What’s the flu and common cold?
The flu, also known as Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness. It’s caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, depending on the person. People with weak immune systems or people with health conditions are at a higher risk of severe flu infections. Such groups are elderly, people with chronic illnesses, pregnant women, infants, or young children (1).
In extreme cases, the flu may also lead to lung infection, like pneumonia or even death.
Likewise, the common cold is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection caused by a virus.
Difference between the flu and common cold
It’s very difficult to know if someone is affected by the flu or common cold. Both viruses spread and cause illness around the same time of the year. Winter months are when both viruses spread more easily.
Moreover, both have similar symptoms.
That’s the reason you can’t know if you have the flu or the cold.
The only way to be sure if you have the flu is to visit your doctor, as he can easily do a flu test for you or your child. Explain to your kid that there is no need to worry. Doctor only touch the patient with a cotton swab, to take sample from the nose.
Symptoms of flu and common cold
In general, flu symptoms are worse than the common cold. They can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue (2).
Common cold and flu can last about 1-2 weeks but flu symptoms may come more quickly.
Flu can have very serious complications, so if you experience some of these symptoms, you better visit your doctor.
Young children can be more vulnerable to the flu. During winter closely observe them. If they have a runny nose or are tired call your pediatrician.
Only your doctor can tell if you or your kids got the flu and decide if antiviral drugs are needed.
Symptoms of common cold
Symptoms of common cold are usually:
- runny nose
- sore throat
Symptoms of the flu
Symptoms of flu are the same as the common cold, although can be worse:
- runny nose
- severe muscle aches or fatigue
- sore throat
- moderate to high fever
Which children are most vulnerable to the flu?
Children that are at higher risk of being infected by the flu or the common cold are kids that:
- are around other infected people. Schools, kindergarteners, or other overcrowded places should be avoided if the flu goes around.
- tend to get sick many times a year
- with certain health conditions
- don’t wash their hands regularly
Common treatment for the flu and cold
The first thing someone with the flu or cold should do is to rest. That’s very important. Many underestimate their condition. That’s when things get worse for you and others. Don’t forget you’re highly contagious.
Secondly, adults and kids should consume lots of fluids. You must stay hydrated, as extra fluids are needed to turn the thick mucus into a thin liquid, in order to expel it through coughing. You don’t want mucus to stay in your lungs, as you’ll become vulnerable to more severe infections.
Thirdly, don’t worry about mild tiredness or low fever. That’s part of the body’s defense mechanism. Don’t hurry to take medication. Ask your doctor’s advice first.
Please remember, flu and common cold are viral infections, so antibiotics are not effective at treating them. Needless intake of antibiotics can strengthen bacterial, making them more resistant in the future.
Also, don’t give aspirin to a child, as aspirin can cause severe health conditions to children. Always concern your pediatrician.
There aren’t a lot of cold or flu meds that are safe for young children. Always ask your doctor’s advice, especially if your kid experience severe cough.
Home remedies for the flu and cold
Once you catch a cold or the flu, don’t expect immediate relief. Home natural remedies try to assist the body, especially the immune system, to deal with the virus.
As natural substances don’t suppress the symptoms, it’s rather common the symptoms of the flu or cold to temporarily worsen. That’s part of the body’s defense mechanism.
Through natural home remedies, we try to enhance the body’s defenses.
Also, you could drink a glass of red wine daily to boost your immune system.
Drink plenty of liquids
You must stay hydrated, drinking abundant water.
Liquids help the body to decrease the concentration of solutes in the blood, making white cells more efficient.
We suggest drinking hot water with lemon juice. Lemon is a good source of vitamin C and can help the immune system.
Additionally, a vaporizer can maintain a moist respiratory tract. If the respiratory tract is dehydrated, it makes a hospitable environment for viruses.
Avoid sugars and simple carbs
An enlighting study published at The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 26 proved that sugars can reduce the efficiency of white blood cells to eliminate bacteria (4).
Concentrating sources of sugars like glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, or orange juice all significantly decreased the capacity of neutrophils to engulf bacteria.
Neutrophils are the most common type of white blood cell that lead to the immune system’s response.
The decrease in the effectiveness of white cells to fight bacteria was rapid following the ingestion of sugars.
The greatest effects occurred between 1 and 2 hr after the sugary meal. The low effectiveness of white cells (immune system) was still significantly for 5 hr after the sugary meal (4).
It worths to notice that starch ingestion did not have this effect.
Keeping these results in mind, we suggest avoiding to drink concentrated fruit juices, as they are high in fructose. You better dilute the orange juice with hot water to avoid the underperform of the immune system.
Also, for the same reason, drink a lot of tea but avoid to add honey.
In the same vein, drink abundant hot water with lemon juice. Lemon juice is a good source of vitamin C and dilution of the lemon juice will allow white cells to work properly.
Role of fasting in the immune system
The same study also highlighted the importance of fasting.
Fasting of 36 to 60 hours significantly increased the ability of white cells to break down bacteria and other microorganisms.
Maybe the decreased appetite, during the flu or cold infection is part of the body’s defensive mechanism.
Soups for flu and common cold
Remember that starch ingestion did not have a negative effect on decreasing the ability of white cells to fight bacteria.
