Once you notice trees dropping their leaves, days getting shorter, nights getting darker, and the air feeling a little crisper, you can be sure of two things: Drugstore aisles will be crammed with cold and flu preventions, from echinacea to zinc. And "coffee talk" with friends, family, and coworkers will inevitably turn to how to prevent a cold or the flu – or even ways to steer clear of the latest virus.
Seems like everyone has his or her own method for preventing colds and flu, from simple rules like never leaving the house with wet hair, to more deliberate methods such as:
So with cold and flu season right around the corner, it's important to know which, if any, supplements can really help prevent a cold or the flu. Take our quick interactive quiz and find out how to stop a cold in its tracks.
1. Your neighbor is an avid skier and swears that taking vitamin C every day keeps her healthy and on the slopes. She also claims it will help keep you cold-free. Is she right?
It depends on how active you are. Despite long-held beliefs linking vitamin C and cold prevention, the only people for whom a daily dose of vitamin C has proved to reduce the incidence of colds are those who regularly engage in strenuous outdoor activities in cold climates.
2. You saw a woman at the health food store stocking up on echinacea and overheard her tell her friend that it's a cold's worst enemy. Is it?
Yes and No
This herbal remedy has not proved effective at preventing colds, but it may be helpful in treating them.
3. You clipped a coupon from the local paper for a new probiotic supplement. Could this be the answer to preventing colds and the flu?
Probiotics are the latest buzz in the nutrition world, and although the latest studies show they may help to shorten the duration of a cold, they don't seem to prevent them.
No one supplement is going to defend your body against the more than 200 viral invaders that can cause colds. This task requires a multilevel approach. It's impossible to entirely eliminate harmful germs, but you can develop a solid defense plan to reduce the number of malicious invaders. Luckily, most germs are pretty predictable.
When it comes to watching over your health, H.E.A.L. is an acronym that should be pretty easy to remember, right? It's a four-tiered approach to warding off cold and flu viruses year-round and stands for:
H -- healthy habits
E -- healthy environment
A -- healthy alternatives
L -- healthy lifestyle
Keep in mind that cold and flu viruses are everywhere and are spread easily from surface to surface. Because they are so numerous and so prevalent, it's important to be vigilant about maintaining a few basic healthy habits that can keep you from getting infected.
Think of your hygiene habits as your first line of defense. These habits are the gatekeepers to good health, restricting access to your body and maintaining the harmony that keeps your immune system running smoothly.
For example, washing your hands is probably the most important thing you can do to battle cold and flu viruses. But the big question is, are you doing it enough? Of course you know you should wash your hands after using the bathroom and before cooking and eating, but it's also important after coughing or sneezing, to avoid spreading your germs around.
Antibacterial soaps and wipes have gained popularity, but research suggests plain old soap and water may eradicate germs AND eliminate viruses much more effectively. Just be sure to suds up for at least 15 seconds, and if you have children or grandchildren around, remind them to do the same. For those times when you don't have access to soap and water, alcohol rubs and hand wipes may offer some protection against certain infectious agents.
Secondly, since most germs like to hitch rides on your hands, and their favorite entry points are the mouth, nose, and eyes, some other habits you may need to break include:
Remember, anytime you bring your hands to your eyes, nose, or mouth, you are inviting germs into your body. So put away the welcome mat and don't let those bugs in. It may be hard to do at first, because we often touch our faces without even realizing it. But eliminating this germ gateway into the body could keep you much healthier in the months ahead.
If you live in a cold climate, there's good reason why the incidence of colds and flu increase in the winter. It's not cold temps that can make you sick, but close quarters and less air circulation. Chilly weather drives people indoors, and rubbing elbows with your friends and neighbors allows viruses to spread more easily. But don't shun your friends entirely this winter. Keeping up your social network provides support and protection against stress -- a big contributing factor to a diminished immune system. Just do your best to maintain a healthy environment.
Even if your home appears to be clean, viruses may be lurking on household surfaces. Cold viruses can survive for 3 hours on surfaces like telephones and light switches. One of the easiest ways to defend your home from these unwanted guests is to use a disinfectant spray that kills viruses on items in your home that are touched frequently: doorknobs, faucets, remote control. Among disinfectants, Lysol appears to do the best job. Bleach also is an effective germ killer, but the chlorine fumes may be disagreeable -- as well as possibly harmful to your health.
As you know, there is no cure for the common cold. With the sheer number of different viruses that cause colds (many of which still remain unidentified), it's difficult to see a vaccine on the horizon. But a few dietary supplements have shown promise in reducing the frequency of colds in some populations. Let's take a closer look at how to incorporate these into your diet.
Living well contributes to an immune system that's ready to wage battle against germs. Here are a few of the golden rules for keeping your immune system working at its optimum level:
So you've followed our advice and put up all of your defenses, but somehow you can feel you're coming down with something. Maybe you've got a little tickle in your throat. Or perhaps you just feel a bit more run down than usual. That's it, you tell yourself: You're getting sick. There's never a good time to catch a cold or come down with the flu, but you don't have to take it lying down.
So what should you do? Take high doses of vitamin C? Reach for the bottle of echinacea? Suck on some zinc lozenges? Or do you stick to Mom's old-fashioned remedies: bowls of chicken soup, hot tea, and menthol rubs to fight off those bugs the best you can?
As noted, some dietary supplements may help shorten the duration and/or reduce the severity of symptoms if taken at the onset of a cold or the flu. Many of these need to be taken within 24 hours of onset in order to be effective, so be sure to act quickly. You might want to keep some of these on hand in your medicine cabinet so you can be armed and at the ready!
Of course, there's nothing wrong with going back to basics and doing what your mom probably advised when you were getting sick: Get plenty of rest and have a bowl of chicken noodle soup.
She may have been right.
According to research, chicken soup may have some medicinal qualities after all. Some ingredients in traditional chicken soup seem to have an anti-inflammatory effect, helping to alleviate the symptoms of upper respiratorytract infections. So if you've come down with a cold and there's nothing more to be done, go ahead and slurp up a bowl. And tell your mom thanks for the advice.