Baby, it's cold outside!

Baby, it’s cold outside

‘Tis the season for carolers, crowds, and like it or not colds.

If you’ve started your shopping for the holidays, then you’ve probably already come into contact with someone who has a cold or is carrying around a cold bug. So today we’ll look at two important methods for coping with cold season.

How to prevent

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 recruited 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. 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 two additional details about exercise and immunity.

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 just mowing the lawn. But extremely high levels of physical activity may actually have a negative effect on the immune system and could increase the risk of catching a cold. Running a marathon, for instance, can deplete immune system defenses, leaving a runner vulnerable to colds and other illnesses in the week following a marathon race.

How to treat

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 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. Jonathan V. 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!”