Avoiding Colds

A couple of months ago I wrote about the approaching flu season, advocating for routine vaccination. The mid-winter holidays are just over, and nearly everyone I know has had some form of respiratory infection. Staff parties, many people together in enclosed spaces, alcohol are all contributors. Multi-generation family get together with small children and their viruses also contribute.

I’ve been fortunately so far able to avoid getting sick. I’m not sure why but I have my ideas.

None of this is science and much of its family traditional advice. But I have tried to apply what I know from science about how the body works to explain folk wisdom and just observation.

I think cold viruses are probably often found in our upper respiratory passages without causing disease, much like bacteria. They become invasive and cause pathology when conditions are favorable to them. Specifically alcohol, dryness of aircraft and especially a drop-in temperature of the nasopharynx… such as with lowered body temperature, or smoking tobacco. And with other causes of lowered immunity. (old age, disease, fatigue and almost certainly stress.)

So what we can do that is most effective is avoid the slightest chill…

Remember, 50% of heat loss is through our heads. Always keep your head warm especially after a workout. Avoid sudden changes of temperature, overheating and then rapid cooling. Change your base layer if possible after skiing or other cool weather activity before carrying on and have a shower or bath as soon as possible. I don’t like having damp feet. (Reading about the trenches in WWI terrifies me) I wear wool socks because they wick, and almost always change them after work or exercise.

Our stress hormones, cortisol etc., go through a daily cycle, tied to the day/night… the circadian rhythm. We need to respect that cycle. Early to bed, early rise etc.

I drink lots of weak tea, usually black but some green as well as just plain tea or occasionally a little honey. Because of Antioxidants? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just warm fluid bathing the mucosae. I figure they’ve been drinking it in the mountains for thousands of years, so there must be something to it. And, like Steve Martin in the” The Jerk” I love my thermos. I always have it full when I go in the morning, Fishing, skiing or anything else.

Vitamin D is controversial, but I noticed a dramatic reduction in frequency and then duration of colds when I started using 4000units IN DROPLET form daily. How it works… I won’t bore you with my theory. But it involves mucosal protection again. Jamiesons has a formulation of 1000units/droplet which means you only need 4 drops. Others aren’t as concentrated.


I use lots of herbs I’ve grown and dried, store bought only rarely. I think the benefits of oregano oil are controversial but again, I think there’s value, and I suspect thyme is potent in some way as are most of the others in the drawer or cabinet. So I use a lot of them when I use them. Aromatherapy and maybe more.

Soups, stews, braises give the cooking to really extract nutrients from bones and other tough tissues…Elemental protein.

I try limit alcohol especially after exercise. I like one drink but only if I’m warm.

I eat a large salad pretty much every day. I’m a huge believer in the value of a proper breakfast, and that is a topic for a whole blog. I eat a lot of apples, usually one with lunch every day. (“…keeps the doctor away”) I just scored a whole case of organic ambrosias from my green grocer!

Other important measures:

  • Hand washing and other public health measures (avoid touching your eyes which may be a “portal of entry” for viruses and wash hands frequently)
  • Not flying often (I think of aircraft as tubes filled with germs.)
  • Managing Stress. Need I say more. We all struggle with it

Despite all measures, we all get upper respiratory infections occasionally. I’ve had two in the last six years. When one comes, take care of yourself. Rest and get plenty of warm fluids. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches and chills, but if you develop complications such as a significant fever (use a thermometer!!) and/or coughing up significant secretions, seek medical attention. I do not believe proprietary cold remedies. I so disbelieve in them that writing this, I cannot name one of them, despite their being dozens lined up on the shelves of pharmacies. I actually believe they prolong respiratory infections and by masking symptoms, promote their spread. Don’t start to exercise until you recover. Completely. Listen to your body.


Dr. Gelfant’s Living Beautifully Blog

Join our mailing list and receive updates when a new blog is posted by Dr. Benjamin Gelfant.