Category Archives: common cold

Boosting immune health. Can ‘back to school’ coughs and colds be prevented?

Continuing with the theme of child health I have decided to look at the prevention of common infections such as those of the ear, nose and throat, and tummy upsets.  Children returning to school after the long holiday break will be exposed to others who they may not have seen in weeks and also to the various ‘bugs’ that they may be carrying.  Fear not, it is not inevitable that your children will end up feeling poorly and catching every illness around them! 

A healthy, strong immune system will help to prevent various infections, or keep them short and less intense if they do occur.  Ensuring that your child is eating healthily will mean that they are getting all the vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids they need in order to keep their immune system fighting fit.  However, I am aware that many children are not regularly getting the recommended daily 5 portions of fruit and vegetables.  This may mean that they are lacking in essential nutrients and their immune system may not be running at optimum.  Certain supplements, specially formulated for children, may be helpful in supporting a healthy diet in order to keep the immune system healthy.  However, a supplement cannot be seen as a replacement for the foundations provided by a healthy lifestyle.

Here I will be looking at some of the evidence which suggests that a multivitamin and mineral supplement taken together with a fish oil supplement (to provide essential omega 3 fatty acids) and a pre/pro-biotic supplement could be useful in helping to prevent childhood infections. 

Two papers have been published by a group of researchers who used a fish oil and multivitamin-mineral supplement in children who regularly suffered from recurrent ear(1) and sinus(2) infections.  The studies were very small and preliminary but both suggested benefit in the prevention of these common childhood conditions.  The researchers suggest that such preventative treatments could reduce the need for prescribed antibiotics.  Evidence also exists to suggest that individuals who suffer from recurrent tonsillitis infections may have a disturbed balance of various vitamins(3,4) and minerals(5), especially lowered zinc levels.

Previously I have written about zinc and vitamin C in relation to the prevention and shortening of the common cold and I would recommend you visit this post for more information. 

A few months ago I wrote about the importance of maintaining a good balance of ‘friendly’ bacteria in the digestive system in order to boost immune function and how evidence suggests that taking a daily probiotic supplement may prevent the occurrence of the common cold.  Children who have suffered from recurrent infections will normally have been exposed to frequent courses of antibiotics.  Antibiotics may indeed have been useful for fighting the bacterial infection, however they also kill many of the beneficial bacteria that would normally live in a healthy gut.  This imbalance could lead to a less efficient immune system and an increased likelihood of further infections.  One study(6) revealed that; in children with acute infections of the upper and lower respiratory tract, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, a probiotic supplement seemed helpful in regulating the immune system.  A recent review paper(7) indicated that probiotics also have immune enhancing effects in children and may prevent infections and diarrhoea. 

A daily supplement containing probiotics and prebiotics (such as FOS fructooligosaccharides) may be worth considering.  For more information on prebiotics and probiotics I would suggest visiting the post on irritable bowel syndrome which defines and explains these supplements.

When considering multi-nutrient supplements I would suggest a child-specific ‘food-state’ supplement as these will be easily absorbed by the body.  Again I would like to stress that supplements should not be seen as a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet plentiful in a variety of colourful fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. 

Best wishes to all children for an enjoyable first term back at school!

(1)Linday LA, Dolitsky JN, Shindledecker RD, Pippenger CE. 2002.  Lemon-flavored cod liver oil and a multivitamin-mineral supplement for the secondary prevention of otitis media in young children: pilot research. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol.  111(7 Pt 1):642-52.
(2)Linday LA, Dolitsky JN, Shindledecker RD.  2004.  Nutritional supplements as adjunctive therapy for children with chronic/recurrent sinusitis: pilot research. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol.  68(6):785-93.
(3)Aleszczyk J et al.  2001.  [Evaluation of vitamin and immune status of patients with chronic palatal tonsillitis][Polish Article].  Otolaryngol Pol.  55:65-67
(4)Shukla GK et al.  1998.  Comparative status of oxidative damage and antioxidant enzymes in chronic tonsillitis patients.  Boll Chim Farm.  137:206-209
(5)Onerci M et al.  1997.  Trace elements in children whith chronic and recurrent tonsillitis.  Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol.  41:47-51
(6)Lykova EA, Vorob’ev AA, Bokovoi AG, Murashova AO.  2001.  [Impaired interferon status in children with acute respiratory infection and its correction with bifidumbacterin-forte] [Article in Russian].  Zh Mikrobiol Epidemiol Immunobiol.   Mar-Apr;(2):65-7 
(7)Nova E, Wärnberg J, Gómez-Martínez S, Díaz LE, Romeo J, Marcos A. Immunomodulatory effects of probiotics in different stages of life. Br J Nutr. 2007 Oct;98 Suppl 1:S90-5.

