Strategies for Dodging Colds, Flu

McClatchy Tribune Newspapers

Everyone's trying to stay healthy this flu season, especially with the H1N1 pandemic. Lots of supplements to prevent or treat colds and flu are being peddled to the public.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Take your vitamin D. The vitamin is important for the healthy function of many of the body's systems, including the immune system. Getting enough vitamin D may reduce your risk of getting sick. The average adult probably needs 1,000 to 2,000 units a day.
  • Regular, moderate exercise, including weightlifting and tai chi, has been shown to boost the immune system. On the other hand, intense exercise such as marathon running can suppress your immune system temporarily and increase your risk of getting sick.
  • Healthful eating is essential this time of year. Aim for 10 to 12 servings of fruits and veggies per day.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Restorative sleep boosts your immune system.
  • Don't forget to laugh! Laughter seems to enhance immunity while chronic stress can increase your risk of getting sick.
  • Try gargling. A 2005 study showed that the simple act of gargling with plain water at least three times a day not only reduced the incidence of upper-respiratory infections by 36 percent, but also eased symptoms for those who did get a cold.
  • Cold fX is a popular Canadian product used to prevent upper-respiratory infections. There is limited data to suggest it might work, but the data is weak, and this product is expensive - about $100 for a four-month supply.
  • The simplest and probably the most effective way of preventing illness is to clean your hands regularly to remove cold-causing viruses from your skin. We recommend using a cleanser with at least 62 percent alcohol. Studies have shown this tends to be more effective than hand washing.

So, you've done everything you can to stay well, and you still find yourself down and out with an upper-respiratory infection. Here are a few things that may help:

  • Irrigating your nasal passages with saline can produce relief from cold symptoms.
  • Vitamin C may reduce the duration of a cold. Try taking 250 mg to 500 mg twice daily, which is all you need to saturate your body's tissues with vitamin C; higher doses can cause diarrhea.
  • While echinacea doesn't seem to prevent colds, it may help to shorten the severity and duration of a cold once you get sick. The data are controversial. Look for a product with the species Echinacea purpurea.

Echinacea is not advised for people with autoimmune disease like lupus or those with allergies to ragweed.

  • Elderberry is an herb that may reduce the duration of the flu by a few days. If you try this, we recommend the product Sambucol.

Some data suggest that the herbal combo Andrographis plus Siberian ginseng (sold as the product Kan Jang) can reduce the symptoms and duration of colds and flu.

  • Zinc lozenges taken during the first two days of a cold may shorten its duration. Zinc is toxic, however, if taken in excess or for prolonged periods of time.

Zinc nasal sprays are not recommended - in rare instances, they may lead to permanent loss of sense of smell.

Many herbs and supplements interact with prescription meds, so be sure to talk with your doctor before starting anything over the counter.

And, of course, if you have any persistent or worrisome symptoms, check in with your doctor as well.

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