It’s that time of year again – cold and flu season is just around the corner! Since the cold (rhinovirus) and the flu (influenza) are both viruses, they can’t be cured by antibiotics. And common cold medicines like Nyquil don’t actually fight the virus, they just mask the symptoms that occur when your body fights the virus. So, the best way to prevent and treat the cold or flu is to keep your immune system in tip top shape. Here’s a few things you can do:
Take Your Vitamins
Well, eat them. Vitamin C tends to get all the attention when it comes to immune health, and getting enough will help boost the immune system. But while upping your vitamin C intake when you feel a cold coming on can reduce the symptoms, it won’t entirely prevent it, and mega doses in pill form don’t do that much good. In addition to vitamin C, some other vitamins are important too. These include:
Zinc – a mineral required for over 100 enzyme reactions involved in protein synthesis, immune health, and wound healing. A recent review also found that taking a zinc supplement can reduce the duration of a cold.
Good sources of zinc are oysters, crab, beef, bison, baked beans, yogurt, and cashews.
Iron – a mineral that helps the body transport oxygen in red blood cells and aids cell growth and development. Iron is best known for it’s deficiency, referred to as anemia. Iron deficiency, in addition to causing fatigue, can also reduce immune system health.
You can find iron in beef, bison, dark meat turkey, tuna, and oysters, as well as in beans, lentils, spinach, pumpkin seeds, raisins, and fortified foods.
Vitamin D – a vitamin best known for its role in bone health, Vitamin D also plays a role in cell growth, immune function, and reducing inflammation. During the summer we get plenty of vitamin D from sunlight, which triggers the body to make vitamin D. But during the winter – when more days look like yesterday than Sunday – it’s harder to get enough vitamin D, and research over the past few years has found that many more people may be low in vitamin D.
Good food sources are swordfish, salmon, fortified OJ and milk, and egg yolk.
In general, staying hydrated allows the body to function at its best. If you’ve already got the cold, water (and other liquids like warm broth and juice) can loosen congestion, as well as preventing dehydration. Most people need about an ounce of water per kilogram of body weight per day, plus more if you’re training. For more on hydration see this blog post.
Repair and Recover.
Rest is one of the best ways to prevent and treat the cold. A body that is run down – be that from under recovering after workouts (also known as over training) or from lack of sleep – wont have as robust an immune system as a well rested body. If you feel a cold coming on, doing Fran might not be your best move, but some activity (like a very light jog or steady state row) can be beneficial. To be well rested, adults need at least 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
What to do?
When I feel a cold coming on, I can usually either prevent it or make it far less severe by
1. Drinking 2-3 more 8 ounce glasses of water than normal
2. Drinking 1 Emergen-C packet per day
3. Sleeping at least 8 hours every night
What do you do to prevent a cold from coming on?
Science M, Johnstone J, Roth DE, Guyatt G, Loeb M. Zinc for the treatment of the common cold: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.CMAJ. 2012 Jul 10;184(10):E551-61. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.111990. Epub 2012 May 7.
Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Fact Sheet: Zinc. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Fact Sheet: Iron. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/
Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Fact Sheet: Vitamin D. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
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