In Articles +tips/ Nutrition

3 effective ways to prevent colds

Are you always getting colds? Are your colds frustratingly long?

You’re not alone.

Did you know that in the course of a year, individuals in the United States suffer 1 billion colds? Doesn’t that sound crazy? I had to double check the stats on that one and yes, it’s true [1]. The average adult has a cold 2-3 times a year and children have colds far more often.

The cost of all this is a whopping $40 billion a year (again that sounds crazy, but here is where that number came from [2].)

We’re getting colds far too often and it’s resulting in too many lost opportunities. Who wants to be stuck at home with an awful cold 2-3 times a year?

What we need to do is prevent colds from happening in the first place. How exactly can you prevent colds? The answer is simple – build a strong immune system with a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Popping supplements like vitamin C (which, by the way, has been proven to be ineffective in several studies [2,3,4]) or taking expensive herbs like echinacea (which also doesn’t seem to be that effective[5,6]) is not the answer.

At the end of the day, the best way to prevent a cold is to nourish your body and build a stronger immune system that can fight viruses on its own. Your lifestyle (exercise, sleep, stress management) are probably important, but nothing can beat a healthy diet with the right nutrients to boost your long-term immunity.

3-science-backed-ways-to-prevent-a-cold-or-flu

Here are three science-backed ways to prevent a cold:

1. Get enough vitamin D.

Many people in North America have sub-optimal vitamin D levels due to low exposure to sunlight, especially in the winter. If you’re not getting regular sunlight and aren’t taking supplements, you could possible have low vitamin D levels.

Having low vitamin D levels impacts your body in many ways (you can read a bit more on vitamin D in my post here), but I’m not going to discuss that right now. Let’s talk about how vitamin D impacts your immunity.

In recent studies [7,8], researchers found a link between vitamin D and immune function. If low vitamin D results in low immunity, does that mean getting enough vitamin D will help prevent colds? Based on the science, yes, it seems to be the case. In several studies [9,10,11], people with higher vitamin D levels were less likely to catch a cold/flu.

Think about getting a vitamin D supplement if you’re always struggling with low immunity. The amount you need is best discussed with your healthcare provider, but you can read this post to get a better understanding of how important vitamin D is for you. Its benefits go well beyond preventing a cold.

2. Consume more probiotics.

Probiotics have been shown to reduce the likelihood of getting a cold or flu [12,13,14,15,16]. In most of the studies, they tested specific strains of bacteria, so these results may or may not apply to all probiotics. However, it seems that in general probiotics do have an impact on immunity [17].

So should you take a probiotic supplement? Well, not so fast. I don’t always recommend probiotic supplements to my clients since it really depends on the person and their health. And supplements can be expensive!

A less expensive (and perhaps more sustainable option) is to try incorporating probiotics into your diet with fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented pickles, homemade water kefir or homemade dairy kefir (if you consume dairy). If you’re interested in learning more about kefir and other fermentation options, please check out Yemoos Nourishing Cultures (it’s where I buy my water kefir grains from).

And remember with any fermented product you buy, make sure it has live bacteria. Majority of the sauerkraut sold in the grocery stores has no live bacteria. Most “live” fermented products are only available in the refrigerated section of the store, not on the regular shelves. I recommend the Bubbies brand if you want to try sauerkrarut out – it’s available at most health food stores.

3. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.

Yes, it’s all about those fruits and veggies! 🙂 If you’ve been reading my posts, you’ll know how much I stress the importance of eating enough fruits and veggies (if you want to learn more, read this post.)

Most people (even those who think they are eating well) are not getting enough fruit/veg in their daily diet. Only 13% of Americans eat enough fruits and only 9% eat enough vegetables [18]. Too low! That means most people are missing out on key nutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals) that support immune function.

General fruit and vegetable (fresh and powdered) intake has been shown to reduce the occurrence of colds [18,19,20]. In addition, specific nutrients in fruits and vegetables have also been studied and shown to improve immune function (e.g. such as quercetin in apples [21] and lycopene in tomatoes [22]).

This is an interesting area of research and every year there are more studies showing a variety of health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables that extend beyond they vitamin and mineral content. No amount of multi-vitamins can replace a good diet. So get enough fruits and veggies (at least 5 or more a day as a bare minimum).

P.S. I wanted to give a special shout out to ginger and garlic. They’re not exactly considered fruits or vegetables, but they do have phytonutrients just like fruits and veggies, that can help boost immunity [23,24,25]. There’s no direct proof that they can prevent colds, but they definitely improve immune function.

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