Untangling the true from the false for a better overall health, this is the objective we have given ourselves for this seventh issue of Strøm Magazine. Regarding viruses, we called upon Dr. Chantal Guimont to enlighten us. Between her media columns and her consultations as a family doctor, she took the time to speak with us about the issues of cold and health.
From a scientific point of view, can we really “catch” a cold?
Patients often describe to me that they have “caught a cold” when they have the flu or the common cold.
Cold does not produce any viruses, bacteria or micro-organisms. Microorganisms are not located in drafts or in cold weather. The cold itself does not cause injury, except for the risk of frostbite, which can occur if a person remains in a very cold place for an extended period. It is completely different from the famous expression “catch a cold” that is commonly heard during the cold season.
Throughout the world, it is especially during the coldest months that people get sick, and it is no coincidence!
Why is winter more conducive to respiratory diseases such as influenza, colds, bronchitis, angina?
If the cold season is largely associated with viral infections, it is in fact because in winter we live in closed environments. Since the houses are not sufficiently well ventilated, the micro-organisms of each are inhaled by all the individuals in the household and thus, all are more exposed to diseases. Epidemics and large waves of infection transmission are a result of the lack of ventilation in the environment.
Furthermore, microorganisms survive more easily and for longer in the cold. Individuals are therefore at greater risk of coming into contact with them (by nasal or oral route) and consequently of developing an infection.
Can microorganisms persist in a space, making us susceptible to the same infection more than once?
Some people fear that a cold will repeat itself in a loop, believing that the cold germs remain in the household. They then fear that they will catch it again.
You must understand that this is impossible! When we are exposed to a virus for the first time and manage to get rid of it, our body develops antibodies that protect us from the disease and prevent us from developing its symptoms again.
Can the cold weaken or attack the immune system?
Not at all!
Our immune system is not more or less competent at a time of year characterized by a certain type of temperature. Our immune system is a set of cells that our body has. It recognizes viruses and bacteria to better defend itself against them. There is no reason to believe that our immune system will change without a new disease or a specific health problem.
What do you think of the flu or cold medicines sold in pharmacies?
Most over-the-counter products for colds available at pharmacies are either not recommended or completely useless. We must therefore beware of their false promises!
As the saying goes, a cold that you treat lasts seven days while an untreated one lasts a week! Marketing in the health sector is to be regarded with caution.
Does taking nutritional supplements also carry its share of false promises?
Again, vigilance is required. Dietary supplements or global health products have an NPN code (Health Canada Natural Product Number). This leads many people to believe that these products are recommended by Health Canada.
The reality is quite different. The NPN code simply confirms that the product is, unless otherwise indicated, safe. In other words, consuming a product that has an NPN code will not make you sick, but it is not necessarily recommended by Health Canada. Under no circumstances does the NPN give a guarantee that taking the product could be beneficial to health.
Has the effectiveness of some natural products been proven?
Scientific research has shown that honey does have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
So, when we have a cold, we should all first turn to honey before trying any other form of medication, except for children under one year of age (because of the risk of botulism).
What about grandma’s tricks and tips? Are ginger, onion and garlic effective in supporting our health?
Once again, we are mainly talking about myth!
In recent years, studies have sought to assess whether beliefs related to the curative properties of these foods are well founded. Unfortunately, the conclusions mostly demonstrated the significance of their placebo effect. Thus, the feeling of improvement in the state would be directly related to the concept of the placebo effect, which is however not trivial. Indeed, it represents 30% of the effectiveness of a drug: using a product in which one believes is part of the healing process. However, the efficacy of these foods could not be proven, as they corresponded roughly to that of a real placebo.
A FEW TOOLS
During the winter months, the risk of getting an infection is higher, but you can take some precautions that make a big difference.
- Wash your hands thoroughly.
- Be vigilant to avoid transmitting infections when sneezing or coughing.
- During the most intense phase of the disease or during the period of contagion, do not expose your colleagues unnecessarily: it is better to stay at home. Taking time off is not only a personal matter, it is above all a public health issue.
- Don’t overlook the importance of taking vitamin D supplements. In Quebec, during the winter period, exposure to the sun is insufficient to meet vitamin D needs, and this lack is difficult to fill with nutrition. Vitamin D is important for bone health, but also for immune health. Thus, taking a vitamin D supplement from October to April is necessary.
- Make sure you maintain a rich and balanced diet for a comprehensive intake of vitamins and minerals.
- Hydrate well and rest.
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