Why some people NEVER catch a cold and how YOU could be one of them by following simple steps to stay sniffle-free
- The average Briton will catch around 200 colds in their entire lifetime
- Brits also take 150 million sick days each year due to the symptoms of colds
- New study from Harvard University reveals DNA drives 40 per cent of diseases
- The results found that twins were more likely to suffer from similar illnesses
They live among us: those astonishingly lucky individuals who never seem to get a cold. Strong as oxen, they glide through winter without so much as a cough or sniffle, while all around are submerged in piles of soggy tissues.
The average Briton will catch 200 colds in their lifetime, and we take off a cumulative 150 million sick days each year due to sore throats and blocked noses.
But, anecdotally at least, there are some who never seem to suffer.
So what is their secret? It could be simple genetics.
The average Briton will catch 200 colds in their lifetime (file picture of a man suffering from a cold)
A 24-year study from Harvard University, the results of which were published last week, found twins were likely to suffer similar illnesses, suggesting that DNA drives 40 per cent of diseases.
Respiratory diseases expert Professor Ron Eccles, who heads the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University, is convinced that genetics are the reason some people never catch the cold virus.
He says: ‘We are each born with a unique immune system, akin to a fingerprint. Those who don’t suffer colds are probably infected with the virus, but their immune system kills it so they don’t develop symptoms.’
Common cold viruses primarily target the lining of the nose, the throat, larynx – or voice box – and sinuses.
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Brits take off a cumulative 150 million sick days each year due to sore throats and blocked noses
University of Sussex immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi says: ‘There are more than 160 different cold variants and new ones appearing all the time, so it’s entirely reasonable for the average person to get one or two colds a year.
‘When a virus enters our airways, the delicate respiratory tract is attacked by it, resulting in a bunged up nose, sneezing, coughing and a sore throat.’
Dr Macciochi agrees that there are those who, for genetic reasons, are able to fight off colds better than others. But could the rest of us do something to protect ourselves?
THE MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT THE FLU SHOT
It is a myth that the flu shot can give you the flu.
‘There isn’t any live virus in the influenza vaccine so it’s impossible to get the flu from the vaccine,’ said Dr Tosh from the Mayo Clinic.
‘There was a live vaccine that’s not available any more, but it was impossible to get the flu from that too,’ he added.
CDC officials insist it is not too late to get the flu shot, despite evidence that this year’s vaccine is only 30 percent effective against H3N2.
The H3N2 strain of the virus has so far killed 85 adults and 20 children in the US.
Health officials say that the vaccine could be even more valuable now since it is more effective against strains which are only just emerging – including the H1N1 strain and various B viruses.
CDC figures show the majority of Americans do not get the flu shot and more and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children.
The answer is, yes. And the first target should be to get enough rest.
‘Our immune system relies on sleep to generate a robust number of healthy immune cells and weed out cells that are getting old and potentially dysfunctional,’ says Dr Macciochi.
She also warns that smokers and those who drink alcohol regularly will increase their risk.
‘Alcohol is a known sleep-disturbing factor, while smoking affects the cells of the lungs which are targeted by cold and flu viruses.’
Daniel Davis, author of The Beautiful Cure, and Professor of Immunology at University of Manchester, says: ‘Some of us are better at fighting off a particular year’s cold than others, but the same person might not be as good at dealing with next year’s virus.’
According to new studies, stress is also a factor. Prof Davis says: ‘Worry, in the long-term, affects the immune system, weakening its ability to fight off the cold virus.’
Dr Jeff Foster is a GP with nearly 17,000 patients on his Leamington Spa surgery list.
He believes those most vulnerable to colds are usually under-nourished – and that the diets many of us try to maintain as part of our New Year’s resolutions don’t help.
‘People who don’t eat properly, or rely heavily on ready meals and takeaways, get ill more,’ he says. ‘There is also some evidence that being obese increases the risk of getting viral illnesses.
‘Obesity mimics a chronic inflammatory state, which suppresses immune response.’
For those of us who do ‘get anything that is going round’, however, Dr Preethi Daniel, clinical director at London Doctors Clinic has some reassurance. He says: ‘Evidence shows that contracting the odd cold virus does help build immunity by stimulating our natural defences.
‘A few infections a year is probably quite healthy.’
Having heard from the experts, we spoke to the superhumans themselves: five ordinary women and men who claim they never get colds. Dr Daniel then analysed a detailed account of their health, lifestyle, and medical history, to reveal the secrets of their success.
‘Keeping horses means I can cope with anything’
Zoe England (pictured above) said she has always lived her life outside
Zoe England, 35, is a ground operations officer for a cargo airline. She is married with a two-year-old son and lives in Derby. At 10st 5lb and 5ft 11in, her body mass index (BMI) is a healthy 20.2.
