Recurring colds, frequent infections, runny nose, stuffy head, and sneezes aren’t the best ways to live a life. Fortunately, there are easy ways to limit frequent colds and get on with your life.
Your first stop should be in your kitchen, because good nutrition is the key to a strong immune system.
It is also the most sensible way to turn your unproductive days into productive ones, so you can spend time with your friends rather than virus-immune Netflix movies, or white-coated doctors and pharmacists.
Nutrients, the key to limit recurring colds
You’ve heard that nutrition is the backbone of health and that malnutrition affects a large proportion of unsuspected individuals in developed countries.[i] It’s all those donuts, sodas, and junk food that make us calorie-rich, but nutrient-poor.
Just like the body needs hundreds of nutrients to function, the immune system needs the same. Although the immune system needs all of the nutrient to function perfectly, it needs just six key nutrients to perform well. Did you know that most cases of recurring infections aren’t due to faulty anti-viral genes, but are due to weak immune system from lack of nutrients?
Below you will find the six key immune system nutrients. They can not only help you with a swifter cold recovery today. They can also help cut down on your frequent infections and recurring colds in the future.
Recurring colds in adults – why?
1 – Iron, the key immune system nutrient
What do you need iron for? To prevent anemia and to catch colds less frequently. Did you know that iron-deficiency anemia can lower the immune system ability to fight infections?[ii]
The body needs iron to distribute oxygen. You may think that oxygen is used only for energy production, but that’s not the case. Oxygen is the body’s main anti-germ weapon. The body uses oxygen “bombs” to destroy viruses, bacteria, and fungi. But if iron isn’t available, so aren’t oxygen “bombs”. And that makes the immune system weaker and you more prone to lingering infections.
The oxygen “bombs” are made of hydrogen peroxide, a substance you know quite well. You’ve used hydrogen peroxide to clean wounds and sterilize surfaces. But that’s more or less the extend of its everyday applications.
In the body however, hydrogen peroxide doesn’t have just one function. Besides being directly anti-microbial, it also acts like a traffic conductor. It directs white blood cells to the injured site. It simply tells white blood cells where to go.[iii] Without adequate iron, white blood cells get disoriented and don’t end up in the right place.
There is one more reason to focus on iron. Iron indirectly decides on how many white blood cells your immune system can make. Studies showed that a lack of iron can reduce white blood cell count.[iv] That is not good news if you want to minimize frequent infections and get rid of recurring colds.
Best dietary sources of iron
Best food sources of heme iron (most bio-available): liver, organ meats, red meat, fish[v]
Best foods sources of non-heme iron (plant sources): spinach, tomato paste, lima beans, asparagus
Special note about iron: if you decide to eat iron-rich foods to up your iron stores, ensure that your food combinations enhance, and not reduce iron absorption. There are many foods that prevent iron absorption. Don’t use them in vicinity of your iron-rich meals or supplements.
Foods that boost the immune system, inflammation hacks
2 – vitamin C, good but not a magic bullet for recurrent infections
You may have noticed that when common cold season is in full swing, so are vitamin C ads. These two always seem to go together and for a good reason.
The immune system cannot work without vitamin C. That can be seen in scurvy, the most severe case of vitamin C deficiency. Scurvy increases the risk of any infection.[vi] Linus Pauling was the first to suggest using high dose of vitamin C for common colds. He discovered that ingestion of 1–3 g of ascorbic acid effectively prevents or ameliorates respiratory infections.
Lack of vitamin C can cause another problem for the immune system. It can effectively lower iron absorption.[vii] And as you know poor iron absorption can cause iron-deficiency anemia and further weaken the immune system. So, if you are prone to recurring colds and your iron stores are low, don’t forget to supplement with vitamin C. An orange a day can do miracles for iron-poor immune system.
Although vitamin C may seem quite mighty in boosting the immune system, it doesn’t always work miracles for recurring colds. Vitamin C won’t help the immune system unless frequent infections have an underlying vitamin C deficiency. If you suffer from recurring colds, but aren’t vitamin C deficient, don’t expect big benefits from doubling up on supplementation.
Best dietary sources of vitamin C
citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, and gooseberries.
Vitamin C supplements
Foods that boost the immune system, colds & flus
3 – B complex, keeps common cold virus at bay by increasing body warmth
I am sure you never thought of supplementing with B vitamins during the cold season. Neither have I till I considered the following.
B vitamins support energy production. Energy means warmth. Interestingly, a recent study pointed out that people deficient in B vitamins are more sensitive to cold temperatures. That’s because low energy production translates to lack of warmth. And that has direct consequences for recurring colds, because a cold body is an attractive proposition to a cold-loving common cold virus. Consider supplementing with B vitamins if you have low energy and get sick frequently.[viii]
Out of all B vitamins, consider B12 to be the king. B12 doesn’t just make energy, it is also needed for red blood cell formation. Lack of B12 leads to anemia, not the iron-deficiency anemia, but B12-deficiency anemia. B12-deficiency anemia weakens the immune system the same way as iron-deficiency does and consequently contributes to higher frequency of colds.
