I wasn’t sneezing nor coughing anymore when I read another follow-up of Jennifer Ackerman’s new truths about colds: an adaptation written by Charlotte Dovey on yesterday’s Daily Mail.
Let me remind you that science writer Melinda Wenner Moyer had highlighted the difference between the strength of our immune system 1) when preventing a cold and 2) while fighting the cold infection once it has been established. This distinction is essential when judging our immune system performance, as some factors such as vitamin C may prevent a cold better than stopping it.
So imagining that our immune system has failed to prevent a specific cold infection (because your daily routine didn’t leave you time for healthier meals), let’s have a look at some of what Jennifer Ackerman found out that compromised our basic knowledge about colds:
1) You can’t catch a cold by kissing. Although this may surprise many people, a research at the University of Wisconsin Medical School has shown that the largest family of cold viruses rarely enters the body through the mouth. It appears to take as much as 8.000 times as much virus to cause infection from saliva than by other ways.
2) Staying indoors won’t protect you. Firstly, because your computer mouse and your desk are amongst the greatest sources of cold viruses. Secondly, because winter drives people indoors, where it becomes easier for viruses to jump from one person to another.
3) On the other hand, socializing won’t put you at risk. Did you know that people who socialize with many different people suffer fewer colds than those with smaller circles of friends? A wide social group contributes to a healthier lifestyle, which means that meeting a great variety of people does not increase your risk, as you may have thought.
4) Older people are not more vulnerable. Although they are risk-patients for many diseases, teenagers catch twice as many colds as people over 50 years old. The more colds you have been exposed to, the more antibodies you have developed to common cold viruses.
Scientists have discovered that our reception cells – those that “absorb” the viruses – as well as the amounts of inflammatory chemicals in our bodies differ from person to person. This explains why some people suffer more colds than normal. At the end of the day, it’s all about where we are coming from. Or, in Charlotte Dovey’s words: “blame your genes”.
I was actually sneezing and coughing when I bumped into “How not to fight colds: is it really that clear cut?“, where Melinda Wenner Moyer analyses an article by Jennifer Ackerman on The New York Times.
It is disappointing to be faced with the argument that these sneezing and coughing are caused not by a virus – as most people would believe since their childhood – but by our own body and its inflammatory response. It becomes even more disappointing when Jennifer Ackerman denies what our mothers have taught us: “the supplements, remedies and cereals that claim to strengthen immunity (and thereby protect you from colds) do no such thing.”
But isn’t it hard to believe that, after all, eating vegetables and drinking orange juice won’t prevent you from catching a cold? This appears to be Ackerman’s idea, but Melinda Moyer states this is no fair conclusion. Because: we need to distinguish two types of immunity.
While reading Moyer’s explanation, I compared the human body to an overcrowded open-air festival like the Love Parade in Duisburg, Germany, that killed 19 people earlier this year. The first active immunity is the security set installed around the festival location, which attempts to control the entrance of the massive crowd. They cannot allow too many people in at once – it would endanger their safety. This happens the same way our immune system tries to stave off infections.
But just as we have seen in Duisburg, no matter how strong the barrier is, intruders may end up breaking it. That is when the second type of immunity kicks in. Security guards spread around the festival venue and make use of their weapons for the sake of participants’ safety. However, they may become aggressive and increase panic among the crowd. The same happens in our body: the immune response produces inflammatory molecules that cause cold symptoms such as throat ache.
The tragedy in Duisburg could have been avoided if there was a better management of the security forces outside the venue.
In order words, please keep drinking orange juices and eating healthy salads and soups.