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Condition - Our essential guide to coping with coughs and colds

By Jenny Bodenham BA (Hons) Dip ION MBANT

Are you dreading another cold winter with the almost inevitable round of colds and flu that accompany it? The misery of a runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing and sneezing, not to mention a headache or sore throat, may be only too familiar. The common cold is the cause of more lost work and school days than any other illness, with the average adult catching two to four colds a year, and children up to ten colds annually. Don’t you owe it to yourself to keep you and your family fighting fit for the winter season?

A cure for the common cold?

Despite continued research, the quest to find a cure for the common cold has stumped scientists, as a cold can be caused by any one of over 200 viruses.  Rhinoviruses and coronaviruses account for the majority of adult colds and rarely cause serious illness, while more virulent viruses, such as the orthomyxoviruses, can cause more severe illnesses including various strains of influenza.

How do colds spread?

Cold sufferers are at their most contagious during the first three days of infection. The virus is spread in airborne droplets by coughs and sneezes, so it is important to always have a tissue at the ready and bin it after use. The cold virus is also spread by hand, so touching or blowing your nose, then touching a surface such as a doorknob, can spread the infection. Viral transmission rates increase in dry air, so a dry, stuffy atmosphere at home or work may be your worst enemy in the fight against colds. There is, however, no evidence to support the old wives tale that you can catch a cold from exposure to cold weather or going outside with wet hair!

How to avoid catching a cold

·        Avoid crowded places, where risk of infection is greater

·        “Mist” the air around you with colloidal silver, which has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties, as well as spraying on surfaces

·        Wash your hands frequently

·        If in physical contact with someone who has a cold, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

·        Keep rooms well-aired


A balanced diet of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy protein, wholegrains and essential fats from seeds, nuts and oily fish will certainly stand you in good stead. Sugar has a detrimental effect on the immune system, so go easy on the alcohol and avoid refined foods, such as cakes and biscuits. Rather than sugar, why not add xylitol, a natural sweetener, to your baking and hot drinks? Xylitol has 40% less calories than sugar and has minimal impact on blood sugar. Don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids, such as herb teas; cat’s claw tea is a warming and comforting immune-booster. 


·        Research supports a link between regular moderate exercise, such as a daily walk, and a healthy immune system. But don’t overdo it – intense exercise lowers immune function

·        Don’t stress! Psychological stress can lower resistance to infection. Yoga, meditation and tai chi are all good stress busters

·        Get regular restorative sleep – susceptibility to the common cold increases with less sleep. A study has found that having less than seven hours sleep a night makes you three times more likely to develop an infection than sleeping for eight hours or more.

Supplemental support

Vitamin C

Unlike most animals and plants, humans have lost the ability to make their own vitamin C. We must therefore obtain this vital vitamin from our food. Vitamin C plays an important role in immune function, but is rapidly used up during times of stress, infection or injury. Additionally, the vitamin C content of foods may be reduced through storage and cooking.


Zinc is an essential mineral, necessary for a healthy immune system. Studies show that supplementingzinc may not only ward off colds, but, when taken within a day of the onset of cold symptoms, also speeds recovery. So munch on zinc-rich sesame and pumpkin seeds or snack on pumpkin butter on toast or crackers.

Black elderberry

Black elderberry exerts an antiviral action, and has been found in trials to be active against several strains of influenza. The purple pigment of the black elderberry contains a concentrated source of anthocyanins five times greater than the blueberry. Anthocyanins are a class of flavonoids that act as powerful antioxidants in the body.


Traditional African cultures have used pelargonium for hundreds of years to combat respiratory infections and support faster recovery. Pelargonium exerts a three-pronged attack, acting as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral and an expectorant, helping the body to eliminate stubborn mucous. Traditionally used to relieve symptoms including sore throat, cough and blocked or runny nose, it is best taken at the first signs of infection.

Sage, rosemary and thyme

For thousands of years, herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme have been used for both culinary and health purposes. Sage has been used in gargles for sore throats, while rosemary seems to have antibacterial properties. Other plants valued for their beneficial health properties include echinacea, garlic and olive leaf.

Beta glucans

Beta glucans (1,3/1,6), derived from the oyster mushroom, play an important role as an immune modulator, helping to kick-start the body’s defences at the first sign of infection. Beta glucans stimulate macrophages, white blood cells that swallow up foreign invaders, as well as signalling to other immune cells to rush to the infection site.

So, with a range of supportive supplements at the ready, as well as good dietary support, you can be prepared to help yourself avoid the worst of the winter’s ravages – a cold winter shouldn’t necessarily leave you with a winter cold! 

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