We all know they’re lurking … those dreaded cold and flu bugs. With every back-to-school season, we face the inevitability of cold-and-flu season. Here’s a primer to arm yourself against the onslaught.
If you have kids, you probably already know someone who’s been sidelined by a cold or flu this season. It’s especially important at this time of year to build up your immune system to fight off nasty seasonal cold and flu viruses.
While eating well is important all year round, a healthy diet full of nutrient-rich whole foods including fresh fruits and vegetables helps the immune system fight off viruses and bacteria that bombard us during the hectic fall season.
Used for centuries to soothe symptoms associated with the cold and flu, chicken soup’s healthy reputation may be attributed to the many nutrients and antioxidant-dense ingredients it contains. These ingredients often include polyphenol-packed onions, beta carotene-rich carrots, virus-fighting garlic, and, of course, chicken.
Chicken is an excellent source of the compound carnosine. Preliminary studies have found carnosine to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may stave off viral infections such as the flu by stopping it from replicating and spreading inside cells.
The comforting warm broth of this soup may also help loosen mucus to ease congestion and alleviate a sore throat.
Thought to ward off everything from vampires to the plague, garlic has a long history of protecting us against all that ails. Garlic’s disease-fighting abilities appear to come from the sulphur compounds responsible for its pungent smell.
In addition to demonstrating powerful antioxidant abilities, garlic is thought to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties that preliminary research suggests may be useful in battling the common cold.
Well known as excellent sources of vitamin C, citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons may help the immune system stay in top fighting form. While evidence of its ability to combat the cold is inconclusive, vitamin C is thought to be a potent antioxidant that plays an essential role in maintaining the immune system.
Another powerful antioxidant found in citrus fruits is the flavonoid quercetin. Like carnosine in chicken soup, preliminary studies suggest quercetin may stop the rhinovirus—the most common cause of the common cold—by preventing it from replicating and spreading.
Although small in size, cranberries are abundant in phytochemicals that may give the immune system a big boost.
In one preliminary study, researchers from the University of Florida found cranberry juice to significantly increase the cells responsible for defending the body against viral invaders in participants who drank it daily. During the study, the cranberry juice drinkers reported fewer cold and flu symptoms than those who did not drink the juice.
Like citrus fruit, cranberries are also a good source of vitamin C and the flavonoid quercetin.
Traditionally used to calm nerves and relieve digestive upset, preliminary research suggests a cup of camomile tea may be helpful in combatting the common cold.
British researchers have found camomile tea may increase levels of polyphenols in the body associated with increased antibacterial activity. This increase in antibacterial activity may aid the immune system in warding off infections associated with the common cold.
If a cold has left you with a nagging cough, a dose of dark chocolate may help. Dark chocolate is especially rich in the phytochemical theobromine.
Researchers from the National Heart and Lung Institute in the UK have found theobromine may be more effective than codeine in relieving a persistent cough. Theobromine is thought to work by blocking the action of the nerves that trigger the cough reflex.
In addition to a healthy diet, plenty of fluids, and rest, nutritional and herbal supplements may aid the body in combatting invading viruses and help speed up recovery.
Thought to have anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, elderberry may help ease congestion by reducing swelling in mucous membranes and may also help reduce cold duration. Elderberry has also shown promise in lab studies for combatting influenza type A and B viruses.
When your child catches a cold, starting echinacea as soon as symptoms appear provides the best chance for a beneficial effect. The root of Echinacea purpurea may help lessen symptom severity and shorten the duration.
North American ginseng
When taken regularly throughout the cold and flu season, research suggests North American ginseng may help not only prevent the cold and flu, but also make symptoms milder in those who do get sick.
Probiotics and vitamin D
Both probiotics and vitamin D have the ability to regulate immune functions and, when taken consistently, have been shown to decrease the frequency of upper respiratory tract infections.
When taken within a day of symptoms starting, zinc may help speed up recovery from a cold as well as lessen the severity of symptoms.
Don’t fall prey to a cold or flu bug. These simple strategies may help you avoid getting sick this cold and flu season.
- Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout the day to help protect against virus particles you may pick up.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Regularly clean frequently touched items at home and work, such as phones, keyboards, and door handles.
- Don’t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoke exposure not only weakens the immune system, but it also dries out nasal passages and may paralyze cilia, the tiny hairs in the nose that sweep cold and flu viruses away.
- Exercise and meditate. One small study found that meditation combined with moderate exercise such as yoga reduced cold and flu symptoms in participants by 40 to 50 percent.
When to see your doctor for a cold or flu
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty keeping food or fluids down
- difficulties swallowing
- fever higher than 100 F (38 C) lasting more than three days
- cough or nasal congestion that doesn’t improve or worsens over the course of 14 days