So, you can eat starchy foods. Try to eat your favorite vegetable noodle soup. You can try vermicelli. It is a traditional type of pasta similar to spaghetti.
Soup will hydrate you, vegetables and herbs will provide you with vitamins, and carbs from pasta will provide the calories. You can add some lemon juice in your soup, if you like.
Does vitamin C really help fight the flu and cold?
Many articles have been written about the role of vitamin C in fighting the flu and common cold. What is the truth though?
It’s a fact that vitamin C is a key factor in the proper function of the immune system, a powerful antioxidant with essential anti-viral properties (6). Vitamin C protects cells from oxidative damage by inhibiting the production of free radicals (8).
As you can understand, vitamin C deficiency is not a good thing. On the other hand, can a high dosage of vitamin C really help you during a cold?
Scientists from the University of Helsinki tried to answer this question. They conducted a meta-analysis, meaning that they studied other clinical trials. That type of study has the most valid results. Scientists examined and compared twenty-nine trials, involving 11,306 participants (5).
There wasn’t found a consistent effect of vitamin C neither on the duration nor on the severity of colds.
Most noteworthy, scientists propose a daily dose of vitamin C up to 250 mg. Increase of vitamin C dosage may benefit you only at the time of illness (10).
Does vitamin C reduce the risk of developing cold?
Vitamin C supplementation failed to reduce the incidence of colds. For this reason, scientists don’t find it necessary to take a daily vitamin C supplement.
Contrary, people who can benefit from vitamin C supplementation, are those who have experienced severe physical stress for a brief period.
1000 mg of vitamin C is considered a safe dosage.
Does vitamin C reduce the duration of cold?
Most importantly, vitamin C supplementation may help to reduce the duration of cold, although this wasn’t consistent with all trials. Maybe the daily dosage of vitamin C plays an important role.
In adults, the duration of colds was reduced by 8% (3% to 12%) and in children by 14% (7% to 21%). The vitamin C dosage was about 2000mg of vitamin C per day.
That means that vitamin C supplementation can reduce the duration of the cold by a day or two. Maybe higher daily dosages than 2000mg are beneficial. Ask your doctor if you want to take higher vitamin C dosages.
Always ask your pediatrician, about your kids’ vitamin C dosage.
Is vitamin C supplementation safe? Vitamin C toxicity
Don’t worry about a high vitamin C dosage. Vitamin C is generally safe and well-tolerated, even in large doses (9). Scientists have treated cancer patients with up to 100,000mg of vitamin C daily with minimal side effects (7).
Furthermore, scientists have tested daily dosages of 2000 mg of vitamin C for three months to thousands of volunteers. There were no side effects from 2000 mg doses of vitamin C (10).
Always try to avoid supplements. Prefer the natural sources of vitamins and minerals. Fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C.
Almost all the daily intake in the general population comes from these sources (9).
Citrus fruit, kiwi, and vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers are all good sources of vitamin C. Eat them regularly. Especially during the winter months. That way you’ll boost yours and your kid’s immune system.
In conclusion, vitamin C doesn’t have an essential effect on reducing symptoms of the common cold. Contrary, scientists impel cold patients to try vitamin C supplementation, in order to reduce the duration of the cold (5).
Vitamin C supplementation is both economic and safe, so individuals can try it, although there aren’t standard therapeutic dosages.
Zinc Lozenges for common cold
Studies have shown that zinc lozenges can relieve a sore throat due to the common cold.
Zinc is a key factor for the proper function of the immune system and also, zinc can impair antiviral activity.
Consider consuming zinc lozenges with a dosage fo 15mg zinc at least. Also, consider that not all zinc lozenges are equally effective. Find more about zinc lozenges here.
Foods rich in zinc are whole-grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes. If you want to make these natural good sources of zinc even more bio-absorbable, consider soaking the seeds, or eat fermented foods, like sourdough bread. This way, phytic acid in food is reduced and zinc can be absorbed more easily by the body.
Echinacea for the common cold and the flu
Echinacea pills or echinacea extracts have gained popularity in recent years. Many studies have conducted about the effectiveness of echinacea in treating the common cold. The results aren’t clear though.
Echinacea is believed to enhance the function of the immune system and for this reason, is the most popular herb for the common cold.
Echinacea supposes to reduce the duration of cold, reduce the risk of developing cold, and make cold symptoms less severe. There isn’t consistent evidence though.
If you decide to take echinacea as a supplement, consider that the quality of echinacea is very important. Good quality means more active compounds, increasing effectiveness against the cold.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention – About Flu.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Treatment: What You Need to Know.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis
- NCBI – Pubmeb.gov – Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold.
- NCBI – PMC – Vitamin C Is an Essential Factor on the Anti-viral Immune Responses through the Production of Interferon-α/β at the Initial Stage of Influenza A Virus (H3N2) Infection
- NCBI – PMC – Effects of High Doses of Vitamin C on Cancer Patients in Singapore
- NCBI – Pubmeb.gov – Cellular toxicity driven by high-dose vitamin C on normal and cancer stem cells.
- NCBI – PMC – Vitamin C
- NCBI – Pubmeb.gov – The effect on winter illness of large doses of vitamin C.