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Eight ways to beat the cold and flu

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Growing up, cold and flu season meant . . . oranges. My mom bought bags of them at the first sign of a sniffle. I was fine with it: I love oranges, especially when I’m sick. But truth is, even though vitamin C has been shown to boost the immune system, it’s never been proven to effectively shorten the duration of either colds or flu.

You probably have your own go-to prevention techniques and remedies: chicken soup, zinc supplements, hot tea, stiff shot of whisky. Some of my colleagues here at Men’s Health purchase Purell by the case every winter. Some of these may even work. But, truth is, the active ingredient in most of them is the placebo effect.

This cold and flu season will be different. Your new approach: science. We've assembled the latest research on how to arm your immune system so it'll strike at the first tickle in the throat. Or immediately after a suspicious double sneeze. Or right after that vague, blah feeling begins creeping in. In the past we've always allowed the cold virus to establish a beachhead in our bodies before fighting back. This time, the second it lands, we hit and we hit hard.

Strategy #1: Eat an Antiviral Breakfast

Woke up sick and tired? The right morning meal can help quash the cold virus before it quashes you. In a recent study from the Netherlands, researchers found that consuming a 1,200-calorie breakfast increased blood levels of gamma interferon, a natural antiviral agent, by 450 percent. Going hungry caused a 17 percent decrease. That doesn’t mean you should reach for the pancake syrup. Instead, hit your quota by eating a bowl of Kellogg's Raisin Bran (with 2 percent milk), a glass of orange juice, and a toasted English muffin with peanut butter and grape jelly, followed by a Stonyfield Farm smoothie.

Strategy #2: Strike Back with Stress

An Ohio State University study found that exposing yourself to short-term stress—the kind you have some control over—can supercharge your immune system. "Stress response is a normal protective coping mechanism," says Jos A. Bosch, Ph.D., the study author. "The body prepares itself for potential harm and activates its immune resources." To use stress as medicine, Bosch suggests taking on a small extra project at work or helping a coworker with a task. "It shouldn't take longer than a day or half a day," he says.

Strategy #3: Brew a Cup of Cold-Virus Killer

Swap your 3 p.m. coffee for green tea. When Canadian researchers added green tea to lab samples of the adenovirus (one of the bugs responsible for colds), it stopped the virus from replicating. All the credit goes to EGCG, a chemical compound found in certain kinds of tea, but in the highest concentrations in green tea. Start pumping green tea into your bloodstream at the first sign of a cold and you should be able to stop its attack. "It's the difference between staying home for 2 or 3 days, and going to work and just sniffling a bit," says Joseph M. Weber, Ph.D., the lead study author. The best brand to brew? Tetley; it was one of the most effective in Weber's study. Note: To brew the maximum amount of EGCG, boil a mug of water in the microwave, toss in a tea bag, and let it steep for 10 minutes. Sweeten with honey.

Strategy #4: Recharge Your Immune Response

Thinking about staying up for Tosh.0? Consider this: When the amount of sleep you're logging decreases by 40 percent or more (for instance, you sleep 4 hours instead of the usual 7), the effectiveness of your immune system declines by 50 percent, says Michael Irwin, M.D., a sleep researcher at UCLA. And for the immune system to operate at full strength, you'll need to sleep a straight 8, the amount shown to produce the highest levels of "natural killer cells," which attack viruses.

Strategy #5: Play Prevention D

People with the highest vitamin D levels in their blood are the least likely to suffer respiratory infections, says a recent study of nearly 7,000 adults in the British Journal of Nutrition. Choose vitamin D3, which is more bioavailable than D2. It’s difficult to get all the vitamin D you need in the winter, since the sun isn’t strong enough to trigger D production in many northern regions. As a rule of thumb, vitamin D production happens as long as your shadow is shorter than your body during the middle of the day. And while many foods have vitamin D, it’s hard to get enough unless you eat plenty of D-rich foods like salmon every single day. If you don’t, take a supplement like GNC’s Vitamin D3.

Strategy #6: Take a Walk

Regular exercise can strengthen the body’s resistance to colds by stimulating movement of certain immune cells, says David Nieman, DHSc, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University. In research comparing sedentary adults with moderately active adults (those who took 45-minute brisk walks five days a week), Nieman found that walkers caught colds half as often as nonwalkers. Walk with friends or play a team sport for the added benefit of social interaction. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people with diverse social networks suffer fewer colds than people who are introverted and socially isolated.

Strategy #7: Lie on Your Stomach

In a Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine study, researchers divided several dozen volunteers into two groups: one received a traditional Swedish massage and another a session of light touch (but no actual massage-therapy techniques). After each 45-minute session, blood samples were taken. The result: The Swedish massage group experienced a significant increase in their lymphocytes—white blood cells that play a large role in protecting the body against disease—and a decrease in their levels of the stress hormones. The light-touch group didn’t not. “We found that biological changes occur as a result of even a single session of massage, and that these changes may benefit even a healthy individual,” says Mark Hyman Rapaport, M.D., one of the study’s authors.

Strategy #8: Fire Up the Crock Pot

Eating bean-based chili is a delicious way to warm up after a winter walk—and it can also help prevent colds and the flu if you make it with the right ingredients. Wake Forest University nutritionists say chili contains an arsenal of immunity-boosters. All of the vegetables (including the onions and garlic) offer immune-system-strengthening phytochemicals, but the tomatoes are particularly powerful. In addition to the phytochemical lycopene, tomatoes contain potassium and vitamins A and C. The tofu and beans supply an immunity-boosting isoflavone called daidzein, and the hot sauce will open up your nasal passages to avoid congestion.

Editors of Men's Health




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