Zoe says: ‘I think I never get ill because I’ve always lived my life outside. I had ponies as a child and was exposed to everything and anything. If I wasn’t riding in the fields, I was rolling around and playing in the mud.
‘My husband gets colds, my son does, too, I just never seem to catch them. Right now, I have two horses and I spend three hours a day mucking them out. It is physical – if I’m not lifting hay bales, I’m clearing in the field. I ride them out at the weekends. I also spend 20 minutes daily doing sit-ups and kettle bell exercises for strength.
‘Apart from having a C-section, I’ve never been or stayed overnight in a hospital. I have never been prescribed medication either.
‘Neither of my parents has suffered with ill health. As for my diet, I’ll have Weetabix with semi-skimmed milk for breakfast, a ham and cheese tortilla wrap or scrambled egg on toast for lunch and a hot meal in the evening.
‘We usually cook from scratch but at the weekends we’ll have a Chinese takeaway and I’ll treat myself to crisps and chocolate.
‘I never drink in the week, and might have one bottle of wine over a weekend. I get between seven and eight hours sleep and usually wake feeling rested.’
Dr Daniel says…
‘I imagine Zoe has been exposed to many allergens since her childhood. Our immune system memorises what we are exposed to and learns how to fight it, which helps bolster immune defences over time.’
‘Beating stress has boosted my immunity’
Jane Evans, 57, is author of children’s book Little Meerkat’s Big Panic. She’s single, has a 27-year-old son and lives in Chippenham, Wiltshire. At 5ft 3in, and 9st 6lb Jane has a healthy BMI of 23.4.
Jane Evans (pictured above) said she gets eight hours’ unbroken sleep a night
She says: ‘I never get colds, and I’m in perfect health – but I wasn’t always.
‘As a child I suffered with regular bronchitis and developed pneumonia. Later I was diagnosed with anxiety and clinical depression, and have battled severe back pain, digestive problems and migraines from my teens to my 40s.
‘I was a foster parent until 15 years ago, and giving that up was a turning point. My stress and anxiety evaporated and my health improved dramatically.
‘Now I eat what I fancy but lean towards fruit and vegetables, alongside wholegrains. I don’t eat meat or dairy but love fish. Every day I practice between half an hour to an hour of yoga and walk for about an hour. I do a gentle stretching programme before bed.
‘I usually drink a small glass of red wine with my evening meal but it’s not obligatory. I smoked as a teenager but quit in my 20s. I now get seven to eight hours of deeply restful sleep, whereas I used to get about six hours of broken sleep.’
Dr Daniel says…
‘Jane has recognised, after lifelong anxiety and depression, that sleep deprivation and stress have a huge negative impact on physical health.
A 2012 study proved the link between stress and catching a cold virus. Studies undertaken by Harvard University have demonstrated that stress management is proven to bolster immune defences and help us fight colds better.’
‘Garlic and tumeric tonic keeps bugs away’
Gerard Alibocas (pictured above) said he cut out sugar, salt, sweets and fizzy drinks from his diet
Gerard Alibocas, 51, is a mature student in business law. He has three sons aged 32, 22, and two. He is a single father and lives in Slough with his youngest son. At 5ft 11in and 11st 5lb, Gerard’s BMI is a healthy 22.2.
He says: ‘As a single father I’m around children all the time and while they might get colds – and all the other parents do – I never get them. I never have.
‘I put this down to the fact that every day I drink half a litre of water containing ginger, turmeric, garlic, wholegrain black pepper, a squeeze of lemon and green stem mint leaf that I grow myself.
‘I have always been complemented about how youthful I look so I was shocked to be told during a routine examination, at the age of 48, that I had heart disease.
‘I eat well and don’t drink, though I might have the occasional glass of wine once or twice a year at social function. My mum was vegan and always cooked from scratch – I have continued her habits.
‘After my diagnosis, I cut out salt, sugar, sweets and fizzy drinks. I also prepare daily smoothies.
‘Despite all this, I needed a triple heart bypass in December. I feel like I’m recovering fast. I’ll return to my regular gym sessions once I’ve been cleared by my doctor.
‘Sleep is tricky, with my two-year- old and needing to study at night. I pray every day as I find it reduces all the stresses in my life.’
Dr Daniel says…
‘A heart bypass at 50 is very young – given Gerard’s history and lifestyle, I think his illness was genetic.
Perhaps it’s these same genes that mean he doesn’t get colds – made all the more remarkable by the fact he has a toddler and sleeps poorly.
‘As for his tincture, turmeric and garlic are thought to have natural immunity boosting properties. But I’d say the fact he’s basically teetotal might be more protective.
‘Praying will definitely have a positive impact on his mental wellbeing.’
‘Catching pneumonia was a wake-up call’
Linda Davis Carr (pictured above) said she drinks apple cider vinegar with lemon
Linda Davis Carr, 53, is a banking executive and business coach. She is a married mother of two and lives in Bristol. At 15st 7lb, and 6ft 1in tall, her BMI is 28.6, which means she is overweight.
