The term ‘super colds’ and ‘worst cold ever’ is being bantered around a fair bit and it seems everyone we talk to has a cold or is recovering from one.
Dr Jenna Macciochi, is an immunologist, author of The Science of Staying Well (amazon) and working a brand Ambassador for well-being brand Healthspan and tackles the question why our immune systems are struggling with the common cold.
Why is the common cold hitting us so badly?
Much has been made of the so called ‘immunity debt’ from being under exposed to germs as a consequence and collateral of the temporary pandemic restrictions. But I think we shouldn’t panic… it doesn’t mean our immune systems are doomed. An immunity debt sounds scary but is a theory at this stage and not scientifically proven.
Whether these are super colds or our lack of exposure to the common cold has increased our vulnerability is hard to say as there are many variables to consider.
What we are seeing is a change to the normal pattern of infections. Cases are surging but bunched over a shorter period of time. In effect, the normal distribution has changed as a consequence of restrictions (this can of course be problematic for healthcare systems). For example, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) infection which mostly affects kids in winter has been showing signs of high infection rates earlier in the autumn. Very small kids <18months can become severely ill from this virus.
Mothers who have been recently exposed to RSV can pass immunity to their babies and offer them vital protection during early life. However, if mothers haven’t been exposed due to restrictions, then we may see more very young babies getting very ill with RSV.
Lack of exposure rather than super colds
The immune system is complex and it’s overly simplistic to assume that temporary measures are going to have a dramatic impact in our ability to fight infections. There is the idea that being exposed to these germs helps ‘build our immune system’. This is not entirely accurate. For most of the viruses that cause seasonal infections we never develop a good long-term immunity to them anyway. Rather than terming them super colds, it’s more correct to say these viruses subtly alter their genetic code to evade our immune responses (this is why the flu vaccine changes each year).
For a normal healthy adult who has probably had numerous colds over the years, 18 months of not getting a cold isn’t really going to change your ability to fight it off but other factors might. The immune system is shaped by so many things from germs, to socioeconomic status to where you live to what you do.
We have all fared differently during the restrictions. Some people got healthier while others suffer intense stress, put on weight, stopped exercising etc. These all play into the bigger picture and trying to tease out how specific behaviours affect specific immune responses will likely never lead to clear cut answers.
A rainbow diet of fruit and vegetable should always be first but here are five simple ways we ways we can support our immunity which are easy to do.
Vitamin C might have become the subject of faith early in the pandemic, but multiple micronutrients, including vitamins A, D, C, E, B6, and B12, folate, zinc, iron, copper, and selenium, each playing vital, often synergistic roles at every stage of the immune response.
Vitamin D certainly takes centre stage, with deficiency noted as a common risk factor for COVID-19 and shown to reduce the severity of symptoms. With 1 in 5 of us at risk for low vitamin D, it’s something we should all be supplementing with (adults and children should take 10mcg/day). Healthspan Vitamin D3 10ug, 240 tablets, £8.95 or full range of gummies, sprays and supplements for different ages available on Healthspan’s website.
A viral pandemic can make you sick, but so can loneliness and stress. There is also a growing science-based case for optimism, kindness and strong social networks in helping our immune system.
Fresh air, green space, sunlight is emerging as critical too. Sleep is one of the most important things we can do for optimal immune function.
Regular moderate physical activity is scientifically shown to be associated with better immune function, as well as lower levels of anxiety, and perceived stress.
So, it’s less ‘magic’ bullet, more a 360 degree lifestyle approach. Because caring for our immunity is for life, not just for super colds or COVID19.
For more everyday health tips and advice, visit our Health channel.Tags: common cold, Super cold Last modified: October 25, 2021