What to do When you are Sick

My partner and I have caught a summer cold, most likely due to thrashing our selves in the gym, being very social, and flying. I can't say I am surprised. I am surprised at how long it has lingered. A virus is tricky, you need to wait it out, and not buy into old wives tales such as feed a cold, starve a flu. Here are a few evidence based steps to get you back to feeling great, and if anything the placebo effect of feeling like you are doing something positive should at least help.

  1. Eat well - your body needs nutrients, and the best sources are your vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean meat/fish. Eat the Rainbow. Loss of taste and hunger can inhibit this, persevere with foods that have spice and strong flavours (see my sweet potato red curry).
  2. Fluids - Drink lots of water, this helps your body literally flush out the pathogen causing your illness
  3. Supplements - After improving your diet, you can add some handy helpers. There is evidence for supplementing with Zinc short term and your local chemist will carry a Zinc specific multi in pill or powder form. Zinc supplements should not be taken for prolonged periods of time. Vitamin C has been shown to have no effect on the common cold in the general population (1). If you struggle eating lots of vegetables and fruit consider a morning smoothie with Banana, oats, milk and a whole food supplement to achieve some more nutrients. 
  4. Avoid alcohol - Alcohol in moderation does not suppress the immune system however it is best to focus on eating well and drinking fluids such as water (2, 3). If alcohol is replacing fluids that keep you hydrated then maybe leave it till you feel recovered.
  5. Exercise - If you feel like exercise, then assess your symptoms, if you have a productive cough as well as muscle fatigue you need to rest. If you have a scratchy throat and a bit stuffy a gentle walk will be fine. Avoid gyms and public areas as you don't want to spread your virus to other people. In a comprehensive meta-analysis, exercise has not been shown to alter the duration, severity or occurrence of respiratory infections (4). Exercise improves general well being and health but when ill should not be over done.
  6. Rest - Sleep is a good predictor of immunity, and therefore try to rest up, going forwards if you are a poor sleeper look at methods that can improve your sleep patterns, such as bed time routine, meditation and limiting electronic devices (5) 
  7. Wash your hands - you are contagious and there are vulnerable people out there who have weak immune systems or cannot get the flu shot. By washing your hands, avoiding touching your face and then surfaces, coughing/sneezing into your elbow (not your hands) and being aware, you can limit the spread of your virus. 

Going forwards analyse a few habits before you got sick, for us we were exercising a lot, had loads of social stuff on and we were eating well but potentially not enough kJ for our activity levels. Zinc deficiency has been associated with increased risk of infection (6), you obtain zinc through food such as oysters (highest) red meat, chicken, beans, nuts, fortified cereals and grains. It is best to aim for zinc containing foods as high doses of prolonged zinc supplementation can reduce your copper stores (6).

Get the flu jab, it doesn't cover every flu virus but you are helping protect your self and others.

Follow steps 1-7 in general, alcohol in moderation, exercise (ensure rest days) and try get a good night sleep.

References

  1. Douglas RM, Hemilä H. Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold. PLoS Med. 2005; 2(6): e168. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0020168
  2. Cohen S, Tyrrell DA,Russell MA, Jarvis MJ, Smith AP. Smoking, alcohol consumption, and susceptibility to the common cold. Am J Public Health Res. 1993; 83(9): 1277-1283. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.83.9.1277
  3. Watzl B, Bub A, Pretzer G, Roser S, Barth SW, Rechkemmer G. Daily moderate amounts of red wine or alcohol have no effect on the immune system of healthy men. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004; 58(1): 40-45. DOI: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601742
  4. Grande AJ, Keogh J, Hoffmann TC, Beller EM, Del Mar CB. Exercise versus no exercise for the occurrence, severity and duration of acute respiratory infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015; 6: CD010596. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010596.pub2.
  5. Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB. Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169(1): 62–67. DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2008.505
  6. Hemilä H, Chalker E. Zinc for preventing and treating the common cold (Protocol). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2017; 9.: CD012808. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012808.