Only You Can Prevent the Common Cold

The major suggestion that we had for getting rid of one if you started to catch one was... well... hot and uncomfortable. So, better to prevent the common cold than to try to get rid of it once it's got you.

There are multiple layers of defense. . .

. . . and none of them is fool-proof or totally effective. So, we recommend "defense in depth" - use the following ways and means in combination to prevent the common cold. Each one can take up some of the slack if the others fail or get bypassed.

Face it. Nothing in life is perfect, and nothing can be 100% relied upon (except death and taxes), so we take a leaf from the insurance industry and manage or mitigate risk. It's a trade-off between how much you want to avoid/prevent another head cold versus how little you want to exert yourself or change your habits. The changes we'll suggest are relatively minor - nothing like going on a diet or quitting smoking.

Cleanliness is next to . . . impossible

But try it anyway.

Your mother (and every medical authority you've ever met or read about) was right. Wash your hands. Keep your hands away from your face.

You prevent the common cold by not exposing yourself to it. Don't let the germs - the virus - into your body. The only way it's going to get in is through your eyes, nose or mouth. Unless somebody sneezes directly in your face, the only other way is that you touch something that has the virus on it, then you touch your face, carrying the virus to one of those openings.

How Could Such a Thing Happen to Me?

How did the virus get onto something that you touched?

Somebody with a cold sneezed onto their own hand, blew their nose, rubbed their eyes, licked their fingers... Then, they shook hands with you, or handed a pen or piece of paper (or money or ticket or card-swipe terminal... something) to you, or handled a doorknob that you then handled shortly thereafter.

So, we said that you can prevent the common cold by not carrying those germs up to your face. Some people actually go through most of the day without ever touching their faces. Most of us - well - don't. We rub, scratch, poke, pick, wipe, or otherwise allow our hands to contact our faces dozens or hundreds of times each day. And even if you do tend to not touch your face, you can kiss somebody and ruin the whole thing, if that person is in the contagious phase.

Well, if the object is to prevent the common cold, and if you are not kissing any carriers, but you aren't confident that you'll keep your filthy paws away from your eyes, nose and mouth all day, what other option is there?

How about washing those hands a lot. How about keeping a pump-bottle of alcohol gel (Purell, anyone?) on your desk, and maybe have your computer prompt you to use it several times each day.

OK, OK, So We're Clean Already - What Else?

Well, DON'T discount keeping the hands clean, and away from the face. If you do it perfectly and consistently, you'll never catch colds. But let's say that you are not royalty, and have not been trained from birth to have impeccable manners and mannerisms. You'll slip up. You'll be tired and you'll rub your face, or rub an itchy eye, or you'll pop a piece of candy or fruit in your mouth without washing your hands first. It'll happen.

So, is that it? Keep painfully clean and remain painfully correct and proper in your mannerisms? Nah. We wouldn't do that to you.

It's true that that is the only really reliable method, but there are other things you can do if you slip, now and then.

On the Defensive

Actually, your mother (along with all those authorities) was right about that other stuff, too. You prevent illness (prevent the common cold) by keeping your defenses up. You keep your defenses up by avoiding getting run-down. You keep your defenses up by getting enough sleep.

Look back at most of the colds that you've caught over the years, and many (most?) of them probably landed after you'd spend two or three late nights and kept yourself going with coffee, rather than adequate rest. If you had a period of years when you seemed to catch more colds, it was probably the years you weren't eating so well, or the years when you had a high-stress life (job, school, gang-life... we're not judging... :-) ).

OK, fine. It's a bunch of motherhood stuff. Eat your veggies and get plenty of sleep. Yup. But like the face-touching and hand-washing things, most of us will slip up and get overtired now and then. If you have a baby in the house, it's pretty-much guaranteed. So, anything else?


Yes. You can boost the immune system with certain herbs that have a lengthy history of being used for exactly that purpose by all sorts of wise people.

Everybody's heard of echinacea. There's a good chance that it'll work for you. What does "work" mean? It means it will help give you that extra bit of fight to stave off a head cold when you've been exposed.

That's it? Just take echinacea every day and never get another damn head-cold? Not quite. It doesn't work that way.

There are two things wrong with that approach.

  1. Echinacea doesn't work as well for some people as it does for others (about half the population).
  2. Taking it all the time reduces its effectiveness and leaves you no head-room when a cold does attack.

So, there are two things to take from those statements

  1. Take Echinacea only when you need it, so as not to "wear it out".
  2. Take other herbs that might work better for you if you aren't in the half of the population that does best on echinacea.

Did we mention that, for trying to prevent the common cold and for any number of other health-related things that you might want to do, whole segments of the population respond differently than other whole segments when eating this-or-that food, taking this-or-that herb or supplement, performing this-or-that type of exercise?

