We consider it quite a feat to escapewinter without a single cold. However, research is beginning to indicate that a healthydiet may help strengthen the immune system and give your body the best chance of fightingcolds.

To date, the only specific cold treatmentsavailable from your doctor or pharmacist are designed to deal with symptoms such as sorethroats, runny or stuffy noses, coughing, sneezing and sleeplessness. Very little adviceis given on diet for the simple reason that there is little research-based evidence tosuggest that what you eat has much effect once the virus has taken hold.

One possible exception to this rule isincreasing intakes of vitamin C.

Although not yet conclusive, theindications are that giving people large quantities of this nutrient the moment that coldsymptoms appear may be of some benefit. It has been found that for some people, takingbetween 500 -1000mg of vitamin C a day could help to lessen the severity and possiblythe duration of a cold. Researchers feel that these effects could be due to the vitamin Cin the blood boosting interferon levels thus helping to protect cells from viral attack.

Vitamin C intakes can be increased throughfoods and drinks such as citrus fruits and juices, kiwi fruit, sweet potatoes, peppers,blackcurrants, green leafy vegetables and exotic fruits, such as guava, or certain foodsfortified with vitamin C. Supplements of vitamin C may also be considered.

Other work indicates that prevention couldwell be better than cure. When elderly people in long-term care were given amulti-micronutrient supplement including 20mg of zinc, 100µg of selenium, 15mg of vitaminE and 6mg of beta carotene, scientists discovered that they caught fewer respiratoryinfections. It is possible that diets supplying good and regular amounts of these vitaminsand minerals could help to protect the population at large.

It is not just vitamins and minerals thatare potentially important infection fighters. Herbalists have long promoted the benefitsof garlic for its antiviral effects; a property that could be due to a natural constituentit supplies. Extracts from Echinacea, (the purple cornflower), as drops or capsules arealso valued for their antiviral effects.

Just as certain nutrients seem to helpstrengthen the immune system, stress appears to deplete some vitamins and minerals.Combining a healthy varied diet containing a lot of fruits and vegetables with a goodbalance of exercise and sleep would seem to be a good strategy to start this winter'sbattle against the common cold.

References

Paul Knipschild: Systemic Reviews: VitaminC and the common cold. BMJ; 309:719-21, 1994 . Carr AB et al: Vitamin C and the commoncold: Using identical twins as controls. Med J Aust 2:411-12, 1981. Gerber WF et al:Effect of ascorbic acid, sodium salicylate, and caffeine on the serum interferon level inresponse to viral infection. Pharmacology 13 (3): 228-33, 1975. Mary Ann Johnson et al:Micronutrient Supplementation and Infection in Institutionalized Elders, Nutr Re, vol. 55,No. 11, 400 - 404. Berdanier CD: The many faces of stress, Nutr. Today 22 (2): 12,1987. Ross AC: Vitamin A and protective immunity, Nutr Today 27 (4):18, 1992

Foods Supplying Vitamin C, VitaminE, Beta Carotene, Zinc and Selenium

Nutrient Foods To Eat
Vitamin C Citrus fruits, kiwi, guava, peppers, blackcurrants, strawberries
Vitamin E Almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, sunflower oil, wheat germ and wheat germ oil, avocado pears
Beta carotene Carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, guava, mangoes, apricots, red peppers tomatoes, dark green vegetables
Zinc Shellfish, red meat, wheat germ, whole grain cereals like wholemeal bread and whole grain breakfast cereals
Selenium Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, mussels, tuna canned in oil, haddock, kidneys

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