Stay cold-free through the winter months

Cold Mountain

With all the talk about the flu going around, the common cold
isn’t getting much attention lately. But you can be sure that if
statistics about colds could be tracked, The Centers for Disease Control would probably be talking about an epidemic.

While I was out shopping this month I came across at least a
dozen store cashiers who clearly had colds. When you think of all the people they each came into contact with every day, it’s easy to imagine how a bug gets passed around with the greatest of ease.

How about you? Have you dodged the bullet so far? If so, it’s
not too late to start doing yourself a favor today that might
help keep you
cold-free through these winter months. And I’ve also got a tip from Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., about a supplementthat may help you shake off a cold more easily if you should get one.

Walk it off

The average adult may be hit with two to five colds each year. That estimate is part of a study from the University of South Carolina in Columbia (USCC) that set out to understand the relationship between different levels of physical activity and the risk of upper-respiratory tract infection, also known as the”common cold.”

The USCC researchers studied 547 healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 70 (the average age was 48). The group was evenly divided between men and women. Subjects were evaluated five times over the period of a year, reporting on any cold symptoms during that period and giving researchers details of their physical activities.

After assessing the data, the USCC team found that subjects who had a moderate to high level of physical activity experienced 25% fewer colds than those whose daily activities were relatively low. And for some reason, during autumn months that number jumped to 32% fewer upper respiratory infections. In general, these benefits were slightly more pronounced among the men.

This study also revealed another important detail about
exercise. Researchers found that the benefits of reduced risk of colds can be attained with moderate physical activity each day, such as a 30-minute walk or even mowing the lawn. In addition, high levels of physical activity may have negative effects on the immune system and could increase the risk of catching a cold. Running a marathon, for instance, can deplete the immune system defenses, leaving a runner vulnerable to colds and other illnesses in the week following a marathon race.

In the zinc

But even if we take precautions to keep ourselves fit and
healthy, sometimes viruses will still find a way to lay us low.
And while there’s no cure for the common cold, there is a
mineral that could help reduce the length of a cold.

In the Health eTips e-letter “That’s what you zinc” (7/14/03),
Amanda Ross wrote about a recent study in which 25 subjects began using zinc-acetate lozenges within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms, while 23 other subjects used identically flavored placebo lozenges. Both groups used their treatments every two to three hours (while awake) for four to five days.

In the zinc group, cold symptoms subsided within five days, on average. In the placebo group, cold symptoms took an average of eight days to subside. But Amanda offers a tip from Dr. JonathanV. Wright that could make the zinc even more effective.

Amanda writes: “The instructions on the lozenges say to let them dissolve slowly under your tongue. But since concentrations of zinc kill micro-organisms by direct contact, it’s even more effective to swish and gargle some of the dissolved zinc, contacting as many mouth and throat surfaces as possible with the solution. Dr. Wright’s patients who have made this simple adjustment reported that their zinc lozenges worked even better than before!”

One to avoid

One final notes about colds: There are over-the-counter cold
medications that may do more harm than good for some people.

In the e-Alert “The Hidden Risk for Cognitive Decline is Hiding in your Medicine Cabinet” (12/20/01) I told you about a study that revealed that several over-the-counter cold medications, designed to treat colds, allergies and insomnia, contain an active ingredient called diphenhydramine hydrochloride – a drug
that can be dangerous for people 70 years and over. Benadryl, Genihist, Sominex, and Sleepinal are just a few of the commercial medicines that contain this ingredient.

In the Yale-New Haven Hospital study, researchers demonstrated a significantly greater risk for decline in individual cognitive assessments, such as inattention, disorganized speech, altered sleep-wake cycle, and behavioral disturbances. The maximum
cumulative daily dose for subjects in the study was 100 mg, a level that’s quite easy to achieve in just a few doses of many over-the-counter products.

Walk the walk

However you may choose to treat your cold symptoms – with zinc, echinacea, extra vitamin C, chicken soup, etc. – one thing you can do right now to avoid the sniffles and everything that goes with them, is to schedule a 30-minute walk for yourself each day. It may not keep you from ever having a cold again, but you’ll be doing your immune system a world of good.


To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


“Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity and Risk of
Upper-Respiratory Tract Infection” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2002;34:1242-1248

“Regular Exercise Helps keep Colds at Bay: Study” Reuters
Health, 8/14/02

“Exercise May Reduce Risk of Colds” Associated Press, 8/26/02

“That’s what you zinc” Amanda Ross, Health eTips, 7/14/03,