You can’t prevent cold and flu viruses from making their winter appearance, but a healthy diet can bolster your immune system making it better prepared to respond to attacking viruses. And if you do get sick, the right foods and certain supplements can help ease cold and flu symptoms.
It’s no coincidence we get sick more often during the winter months. Cold temperatures keep us indoors where we’re more likely to come into prolonged contact with others who are infected. As well, cold weather can dry out the lining of your nasal passages, making them more susceptible to infection.
Your first defence against colds and flu is good personal hygiene. Frequent and thorough hand washing, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and cleaning surfaces that you touch with germ-killing disinfectant will help protect you, your family and your coworkers from infection-causing germs.
When it comes to nutrition, a healthy diet that includes adequate protein and plenty of fruit and vegetables will help build a strong immune system.
Regular exercise improves immunity too. But don’t overdo it. High intensity or prolonged endurance exercise steps up the production of stress hormones, which can hinder the body’s ability to fight infection.
Getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night also guards against infection (children and teens need nine to 10 hours). Sleep deprivation disrupts immune function and inflammation in the body.
If you do get sick, the following remedies may help you recover faster, albeit modestly. (Before taking any natural health product, speak to your doctor if you are pregnant, have a medical condition or take medication.)
Hot fluids. During a cold, drink plenty of hot liquids such as hot water, tea, soup and broth to relieve nasal congestion and prevent dehydration. Fluids also keep the lining of the upper respiratory track moist, which can ease sore throat symptoms.
Chicken soup. According to researchers from the University of Nebraska, there is scientific validity to the age-old notion that chicken soup treats a cold. A homemade chicken soup – containing chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery, parsley, salt and pepper – was shown to dampen the activity of white blood cells that trigger inflammation.
Slowing the activity of these white blood cells is thought to reduce the flow of mucus in the lungs and nasal passages.
Vitamin C. Most research shows that taking 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C per day (divided as 500 milligrams four times daily) decreases the duration and severity of a cold by 24 to 36 hours.
Vitamin C might not work for everyone, however. The nutrient seems to be most effective in children, in people whose diets contain little vitamin C and in those under physical stress (e.g. marathon runners, physical labourers).
Vitamin D. This nutrient increases the body’s production of proteins that destroy viruses, including influenza virus. Given that vitamin D is synthesized in our skin on exposure to sunlight, low blood levels of vitamin D in the winter months may make us more susceptible to getting the flu.
Take 1000 IU (international units) of vitamin D each day throughout the fall and winter. Older adults, people with dark skin, those who don’t go outdoors often and those who wear clothing that covers most of their skin should take the supplement year-round. Children should supplement with 400 IU per day.
Zinc lozenges. Many studies have shown taking zinc gluconate or zinc citrate lozenges, started within 24 to 48 hours of the onset of cold symptoms, reduces the severity and duration of cold symptoms. Zinc may block the replication of cold viruses in the upper respiratory tract.
Most zinc lozenges contain 10 milligrams of zinc. Do not take more that 50 milligrams of zinc per day (one lozenge every two hours); too much zinc can depress the immune system.
Probiotics. In adults and kids, taking a daily supplement of these so-called “friendly” bacteria has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of colds, presumably by stimulating the body’s immune system.
An earlier study published Pediatrics found that healthy children, aged 3 to 5, who took a probiotic supplement during the fall and winter suffered significantly less fever, coughs, antibiotic use and missed school days.
Buy a product that contains both lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, the two main types of probiotic bacteria. Take one to 10 billion live cells per dose. Children’s products typically contain one-quarter to one-half the adult dose.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.