Colds are caused by viral infections of the upper respiratory tract. We are all aware of the miserable symptoms of a cold - we cough and sneeze, are fatigued, and have runny noses, sore throats, congestion, and a low-grade fever.

The virus most often responsible is the rhinovirus and there are more than 110 different types. Colds and flu can also be caused by a whole host of other viruses too.

A healthy immune system is the body's main defence against viral infections. During infection the virus comes into contact with mucous membranes in the nose or eyes. There, the virus attaches to receptors on epithelial cells (cells that line the inner and outer surfaces of the body). The immune system responds by triggering a cascade of events, including release of inflammatory cytokines, causing most of the familiar symptoms.

One study demonstrated that nasal symptoms began 2 hours after exposure, while cough and sore throat symptoms began 10 to 12 hours after. In the early stages, the viral count is still low and, by taking rapid action, it is possible to help your body mount an effective immune response to prevent the infection from worsening.

Risk factors that predispose exposed individuals to infection include:

Lack of exercise
Lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep
Low vitamin C intake
Stress. Studies have demonstrated that increased stress greatly increases the risk of catching a cold as well as its severity.
Attitude. People who have a positive outlook and are generally happy and relaxed have a lower risk of developing a cold.

The common cold is best treated with rest, fluids, and humidification. Over-the-counter remedies like cough medicines or decongestants may reduce the severity of symptoms but can have adverse effects.

Vitamins and supplements examined in many published studies have been shown to reduce symptoms, bolster the immune system and reduce the risk of infection. They include:

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): high doses of vitamin C alleviate cold and flu symptoms.

Zinc: If zinc lozenges are taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, the severity and duration of the cold is significantly diminished.

NAC: For years, NAC has been used to treat bronchitis and lung conditions as an expectorant, mucous thinner and anti-inflammatory.
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