This is something I wondered recently when Sofie came down with a bad cold after a string of birthday parties and Halloween activities. I knew that a virus had caused the cold, but I wondered if an excess of sugary treats had contributed to it.
Motherly instinct told me to reduce the number of sweets Sofie ate while she was sick (a trying rule to implement during Halloween!), but my suggestion was met with such horror from my seven-year-old that I had to see if there was any foundation for my parental decision.
I learned some interesting things.
Like how most plants and animals (including cats and dogs) can convert sugar into vitamin C. Now that would be cool. Unfortunately, humans are not one of the lucky animals who can do this. In humans, glucose (sugar) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) compete with each other, so a diet high in sugar weakens the immune system.
While consuming sugar doesn’t directly cause a cold, it does make you more susceptible to one. High sugar intake increases inflammation in the body. This means your germ-fighting white blood cells will be focused on the inflammation, leaving the door wide open for a cold virus to sneak in. Lo and behold, Sofie’s caught a cold after a week of birthday cake, candy and extra desserts.
Reading this, of course, makes me wary about ever giving sweets to Sofie (or myself). But we both enjoy a sweet tooth, so I know we’ll never give them up completely. Perhaps Dr. Jim Sears has the right idea by asking his kids, “Is this a good time to be suppressing your immune system?” whenever they ask for a sugary treat. That question at least brings your health to mind before habitually giving in to cravings.
Once you do have a cold, you should boost your vitamin C intake. But how much? Well, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommended daily intake of vitamin C for healthy people is: 90 mg for men, 75 mg for women, and between 15-75 mg for children depending on their age. However, some doctors believe that is way too little and recommend 2,000-4,000 mg daily for adults along with the “bowel intolerance test.” Here’s how the test works: Increase your vitamin C intake until you experience loose bowels (an indication of too much C), then back off the amount slightly until your bowels are normal. This is the amount your body needs.
At least that’s one theory, but I’m not sure I’m willing to go there.
I know our family meals have been a bit lacking in the fruit and veggie department lately. Plus, fall and winter, with their decrease of immunity-boosting vitamin D sunshine, may be the worst time to eat sugars… one reason colds are more predominant in those seasons.
I’m glad to be armed with this information. Even though I’m usually a believer of the “everything in moderation” rule, I would much rather limit my daughter’s sweets than deal with incessant colds for the next four months.