Why you should never let life get in the way of a cold

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Dr. Jenna Macciochi, Immunologist and Chief Scientific Officer at Tonic, discusses how the daily grind affects the immune system and why you should never let life get in the way of a cold.

It’s easy to ignore our body’s cries for help when we’re charging about balancing work with family and a busy social life in our quest to “have it all”. Even the health experts get it wrong. “We’re only human after all”, explains Dr. Jenna Macciochi, who was left bed bound with pneumonia after ignoring the symptoms of a cold.

Too busy to rest?

When we’re firing on all cylinders, taking a few days off to rest for a seasonal cold seems petty, not to mention inconvenient. Powering ahead and getting on with it, seems like a very British thing to do. Jenna, a working mum of twins, was “embarrassed to admit” that she ignored the tell-tale signs, after contracting a virus from her husband and twins; the fatigue, the persistent sniffle, telling herself, “I’ll be fine in a few days”. She continued to cycle her 10 mile daily commute, along with attending weekly gym classes until something had to give.

“I got to the stage where I was in denial that I still had this cold and it was getting worse and worse because I just couldn’t find a time to press stop… It was almost too stressful to think about rescheduling everything”, she explains on the DOSE podcast.


“Even as a professional, you’re still a human being and you still have these stupid things that you tell yourself. Even though I should know better”. Then one day, something snapped. Jenna’s body staged an intervention. “My husband was away travelling for work, I couldn’t take care of my children and I was really sick”, she says. “Eventually I got some friends to help me. I went to my doctor and she said … you’ve got pneumonia”.

Jenna spent three weeks in bed and was coughing so much that she had to get her husband to help her to turn over. “It’s so deeply embarrassing” she says, “but it speaks to the fact that our modern lives are hard. I wasn’t striving for anything in particular. I was just doing the daily tasks that I had to juggle; my career, whilst having kids. And it just all got on top of me”.

Listen to your body

“It’s easy to mask how you’re feeling with a double espresso when you open your eyes, even if the first few seconds after waking, you’re actually just feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus”, Jenna says. “We’re not very intuitive with listening to our bodies anymore, as a result of living in this fast paced world. We get a lot of messages about what we should do to be healthy. Walk 10,000 steps a day. Eat our five vegetables or more. But we never stop to think, is that what my body needs right now? Do I need to do that gym class? All these micro stresses with our phone pinging with emails every few minutes, taking our attention here and there is really not conducive for good health”.

Don’t take your immune system for granted

“Only 25 percent of your immunity is genetically determined”, Jenna says. “You inherit a certain set of immunity genes from your parents, but the rest is shaped from the moment you’re born. Immunity is something that is made, not born. It needs these inputs from our environment to develop correctly and robustly. And our modern environments are not giving these inputs that we need anymore. So do yourself a favour and give it a helping hand.

Jenna’s 5 tips for how to fight the symptoms of a cold

1. Cut back on coffee: A natural stimulant, it makes us get up and go and override our natural need to rest and recover.

2. Prevention is better than cure: Swap cold and flu products that are full of sweeteners, fillers, and synthetic products that inhibit rather that incite the immune system for Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc. Antibiotics are useless against the viruses that cause cold and flu but may be necessary to prevent secondary bacterial infection in those with underlying health conditions. Always use as instructed by your healthcare professional.

3. Exercise intuitively: A natural immune suppressant, exercising when sick can be a fine line between recovery and ending up sicker for longer.

4. Take a day off: Listen to your body: our immune system molecules actually act on our brain to instruct our behaviour. This is what gives us those familiar feelings of being unwell: tiredness, social withdrawal etc.

5. Hug a mug: It might sound like an old wives tale but there is some science to say that having a warm and comforting hot drink not only makes you feel better but can ease congestion and cold and flu symptoms too.

Listen to the full discussion on the DOSE podcast – live 14th February 2020. Subscribe here.

This is a partnership feature with Tonic Health

By Hettie

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