3

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Does Inflammation Cause Cold Symptoms?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created September 19, 2010 at 7:38 PM

Many people (including myself) have noticed a reduction in the number of colds they catch now that they're eating paleo. Vitamin D levels seem like a big player in this, but so does one's level of systemic inflammation.

Melissa has suggested that (in her experience) fish oil is not only anti-inflammatory, but immunosuppressive as well. However, in her book Ah-Choo! Jennifer Ackerman argues that having a compromised immune system actually helps reduce cold symptoms. In other words, it's your body's overactive immune response to a cold virus that causes the problem, not the virus itself.

I have yet to try mega-dosing on fish oil as treatment for a cold, but I have tried fasting. Subjectively, the fasting does seem to help, and (at least in theory) would have the same anti-inflammatory/immunosupressive effect as high dose fish oil.

So basically, I'm confused. Do I want to decrease my inflammatory/immune response to reduce cold symptoms, or do I want to increase my inflammatory/immune response to fight it off?

And how does Vitamin D fit into this? By boosting your immune system or as an anti-inflammatory?

2e060a5edde44c1fe77abcf8d3997e01

(865)

on October 06, 2010
at 02:38 PM

I saw that article too. I've also gone ahead and experimented with extra omega-3s at the first sign of a cold, and so far it seems to have helped keep the snot at bay. Of course, an n=1 with one person/one cold is not exactly "proof."

8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on October 05, 2010
at 06:14 PM

You misread my answer. When I said cold symtpoms are "a consequence of the immune system taking care of business and defeating the virus", I meant exactly what the NYTimes article says: they are caused by the immune system rather than the virus itself. Nothing in the article disagrees with anything my answer. I find the idea of suppressing one's immune system to reduce cold symptoms to be ridiculous. We can agree to disagree on this point if you'd like.

4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on September 20, 2010
at 04:29 PM

Kilton, you dismiss this idea too quickly in my opinion. A cold virus does very little damage to the body (e.g., tissue destruction) so most of what you feel as the cold is the body's reaction to the virus. Is all of that reaction necessary to fight the virus? Or, do inflammed body's overreact? These are the questions that were asked and I think they are interesting and valid

4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on September 20, 2010
at 04:29 PM

Kilton, you dismiss this idea too quickly in my opinion. A cold virus does very little damage to the body (e.g., tissue destruction) so most of what you feel as the cold is the body's reaction to the virus. Is all of that reaction necessary to fight the virus? Or, do inflammed body's overreact? These are the question that was asked and I think they are interesting and valid.

8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on September 20, 2010
at 11:54 AM

Jonathan -- Yeah, I don't buy it. I'd like my body to get rid of any viruses that take up residence. :-)

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 20, 2010
at 02:49 AM

I think maybe the point is that perhaps an inflammatory body overreacts to germs. Of course, it should react some, but it IS true that much of the suffering is caused by our own body's counterattack. Most of the time, very little of the suffering is directly caused by the germ.

2e060a5edde44c1fe77abcf8d3997e01

(865)

on September 20, 2010
at 12:14 AM

I think Jennifer Ackerman's argument is that, like allergens, cold viruses are not really inherently harmful to the body. It's the immune system's overreaction that causes the problem. Not that I necessarily believe her. The common cold sure seemed lethal to the inhabitants of the New World when European explorers introduced it.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on September 19, 2010
at 08:56 PM

Good distinction. Since I've experienced allergies only a few times, I have mistaken them for a cold in the past.

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3 Answers

2
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 20, 2010
at 03:02 AM

I don't think you can really distinguish between antiinflamatory and immunosuppressive. Both mean a dampening down of the immune response. In the first, there may be an assumption that the body is already overresponsive and so the dampening would be a good thing, while in the second, there may be an assumption that the dampening down has gone too far and so the dampening may be a bad thing, but in both cases, the same general thing is happening.

