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New Weapons In The Fight Against The Common Cold

November 2, 2010

Physical fitness could be the key to avoiding the common cold, but for those who do fall ill, new anti-viral medication might hold the best hope for a quick recovery, according to a pair of new studies published in scientific journals this week.

In the first study, American researchers, including Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory Director David Nieman, reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that adults who kept physically fit and regularly participated in aerobic exercise were less likely to catch a cold and more likely to avoid serious symptoms, even if they did fall ill.

According to a press release from the publishers of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Nieman and his colleagues analyzed the respiratory health of 1,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 85 during the fall and winter of 2008. Each subject disclosed their fitness and activity levels, as well as their diets, their lifestyles, and recent events in their lives that could add to stress levels–all said to be factors that could adversely affect an individual’s immune system.

“The number of days with symptoms among those who said they were physically active on five or more days of the week and felt fit was almost half (43% to 46% less) that of those who exercised on only one or fewer days of the week,” the press release said. “The severity of symptoms fell by 41% among those who felt the fittest and by 31% among those who were the most active.”

Those who were part of the fit category averaged between 4.4 and 4.9 days battling colds, according to a Tuesday report from the AFP news agency. In comparison, those who exercised between one and four days per week had colds for 4.9 to 5.5 days, and those who exercised one day each week or less experienced between 8.2 and 8.6 days of respiratory illness.

Furthermore, AFP points out that the severity of symptoms of the most fit were “between 31 and 41 percent lower compared with the most sedentary lifestyle.”

In the second study, experts at the UK’s Medical Research Council claim they have discovered antibodies that can enter cells and fight viruses from within. The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and has been called “a landmark discovery which could pave the way for new drugs to beat illnesses like the common cold” by BBC News.

The scientists, led by Dr. Leo James, found that the antibodies can enter a cell and then trigger a specific protein, which then pulls the virus into a “disposal system” in order to remove it from the cell, usually before it has a chance to do any harm. James and his colleagues add that increasing the amount of the specific protein (TRIM21) in cells helps the process, but they also note that it has not yet proven effective against all types of viruses.

“Doctors have plenty of antibiotics to fight bacterial infections but few antiviral drugs,” James, the lead researcher at the Cambridge-based facility, told BBC News on Tuesday. “Although these are early days, and we don’t yet know whether all viruses are cleared by this mechanism, we are excited that our discoveries may open multiple avenues for developing new antiviral drugs.”

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