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Colds & immune system

Colds Immune system Vitamind Supplements

The days are getting shorter, it's getting cold and rainy outside and where a few weeks ago the trees were still green in bloom, they are now cloaked in red, gold and brown. Autumn has begun and with it the cold season. Suddenly our noses start to run, we feel faint and the question arises. Why again?

What makes us so susceptible to infectious diseases, especially in the fall? Why does our immune system fail to defend us against pathogens? And what is the difference between the flu and a cold? So that you are better informed, we will give you an overview and at the end you will also learn what protects you from such illnesses so that you are better prepared against colds in the future.

What is a cold anyway?

Before we get into the topic, we first need to clarify what a cold actually is. In medical terms, the term refers to a mild upper respiratory tract infection. This must be distinguished from, for example, the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus, and a Covid-19 infection.

Now, the common cold is not an illness per se - rather, it is an umbrella term for a whole range of pathogens that all trigger similar symptoms. Rhinoviruses, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza or adenoviruses, all of these pathogens can lead to "cold symptoms". These include

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Slight cough

The symptoms can be slightly different for everyone and in most cases a cold will clear up after a few days. However, depending on the age group, this can be very different. RSV infections are the most common reason why children have to go to hospital in their first year of life. Which complicates the whole thing further: Each virus family has several hundred offshoots. If we become infected with one virus, the next one can trick our immune response again.

Rhinitis Immune system Cold
The wave of colds comes around the same time every year. Depending on the pathogen spectrum, the illnesses can be more severe or milder.

Influenza and Covid-19 - related, but more dangerous

Influenza caused by influenza viruses must be distinguished from the common cold. An infection with influenza can cause more severe symptoms, often including a high fever and a strong feeling of illness. Here too, the illness usually heals on its own, but lasts longer.

However, an influenza infection can also be so severe, particularly in older or immunocompromised people, that they have to go to hospital for medical treatment. This is similar to Covid-19, which, unlike the common cold viruses, also affects the lower respiratory tract and can cause severe viral pneumonia under certain circumstances.

Why are we more susceptible to colds in the fall?

There are many factors that cause us to become infected more often in the fall. Some of them are:

  • Less sunlight: The days are getting shorter and our body can produce less vitamin D due to the reduced sunlight
  • Dry air: In the cold seasons, we spend most of our time indoors. The heating air dries out our mucous membranes and viruses find it easier to penetrate our bodies
  • Seasonality: virus populations fluctuate throughout the year. The rhinovirus, which is responsible for more than a quarter of all colds, spreads rapidly in the fall. For example, UV radiation, which is weaker in the cold season, also has an influence on the spread of pathogens.

Fact or myth? If you go out with wet hair, you will catch a cold more quickly. This is a myth. The cold, even if it is in the word cold, has little to do with the risk of infection. We are actually more likely to catch a cold from the lack of fresh air, as viruses feel particularly at home in dry rooms. However, there is a little bit of truth in this statement. Wet hair makes us cool down a little faster, which in turn can weaken our immune system.

Immune system scheme Akg
Our immune system with its various effector cells defends itself against invaders of all kinds.

What can we do to protect ourselves against colds?

Now that we have seen that a whole range of pathogens can be behind the symptoms, we need different strategies against the viruses. A few general tips are:

  • Ventilate (shock) frequently. This renews the air and makes it more difficult for viruses to spread in the room
  • Hygiene. Washing your hands, as we have often heard during the pandemic, can also be helpful. If we touch our mucous membranes or eyes with contaminated hands, the viruses can enter the body more quickly
  • Sport: Regular exercise strengthens our immune system
  • Sauna: As well as strengthening the immune system, regular sauna visits can also protect against cardiovascular disease and even reduce overall mortality rates

Which dietary supplements are useful?

Let's admit it, colds are annoying. Every year we are plagued by them anew and the doctor we trust can't really help either, as there is no medication against cold viruses. This is not the case with influenza, where antiviral medication is available for severe cases.