Ideally, the body would pick the exact right level of response. But why does it not? Could it be too stupid to know? Or maybe the body actually has a somewhat logical reasonf or doing what it is doing. Maybe it is that when the body is weak and out of balance, it also tends to be hypervigilant for signs of attack. A weak animal is a nervous and wary animal and a strong animal is a relaxed one. A weak animal might jump and run at the slightest sign of strangeness, simply because it knows it can be easily overwelmed if it doesn't get a head start and react immediately. Whereas, you see the lazy lion snoozing in the middle of the savanna. He is not going to get up and get all excited by a mere twig snap caused by a bird. He will only move if he clearly sees the danger. He needn't worry much because he knows he can easily handle most things that come his way. Of course, he will not lay there and let a herd of deer kick him in the head. So he will move, but only when appropriate and for good reason. YOu could say the lion is like a healthy immune system. It is strong and knows when to move and when to relax.

Maybe looking for things that are 'antiinflammatory' is not really that much different than looking for things that improve our health in general.

1
8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on September 19, 2010
at 07:59 PM

Cold symptoms aren't the result of an over-active immune system -- they're a consequence of the immune system taking care of business and defeating the virus. For example, a runny nose is the body expelling the virus & immune cell leftovers. Coughing is the body expelling matter from the lungs. And so on.

Allergies, on the other hand, are an over-active immune system of sorts -- the immune system attacks harmless particles such as pollen, and the result is the same symptoms as when you have a cold.

Vitamin D is starting to be known as essential for the immune system, hence less illness.

2e060a5edde44c1fe77abcf8d3997e01

(865)

on September 20, 2010
at 12:14 AM

I think Jennifer Ackerman's argument is that, like allergens, cold viruses are not really inherently harmful to the body. It's the immune system's overreaction that causes the problem. Not that I necessarily believe her. The common cold sure seemed lethal to the inhabitants of the New World when European explorers introduced it.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 20, 2010
at 02:49 AM

I think maybe the point is that perhaps an inflammatory body overreacts to germs. Of course, it should react some, but it IS true that much of the suffering is caused by our own body's counterattack. Most of the time, very little of the suffering is directly caused by the germ.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on September 19, 2010
at 08:56 PM

Good distinction. Since I've experienced allergies only a few times, I have mistaken them for a cold in the past.

4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on September 20, 2010
at 04:29 PM

Kilton, you dismiss this idea too quickly in my opinion. A cold virus does very little damage to the body (e.g., tissue destruction) so most of what you feel as the cold is the body's reaction to the virus. Is all of that reaction necessary to fight the virus? Or, do inflammed body's overreact? These are the question that was asked and I think they are interesting and valid.

8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on September 20, 2010
at 11:54 AM

Jonathan -- Yeah, I don't buy it. I'd like my body to get rid of any viruses that take up residence. :-)

4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on September 20, 2010
at 04:29 PM

Kilton, you dismiss this idea too quickly in my opinion. A cold virus does very little damage to the body (e.g., tissue destruction) so most of what you feel as the cold is the body's reaction to the virus. Is all of that reaction necessary to fight the virus? Or, do inflammed body's overreact? These are the questions that were asked and I think they are interesting and valid

0
4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on October 05, 2010
at 05:32 PM

Very topical: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/05/opinion/05ackerman.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

The NYT health section is quite anti-supplement and, well, really anti anything other than pharmaceuticals.... That said, I think if you ignore some of what is written, the author answers your question. And, the answer is the exact opposite of the answer Kilton gave you... :)

8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on October 05, 2010
at 06:14 PM

You misread my answer. When I said cold symtpoms are "a consequence of the immune system taking care of business and defeating the virus", I meant exactly what the NYTimes article says: they are caused by the immune system rather than the virus itself. Nothing in the article disagrees with anything my answer. I find the idea of suppressing one's immune system to reduce cold symptoms to be ridiculous. We can agree to disagree on this point if you'd like.

2e060a5edde44c1fe77abcf8d3997e01

(865)

on October 06, 2010
at 02:38 PM

I saw that article too. I've also gone ahead and experimented with extra omega-3s at the first sign of a cold, and so far it seems to have helped keep the snot at bay. Of course, an n=1 with one person/one cold is not exactly "proof."

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