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Stress and the Common Cold


November 20, 2019 | Published by

Cortisol, our body’s stress hormone, is known to suppress immune function temporarily. This reduces the inflammatory response to viruses as well as bacteria. When suffering from chronic stress our inflammatory response is negatively affected due to our immune system being less receptive of cortisol. (1)

Doctors have been aware of the link between high stress and susceptibility to illness for some time, but several new research studies have cemented these facts. (1)

“Stressed people’s immune cells become less sensitive to cortisol,” reported author Dr. Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. “They’re unable to regulate the inflammatory response, and therefore, when they’re exposed to a virus, they’re more likely to develop a cold.” (1)

One experiment, conducted with 276 health adults, asked participants what sort of things had stressed them out over the previous year. These individuals were administered nasal drops containing a common cold virus, then quarantined for five days. Of the 39% of participants which developed a cold, the individuals which reported having higher stressed were twice as likely to do so. (1)

Researchers are hoping to find new and better ways to help protect the health of people struggling with chronic stress. “Because inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress impacts them as well,” Cohen said. “Knowing this is important for identifying which diseases may be influenced by stress and for preventing disease in chronically stressed people.” (1)

Ways to support your immune system while under stress

Get adequate sleep

Not getting the proper amount of sleep can make you feel lethargic, tired and worn down. But studies show that your sleep you get can actually affect your immune system and how fast it takes you to start feeling better. So, if you feel like you’re getting sick more often, it’s possible the quality of sleep you’re getting is to blame. (2)

Getting a solid eight hours of sleep every night is one of the best ways to strengthen immunity. This helps keep your immune system in its best shape and can also protect you from other health issues down the line such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Exercise in moderation

Research shows us that during moderate exercise, the innate response can amplify immune cell function. On the other hand, when we exercise with high intensity, this innate response can decrease the functionality of immune cells, so don’t feel like you need to grind out cardio for half the day just to feel well. In reality, in can have the opposite effect!

When dealing with chronic stress or HPA axis irregularity, the purpose of exercising is not necessarily to become stronger, but to increase your body’s tone, flexibility and aerobic capacity. Two weeks after you start exercising daily you should notice that you are beginning to feel better. (3)


Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, plays a number of important roles in the body. One of its best known functions is as an antioxidant protecting cells- including immune cells- from damage by free radicals. Vitamin C also enhances many areas of white blood cell function (the defenders of the body), supports skin and other physical barriers to infection, and exhibits specific antiviral effects. (4)

Zinc is crucial in both innate (non-specific) and adaptive (antigen specific) immune function and is important in antibody formation. Deficiencies in either nutrient can severely weaken immune function. A review of studies involving zinc showed that taking the mineral within 24 hours of symptom onset also reduced severity and duration of a cold, and when taken regularly for 5 months or more, zinc decreased incidence of colds, absenteeism from school, and antibiotic prescriptions in children. (4)

For other herbs and minerals that help support immune function, visit our blog on the subject. Dr. Wilson also formulated supplements designed to help enhance and maintain immune support. Click here to view the full Line of Dr. Wilson’s Immune Health products.

Every cell, tissue and organ is involved in the immune process. Every factor that contributes to the vitality of the immune system is important to regaining or maintaining good health. As the cold and flu season is upon us, it is important to not only look for the best immune enhancers, but also to take personal responsibility for creating a healthy body to house a strong immune system. (5)


  1. Sifferlin, A Why Stress Makes It Harder to Kick the Common Cold. Time Magazine.
  2. How Sleep Can Affect Your Immune System.
  3. Using Exercise to Boost Your Immunity.
  4. Naugle, L. Vitamin C, Zinc and the Common Cold: Mom Was Right.
  5. Wilson’s Criteria for Effective Immune Enhancers.

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