Written by Ani Kowal


Studies show that good bacteria in the gut do more than just protect our digestive systems

Whilst writing my last post about zinc and the common cold I came across some interesting research and evidence about probiotics and how they may be useful in enhancing the function of our immune system.  Probiotics are supplements containing ‘beneficial’ or friendly bacteria which inhabit the intestines.  These friendly bacteria produce various substances in our bodies, such as acetic acid, lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, which  may help to counteract detrimental bacterial and viral infections in all parts of the body (not just in our digestive systems). 

Two studies (1,2) have looked specifically at how taking probiotics daily can prevent us from catching colds and how they may affect the duration and severity of cold symptoms if we do succumb.  Results suggest that taking probiotic supplements for at least three months had a positive effect on the cells of the immune system, shortened common cold episodes by almost 2 days and reduced the severity of symptoms!

Evidence for the various health benefits of taking daily probiotic and/or prebiotic supplements is growing each year.  Probiotics work by supplying ‘beneficial/friendly’ bacteria to the digestive system and Prebiotics, often called FOS or fructooligosaccharides, work by promoting the continued growth of friendly bacteria present in the intestines.  FOS act as a food source that only the beneficial bacteria can use to grow.  Personally I have taken prebiotics for many years now.  One of my professors at university, Prof Glen Gibson, has published several scientific papers and studies concerning the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics to health and he spurred me into taking a daily supplement. 

Many products are available that combine Probiotics and Prebiotics together.  After a month of taking the combined supplement you may wish to switch and use a prebiotic/FOS supplement only.  This will help to maintain high levels of the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.
(1) de Vrese M et al.  2005.  Effect of Lactobacillus gasseri PA 16/8, Bifidobacterium longum SP 07/3, B. bifidum MF 20/5 on common cold episodes:  a double blind, randomized, controlled trial.  Clinical Nutrition.  24(4):481-491
(2) Tubelius, P et al.  2005.  Increasing work-place healthiness with the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri:  a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled study.  Environ Health.  4(1):25

Written by Ani Kowal


Zinc may help speed recovery from the common cold

Recently my mum came back from a trip with a heavy springtime cold, a member of her travelling party had kindly passed on the infection and poor mum was suffering with the typical symptoms of a tickly throat, headache and runny nose.  Colds are caused by viruses and our susceptibility to these infections is largely dictated by the efficiency of our immune system.  A healthy diet providing our bodies with optimal nutrition may help to keep our immune systems strong and protect us from infection.

The symptoms of a common cold tend to last from a few days to a couple of weeks but most cases are over within one week (fortunately my mum is fit and healthy and her cold only lasted a few days!).   There is mixed evidence with regards prevention and treatment of colds with complementary health methods but I am always one to try ‘beating the bug’ naturally!

One of the nutrients that is essential for the efficient functioning of our immune system is zinc and last month a study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases (1) found that using lozenges containing zinc at the first sign of a cold (within 24 hours of developing symptoms) was associated with reduced duration and severity of cold symptoms.  This study adds weight to previous research indicating that zinc lozenges, sucked in the mouth and not swallowed whole, seem to help prevent infection from the common cold and also accelerate recovery once infected. 

This most recent study involved 50 volunteers who had suffered cold symptoms, such as a cough, runny nose and muscle aches, for less than 24 hours. Half of the participants were given zinc lozenges, containing about 13mg of zinc, and half were given inactive ‘placebo’ lozenges (the two groups were not aware of which lozenges they had been assigned).  They then took one lozenge every 2 to 3 hours while awake.  The group taking the zinc lozenges had cold symptoms for an average of 3 days less than those taking the placebo.  Every cell in our body needs zinc and the investigators believe that beneficial clinical effects seen in the zinc group were due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that this nutrient has in the body.

Lozenges and dissolvable tablets and drinks often contain vitamin C, another nutrient which some studies suggest (2) may be useful in reducing the severity and duration of cold symptoms.  If you feel a cold coming on it may be useful to try sucking on a lozenge every three hours or so while symptoms persist.  

(1) Prasad AS, Beck FW, Bao B, Snell D, Fitzgerald JT.  2008.  Duration and severity of symptoms and levels of plasma interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor, and adhesion molecules in patients with common cold treated with zinc acetate.  J Infect Dis.  Mar 15;197(6):795-802
(2) Van Straten et al.  2002.  Preventing the common cold with a vitamin C supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey.   Adv Ther.  19(3):151-159

Written by Ani Kowal