So when we catch a cold, we only have two strategies. How can I avoid an infection if possible and what can I do to get over an infection as quickly as possible. Fortunately, there are several studies and reviews in the scientific literature. We have picked out the most promising tips for you:

  • Vitamin DOur vitamin D levels fall in winter due to the lack of sunlight and vitamin D deficiency often occurs. We can compensate for this with supplementation. The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily dose of 4000 IU (international units) per day. Dr. Peter Attia also takes vitamin D daily to protect against infections. His dose of 5000 IU is slightly higher than the dose generally recommended in America.
  • ZincThis mineral supports our immune system and can work in two ways. On the one hand, it helps with prevention, and on the other, it can reduce the duration of a cold. As it also has a positive effect on blood sugar metabolism in addition to colds, it is included together with chromium in the berberine mineral complex together with chromium.
  • Vitamin C: There are different results in the studies. It does not appear to be suitable for prevention. In some studies, however, the duration of illness could be shortened by half a day - but here too the results are not clear.
  • Vitamin E: A study has shown that vitamin E provides better protection against colds in older people.

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Red wine for the common cold?

In a rather unusual study, 4272 members of 5 Spanish universities were examined for their frequency of colds. The researchers discovered something strange. The group of red wine drinkers had a lower risk of catching a cold. So does red wine protect against a cold? Probably not.

The whole thing is reminiscent of the French paradox. The resveratrol contained in red wine is presumably responsible for the effect. This secondary plant substance is a polyphenol and has a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. It has been identified as a longevity molecule by the laboratory of Harvard professor David Sinclair among others.

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Secondary plant substances - what are the plant-based alternatives?

Nature is our greatest pharmacy - people have been treating illnesses under this motto for thousands of years. And with good reason. Plants protect themselves against harmful environmental influences with the help of certain molecules. These secondary plant substances not only protect the plant - they also have positive health effects on us humans.

Two natural products have been particularly researched for colds. Garlic and the red coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Garlic was the most effective in preventing colds. This may be due to its antiviral properties. It did not matter whether the garlic was consumed fresh or in powder form. The only disadvantage described by the test subjects was bad breath: Bad breath.

Tech millionaire and longevity enthusiast Bryan Johnson also relies on the power of garlic. It is among his selection of more than a hundred supplements that the American takes daily to stop ageing.

Broccoli, elderberry or ginger - other helpers at your side

Another favorite in Bryan Johnson's supplement stack is broccoli. The American not only eats large quantities of the green vegetable every day, he also takes broccoli extract in the form of capsules. The main ingredient is sulforaphane. This molecule can not only dampen the inflammatory reaction in the body, but also support our liver in detoxifying harmful substances via the Nrf2 signaling pathway.

Another helper from the plant world is the red coneflower, also known as echinacea. Echinacea has been tested in several studies for colds. The data is not entirely clear, but in this randomized, double-blinded study, scientists found that red coneflower was particularly effective in stopping recurrent colds.

Other molecules from nature are contained in ginger and elderflower. Here, however, the study situation is even thinner. Both substances contain antiviral substances that are thought to provide mild protection.


  • Katona, Peter, and Judit Katona-Apte. "The interaction between nutrition and infection." Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America vol. 46,10 (2008): Link
  • Perera, W P R T et al. "Antiviral Potential of Selected Medicinal Herbs and Their Isolated Natural Products." BioMed research international vol. 2021 7872406. 8 Dec. 2021, Link
  • Nantz, Meri P et al. "Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention." Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland) vol. 31,3 (2012): 337-44. link
  • Kaiser, Anna E et al. "Sulforaphane: A Broccoli Bioactive Phytocompound with Cancer Preventive Potential." Cancers vol. 13,19 4796. 25 Sep. 2021. link
  • Petkovic, Marija et al. "Dietary supplementation with sulforaphane ameliorates skin aging through activation of the Keap1-Nrf2 pathway." The Journal of nutritional biochemistry vol. 98 (2021): 108817. link
  • Hickson, LaTonya J et al. "Senolytics decrease senescent cells in humans: Preliminary report from a clinical trial of Dasatinib plus Quercetin in individuals with diabetic kidney disease." EBioMedicine vol. 47 (2019): 446-456. link


The images were purchased under licence from Canva.

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