If you are tired all the time, your body is cold, pale, you keep on getting sick, and iron supplements aren’t helping, think of B12. It may just be the missing piece to the puzzle.
Best dietary sources of vitamin B12:
fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk
Vitamin B12 supplements
Special note about B12: B12 isn’t well absorbed from tablets and standard pills. Only sublingual forms or B12-rich food have adequate absorption.
Foods that boost the immune system, cholesterol & antioxidants
4 – vitamin A, a watchful guardian of respiratory surfaces
Vitamin A is yet another important immune system booster.[ix] Vitamin A guards the mucous membranes, the delicate gut and lung surfaces. Think of mucous membrane as our inner skin. Mucous membranes form a thin transparent moist layer of cells that covers our “inner body tube”. It’s that shiny surface you can see on the inside of the nose and mouth.
Vitamin A is unmatched when it comes to boosting mucous defenses, a barrier, common cold and flu viruses aim to penetrate. Lack of vitamin A makes the mucosal barriers weaker and less effective in battling infections. Vitamin A supplementation can be well-warranted in cases of recurring upper respiratory tract infections, because it can transform a poorly functioning mucosa into a tough to conquer structure.[x]
To get vitamin A from the diet you need to eat animal foods. That’s because plants don’t have any. Plants only have a pro-vitamin A, which must be converted by the liver into its active form. Liver stores vitamin A, so excessive supplementation to prevent recurrence of infections isn’t advisable. Excess vitamin A won’t improve common cold outcome, but can create liver toxicity instead.[xi]
Best dietary sources of vitamin A:[xii]
eggs, butter, beef liver, mackerel, goat cheese, cheddar
Best dietary sources of pro-vitamin A:
sweet potatoes, winter squash, kale, collard greens, carrots.
Vitamin A supplements
How to recognize a weak immune system
5 – vitamin D, keeps the immune system in proper order
Vitamin D isn’t just for bones! Vitamin D, not unlike vitamin A, is a must for proper functioning of the immune system.[xiii] Vitamin D not only makes the immune system stronger. It also prevents it from getting confused. Did you know that vitamin D deficiency has been linked to higher risk of autoimmune diseases and cancers?
Adequate supply of vitamin D is necessary not only for reducing the risk of common colds, but to lower other respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Studies demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation can reduce the number of upper respiratory tract infections and lower the risk for recurring colds.[xiv] You will find vitamin D supplementation guidelines here.
Refrain from taking countless vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients that potentially have benefits. They will only work when your body needs them and is deficient in them. Taking an additional amount of a nutrient that is already abundant in the body may do more harm than good. That is especially true for vitamin D. Before taking it, test yourself for vitamin D deficiency.
Having said that, be aware that vitamin D deficiency is extremely common. Two out of five American adults are vitamin D deficient.[xv] I would blame the problem on the widespread popularity of low-fat diets and low popularity of sun exposure. If you are on a low-fat or low-cholesterol diet from fear of heart disease and avoid sunlight from fear of skin cancer, chances are you may have given yourself vitamin D deficiency instead.
Regardless of your habits, know that if you have gout, heart disease, psoriasis, diabetes, cancer, liver disease, low HDL you have the highest risk of being vitamin D deficient.
Best dietary sources of vitamin D:
Fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolks, cheese, oysters
Vitamin D supplements
Must have flu-fighting remedies
6 – Zinc, right behind iron for recurring colds
Have you noticed how zinc lozenges get neatly lined up at the pharmacy entrance during a cold and flu season? Grab a pack! Sucking on a zinc lozenge to ward of a cold may not be a bad idea. Zinc, besides iron, is the most immune system boosting mineral of all.
What does zinc do for the immune system and frequent colds? Studies that compared zinc syrups and zinc tablets may have provided the answer. Syrups turn out to be much more effective for reducing the infection due to its long stay in the mouth. Apparently, zinc works on contact by preventing the common cold virus from multiplying. Zinc may also stop the virus from penetrating the mucous membranes of the throat and nose.
Studies say that zinc may reduce the duration of cold as much as 50% and substantially reduce a number of recurring infections. These benefits were achieved in adults with daily zinc intake of 75mg or more.[xvi]
Your grocery-story bought zinc lozenge isn’t 75mg-powerful, but don’t make much fuss about it. Even a less powerful lozenge can help speed up recovery from runny nose and stuffy head. Studies suggest that even amount much smaller than 75mg can reduce the symptoms of cold by nearly two days.[xvii]
Interesting note: because of the convincing zinc studies, medical doctors are now advised to prescribe zinc supplements to adults within 24 hours of the onset of a common cold.[xviii]
Best dietary sources of zinc:
Meat, shellfish; good amounts, but lower bioavailability are in legumes and seeds
- Zinc citrate lozenges
- Fast melt tablets
- Clinically tested homeopathic zinc for colds
Good Health starts with being Health Smart