Linda says: ‘These days I look after myself but I learned the hard way. In my 20s if I wanted to lose weight I’d live on Diet Coke for a period of time.
‘In my 30s I studied for an MBA from 10pm to 2am while working full-time as a banking executive and raising two children on my own. In my early 40s I got pneumonia. I was doing too much and it was a wake up call.
‘Yet, oddly, I never got a cold during those decades and still don’t. I went through the menopause at 48. My parents are 80 and 81 and they’ve never had any major illnesses.
‘I eat healthily – though my weakness is crisps. I don’t have coffee or artificial sweeteners and I cook a lot of plant-based meals. We’ll have red meat twice a month. Gluten makes me feel sluggish so I avoid bread. I have dinner by 7pm. I swim 30 lengths three times a week and go to the gym twice a week.
‘I see a chiropractor and a kinesiologist – a practitioner in movement. On their advice I take a potent multivitamin alongside iron, omega 3, and magnesium supplements. I also drink apple cider vinegar with lemon and water in the morning. I take the advice I have been given for these and they work for me.
‘I get about eight hours of good sleep, I don’t feel tired and I am always full of energy.
‘I’m currently off alcohol but when I do drink it’s a G&T with my husband or a glass of wine after work. I drank more in my 20s and 30s, but I’ve never smoked.’
Dr Daniel says…
‘It’s amazing what a wake-up call such as a serious illness can do to our lifestyle. However, Linda is overweight. We know that people who are overweight or obese are more prone to common infections.
‘Obesity is a big risk factor when it comes to poor health and can harm the immune system.
‘But even though Linda avoids breakfast, she eats carefully, exercises regularly and sleeps the recommended amounts.
‘I would suggest this is why she doesn’t get colds.’
‘As a nurse good hygiene is a habit’
Amanda Simpson (pictured above) said she washes her hands ten times a day
Amanda Simpson, 33, is an A&E nurse. She is single, and lives in London. At 5ft 10in, and 10st, Amanda has a BMI of 20, which means she’s a healthy weight. She says: ‘As a nurse, good hand hygiene is second nature to me. You wash your hands before and after coming into contact with anyone. I carry an alcohol hand rub for when I’m on the move, but just use soap and water usually.
‘I wash my hands at least ten times a day, before I eat anything, and after I’ve been on public transport.
‘I also avoid touching my face with my hands unless I’ve washed them first. I can’t remember the last time I had a cold.
‘I’ve had no major illnesses, bar rotator cuff surgery in August 2018, and my parents are healthy.
‘I do yoga at least once a week, three or four hours of indoor rock climbing three or four times a week and gym sessions on off days. As I work shifts, I’ll fit it in where I can.
‘I’m a cyclist and only get the bus or Tube if it’s bad weather. I don’t get stressed often, but I feel that exercise keeps me calm.
‘I eat what I want – yogurt and fruit for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, pasta, stir fry with vegetables and noodles, baked potato, or beans and cheese on toast. I cook for myself, and never get takeaways or eat out.
‘I drink once or twice a week – a glass of wine with friends. If it’s a special occasion I’ll have a bit more. But I’ve never smoked. I get between six and eight hours sleep. I’m usually in bed at 11pm, and my alarm goes off at 7.15am. I wake up feeling rested.’
Dr Daniel says…
‘Amanda is very active, slim, eats well and sleeps well. She also values hand hygiene which is the single most effective way to keep those common bugs away.
‘Typically viruses are transferred and amplified in crowded, heated indoor areas. Alcohol gel or hand washing are very effective techniques to combat spread.
‘Even with her shift patterns, she exercises quite a bit which in general is going to make her body’s defence system very robust.’
Nothing can beat a good night’s sleep
Health comment by Dr Ellie Cannon
There is a common theme among almost all patients I see who suffer a lot of colds: they work too hard, struggle to sleep and are generally burnt out.
While evidence isn’t clear about how diet and exercise affects the immune system, plenty of robust studies show the impact of lack of sleep and stress on cold-like infections. Of course, our susceptibility isn’t only a result of the environment. I’m convinced genetics play a role, as many of the experts here state.
My daughter, for instance, sleeps for fewer hours than my son and is more stressed, yet rarely picks up infections.
My son, on the other hand, seems to pick up everything going, despite sleeping nine to ten hours each night.
Then again, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was slightly deficient in immune-boosting vitamins, as he lags behind his sister on the fruit and vegetable front.
And contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding – often hailed as the secret to a bolstered immune system – didn’t seem to make much difference either. My sniffler son was breastfed for twice as long as my cold-free daughter.
I give them both the same advice I give my patients: when it comes to colds, there is nothing more medicinal than a good night’s sleep.
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