen explains, “because it impairs the immune system’s ability to fight off colds.”
Socialize Because colds spread from person to person, you’d think that loners would remain cold-free. But in a study of 276 volunteers, Cohen discovered that as social connections increase, risk of colds decreases. Social ties boost the immune system, Cohen notes.
Finally, if you’re wondering how close you can get to your sniffling child or spouse -- or vice versa -- University of Wisconsin researchers gathered 16 couples, infected one member of each couple with a cold virus, then had them plant an extended kiss on their partner’s mouth. Only one partner (6 percent) caught the cold. It seems the virus generally stays in the nose and throat while the mouth remains remarkably virus-free. So feel free to kiss cold sufferers. Just don’t rub noses.
Michael Castleman has been called "one of the nation's leading health writers" (Library Journal). He is the author of 11 consumer health books and more than 1,500 health articles for magazines and the Web. Michael is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.
Recipe of the Week
- Greek yogurt has twice the protein of regular yogurt because it takes 3 to 4 times more milk to make it. Celebrate June Dairy Month with Greek yogurt topped with fresh berries.
- Bok Choy, also known as Chinese cabbage or pak choi, has been grown in China for over 6,000 years. Choose firm stalks, avoiding brown spots and wilted leaves, and add to stir-fry.
- Apple skin is full of fiber & Alzheimer’s-disease-fighting antioxidants -- so eat it! Refrigerate in a plastic bag away from foods with strong odors; they absorb odors easily.
- Collards, mustard greens and kale are available in bags, pre-washed & chopped -- so they’re easy to steam or saute! Eat your greens as a side dish or in quesadillas, soups & stews.
- Avocados are rich in 20 nutrients and great beyond guacamole. Chop for a ham, egg and cheese wrap; slice for a deli roast beef sandwich; cube and toss into linguini and shrimp.
- Black-eyed Peas: Fresh, canned and frozen varieties are all nutrient-rich options -- making it easier to eat your daily veggies. Rinse and drain canned peas to cut down on salt.
- Ugli Fruit, beautiful benefits! Peel & eat for fiber & vitamin C. Choose fruit heavy for size; dents normal and color not important. Store on counter 5 days or refrigerate 2 weeks.
- Radicchio, also known as Italian chicory, is high in vitamin K for bone health. Great in salads: Choose bright, tender leaves; avoid brown or limp ones. Refrigerate up to 3 days.
- Cherimoya, a high-fiber tropical fruit, tastes like a mix of strawberry and mango. Choose firm, unblemished fruit, cut in wedges and spoon out creamy flesh.
- Kale in lentil soup is a double dose of New Year’s luck! Round-shaped lentils symbolize coins; kale, paper money. Both are packed with antioxidants for a year of healthy fortune.
- Tea is native to China, but Americans invented tea bags and first drank iced tea at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Enjoy hot and reap health benefits from both black & green tea.
- Dried Plums (formerly prunes) may help prevent cancer and decrease inflammation. Slice fruit, stuff with cheese and walnuts, and wrap in prosciutto to make quick party appetizers.
- Oatmeal month is officially January. Cook breakfast oatmeal with 1% milk for extra protein, calcium and vitamin D -- or enjoy whole-grain oatmeal raisin cookies as a smart snack.
- Spices and herbs add antioxidants to every dish. One tsp. ground cinnamon contains as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup blueberries; 1 tsp. yellow curry as many as 1/2 cup red grapes.
- Fish, the best source of omega-3 fats for heart and brain health, may even help ward off depression. Mix canned white tuna, salmon and sardines for an omega-rich seafood salad.
- Orange juice is filled with immune-boosting nutrients that fight colds and the flu: vitamins C and B6, folate, potassium and magnesium. Choose 100% juice with no added sugar.
- Walnuts are a significant source of plant-based omega-3 fats. These fats -- also in ground flaxseed, canola oil and edamame -- provide many heart-healthy benefits.
- Pear, apple and Asian pear slices + yogurt-based dips = winning strategy for game-day parties. Combine Greek vanilla yogurt with chocolate-hazelnut spread for a fast, healthy dip.
- Pumpkin and sweet potato -- fresh, mashed or canned -- adds disease-fighting antioxidants to waffles and pancakes. Use whole-wheat flour to double your fiber and nutrient intake.
- Snack smart to achieve weight loss goals. Choose fast and fully edible fruits like grapes, apples, persimmon and kiwi. Yes, fuzzy kiwi skin is edible! Simply wash and rub dry.
What kind of water do you usually drink?