"Bad Colds" Are From Too Active of an Immune System
But, as medical science has realized over the past few decades, the most prevalent cold viruses in fact do little direct harm to our cells. In one experiment in 1984, researchers at the University of Copenhagen performed biopsies on nasal tissue taken from people suffering severe colds, then did the same after the subjects had recovered. To the scientists’ surprise, none of the samples showed any sign of damage to the nasal tissue. Further vindicating the viruses themselves was another study around the same time showing that rhinoviruses infect only a small number of cells lining the nasal passages.Makes sense to me, and certainly suggest that supplements/foods that boost the immune system may do more harm than good.
Here was a new insight in cold science: the symptoms are caused not by the virus but by its host — by the body’s inflammatory response. Chemical agents manufactured by our immune system inflame our cells and tissues, causing our nose to run and our throat to swell. The enemy is us.
Indeed, it’s possible to create the full storm of cold symptoms with no cold virus at all, but only a potent cocktail of the so-called inflammatory mediators that the body makes itself — among them, cytokines, kinins, prostaglandins and interleukins, powerful little chemical messengers that cause the blood vessels in the nose to dilate and leak, stimulate the secretion of mucus, activate sneeze and cough reflexes and set off pain in our nerve fibers.
So susceptibility to cold symptoms is not a sign of a weakened immune system, but quite the opposite. And if you’re looking to quell those symptoms, strengthening your immune system may be counterproductive. It could aggravate the symptoms by amplifying the very inflammatory agents that cause them.
There’s another intriguing paradox here. Studies suggest that about one in four people who get infected with a cold virus don’t get sick. The virus gets into their bodies, and eventually they produce antibodies to it, but they don’t experience symptoms. It may be that people like this are not making the normal amounts of inflammatory agents.