How To Not Get Sick

these are not pleasant experiences. Though modern medicine has progressed, we have yet to find cures for basic of ailments like the common cold. And imagine the potential money that could be made. This type of condition is one where good, consistent nutrition, and smart supplementation, may actually be your best defense. But what vitamins and supplements will work?

Nearly everyone has likely heard of the theory that mega-doses of vitamin C may cure a cold. This theory was first purported by Linus Pauling. As the only winner of two unshared Nobel Prizes, Pauling’s contributions to the world at large were numerous. However, his suggestion that mega-doses of vitamin C could possibly help cure cancer did not come without controversy. Multiple studies were done disproving Pauling’s theory and conventional logic has now pretty much disregarded the idea.

But what about the common cold? Pauling initially based his theory on a single trial of a skiing camp in the Swiss Alps. Since then, trials have shown that vitamin C can have positive effects on colds, but this outcome seems to vary within different groups. Here, an “n=1” may be best, to see if this particular vitamin works for you.

Next on the list of supplements that may help with illness is zinc. Zinc is an essential mineral, and is a cofactor for numerous important enzymes. It is commonly not obtained in adequate amounts in a normal diet, and the onset of zinc deficiency happens relatively quickly. Zinc has been shown to reduce the duration of the common cold. One study has even seen zinc deficiency as a causation of acne within a mere 12 days.

Zinc can be found in many common cold remedies, such as Cold-EEZE®. When looking at a formulation, it is important to get a non-chelating version, such as one including glyicine, which will help release zinc into saliva.

A more controversial cold remedy is colloidal silver. However, at least one study has shown ionic colloidal silver to work as a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent. Another ingredient that is typically involved in more natural cold remedies is echinacea. Some studies have shown echinacea to work effectively against the frequency and duration of colds. Licorice root, more specifically an isoflavan extracted from the root, has been studied to be a possible novel anticancer therapy. Its usefulness has also been demonstrated in reducing inflammation. Antiviral effects of an element of licorice, specifically the compound glycyrrhizin, have been seen in the scientific literature as well. This root is commonly found in more natural cold and throat remedies, such as Everyday Throat Spray® and Traditional Medicinals Cold Care P.M®.

There are other schools of thought on how to avoid sickness or to stymie its duration. Individual megadoses of vitamins have been tested for nearly a century, if not longer. A trial from all the way back in 1940 used individually large doses of vitamin A, B, C, and D to combat upper respiratory infections. None of the vitamins proved to be advantageous. In another trial from 1931, large doses of vitamin A proved to be inconsequential in warding off infection.

On the positive side, an interesting study shows that an herb called pelargonium sidoides may have positive impacts on reducing the severity and duration of the common cold. Of course it should be noted that there are some conflicts of interest in that study.

Does exposure to germs cause illness? This one should be a no-brainer, but let’s look at the scientific literature. This study of a workplace reported a reduction in contamination levels of 33% across all measured spaces, which reduced absenteeism by 13%. So, less germs equals less illness, at least in one study. In a study of schoolchildren, an instant hand sanitizer was used to try and combat germs from spreading. After 5 weeks, students using the active product were 33% less likely to have been absent because of illness when compared with the placebo group.

That being said, modern medicine has also shown that bacteria are possibly starting to evolve into forms that are completely drug-resistant. Interestingly, there are also studies which show dirt being beneficial for your brain. The mechanism reported is serotonin production via Mycobacterium vaccae bacteria. This means that rubbing your hands in the dirt could be potentially as effective as taking an antidepressant drug. If you don’t want to play in the mud, an excellent, soil-based probiotic is Prescript-Assist®. This product has been studied multiple times in double-blind, randomized, controlled trials.

The “hygiene hypothesis” is an interesting theory that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, such as dirt, may lead to higher incidences of autoimmune diseases and allergies. This is also known as the “biome depletion” theory. Here is an excellent summary of the basic idea:

“Running water, toilets, showers – they all keep us clean and away from nasty parasitic gut worms (helminthes) that can make us sick… or so we thought. Growing evidence suggests that these organisms we call “parasites” are actually a natural part of our bodies (or “biomes”), and that they have been regulating our immune systems for thousands of years. Humans in post-industrialized nations (and our pets and research animals) are the only helminth-free (“biome-depleted”) vertebrates due to our scrupulous hygiene practices. Consequently, cases of allergies, asthma, Type 1 diabetes, possibly even autism, and other hyper-immune diseases are wide-spread and growing rapidly. After all, when helminthes can’t keep our immune systems company, it makes sense that our immune systems would get bored and start overreacting to innocuous substances or even to our own bodies, right?”

Besides the “depleted good bacteria” theory, there is another common ailment that may be getting and keeping you sick: lack of sleep. A good starting place is patients who are already ill. This study recognized that oftentimes intensive care patients get very little sleep, or disrupsted sleep, characterized by:

  • prolonged sleep latencies
  • sleep fragmentation
  • decreased sleep efficiency
  • frequent arousals
  • predominance of stage 1 and 2 nonrapid eye movement sleep
  • decreased or absent stage 3 and 4 nonrapid eye movement sleep
  • decreased or absent rapid eye movement sleep

The authors of this paper recognize that this may be impacting their recovery, and they strategize how to fix the problem. An easy-to-read image showing common sleep disturbances can be seen below.

Though this is drawn from a paper on sleep issues in hospitals, the general problems still underlie our day-to-day sleeping patterns, and our recovery from illness. This paper posits that sleep disruption correlates with both medical and psychiatric disorders. If you are not familiar with scientific studies, correlation does not mean sleep loss causes illness, it merely means that sleep loss presents with illness, both of the physical and mental nature.

Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler sums up the problems with not getting enough sleep, rather nicely:

“Yes, lack of sleep can affect your immune system. Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.”

If that doesn’t give you enough reason to get to bed on time every night, perhaps the fact that sleep loss can help make you fat will. An excellent paper from 2002 highlights how cellular immunity declines with lack of sleep. Another excellent study, this time from 2004, shows that “circulating levels of proinflammatory cytokines may have a negative influence on sleep initiation.” A study of bipolar patients found that they had disrupted sleep, which could possibly be related to functional brain deficits. Mental health, as well as physical, is clearly related to sleep.

So what is the best way to not get sick, both mentally and physically? Ultimately, a good lifestyle with moderate to low stress, a healthy sleeping schedule with good sleep hygiene, and a nutrient-dense Paleo diet will give you the best defense system. That being said, it is important to take note of the different suggestions outlined above and try them out in an “n=1” fashion, when it may be appropriate. A good summary of potentially effective methods is outlined in this paper. And if I find a cure for the common cold, I will be sure to let you know.

How do you avoid getting sick? Let us know in the comments!

This article originally appeared on PaleoHacks.