Well, it appears to be the case.

So why do producers and websites and all sorts of folks talk about echinacea as though it's the be-all/end-all of immune-system booster herbs? Same reasons that so many companies and doctors and nutritionists spent all of the 1980s and most of the 1990s telling us that the way to lose weight was to eat less fat and more carbohydrates:

  • It actually sorta does work for approximately half the population, so chances are high that a selection of test subjects would show positive results in studies.
  • There is a smaller, but still positive effect, at least in the short term, for the people who don't belong to the lucky group.
  • There's money to be made.

That first item is important in all kinds of situations, not just head-cold evasion and weight-loss.

Stuff that you can be exposed to (ingest, inhale absorb through skin) falls into three general categories:

  • Stuff that's bad for everybody - heavy metals and other poisons.
  • Stuff that's good for everybody - there's probably something, but chances are that the things you think should be in this category really aren't.
  • Stuff that's good for some people, but is either bad for other people or just doesn't do much for-or-against them.

So, chances are that, if some herb or medicine is touted as being good for this-or-that condition, then either you'll fall into the half of the population for which it has a consistent, desirable effect, or you'll fall into the half of the population for which that herb or medicine is not the best, but it'll do some small amount of good.

The Right Type?

Dr. Peter D'Adamo has some theories about why that distribution of effectiveness is observed, and he has some fairly persuasive arguments and experimental evidence tying the observed effect to your blood type. There are four main blood types among people, world-wide. Type O and type A each represent nearly half of the population. Type B makes up most of the rest. Type AB is the tiny remaining fraction.

Since we're talking about how to prevent the common cold on this page, we can summarize like this:

If you are type A or AB, then take some echinacea any time you find yourself overtired, over-stressed, or feeling that first little twinge in the nose or throat that might become a cold.

If you are Type O or B, then take some ASTRAGALUS - and maybe a little Echinacea - any time you find yourself overtired, over-stressed, or feeling that first little twinge in the nose or throat that might become a cold.

Simple, huh?

Then why did we take all this time and all this verbiage to get here?

Because you need to understand. Echinacea does appear to work for some people. For others, it has very little effect. But luckily, for most of those other people, Astragalus steps in and provides a similar benefit.

In both cases, you do yourself a disservice if you just take the herb all the time. It loses "protective" effect fairly quickly. But it still costs what it costs, whether it's still doing you any good or not.

So, it looks like we (here at the site) are not entirely on the side of the manufacturers and distributors of echinacea and astragalus. If we were, we'd tell you to take 'em all the time. It's certainly less expensive to do it the right way - taking it only when there's a need.

Anything else?

We like an extra hit of vitamin C when we feel the need to take Astragalus and/or Echinacea. But we find that the small beneficial effect is increased if it's combined with beta- or alpha-carotene. A good formulation that we've used for years comes from a company called BodyWise. They're an MLM company, so they might try to recruit you. :-) But you don't have to join to buy their products. We've seen their production facilities and had the tour, and we're persuaded that they subscribe to some of the highest standards of production (from the quality of incoming ingredients through the multiple layers of testing and verification to the final products that they ship), so we have no trouble recommending specific products from them.

We haven't tried all their products, so we don't know that they all actually do anything, but the company continues to have a good reputation, and we continue to buy their vitamins and their Beta-C product.

There are some other herbal remedies that might show some promise, and we'll be looking into some of those. Meanwhile, try to stick with reliable brand names that you trust to give you a consistent product. Big names like Swiss and Jamieson have been around for a long time and have reputations to protect, so we think that you can count on their bottles to contain what the labels claim. Also, they're widely available.

What you are getting from us is a recommendation to try a particular couple of herbs (echinacea and astragalus)... and a further recommendation that (when you do) you get 'em from a source that reliably puts in their bottles what they say they are putting in their bottles. If nothing else, knowing that the contents are as listed will give you a good indication whether those contents are providing you any benefit.

Contrast that with purchasing from a less-reliable source - when it doesn't work for you, you have no way to know if that's because the herbs are just not effective for you, or if it's because the bottles/capsules that you happened to try didn't really have the ingredient or had it in wildly inconsistent quantity or concentration.

Quick Links to all our common-cold-related pages

Here's the handy selection of our common cold / head-cold related pages on this Men's Health Tips (MHT) site:

The MHT page What the page is about

Common-cold intro

The introductory page for this section about colds.

Virus versus Bacteria

What's the difference and why is it important to you

Misusing antibiotics

How you can be part of the problem, and make bacteria antibiotic resistant - create your own superbug

Prevent the Common Cold (this page)

Here are some things that should help prevent colds before you get them.

Fight/treat a cold

Here are some things that should help with colds after you get them.

If this page wasn't where you wanted to be, then from this prevent the common cold page, go back to the home page.

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