You’ve heard it a million times: Wash your hands. And it’s true, hand hygiene is your first line of defense against colds and flu this winter. “People think they get respiratory illness because of a cough or sneeze, but often it’s because of self-inoculation—taking your fingers and touching your eyes, nose, and mouth,” says public health expert Michael Greger, MD.
Problem is, we’ve all heard this advice for decades, and yet most of us still have to deal with at least a few days of hacking, sneezing, and lost productivity each year. Which is why we think it’s time to add a few new strategies to your cold- and flu-fighting arsenal. We asked 10 different doctors—ranging from sports medicine physicians to acupuncturists—for their supplementary strategies for fending off the funk. Follow their advice, and this may just be your healthiest winter yet.
THE FAMILY MEDICINE DOCTOR: Socialize
You may think holing up at home all winter is the best way to evade illness. But research shows that isolation is not, in fact, the key to immunity. “Having someone you can turn to when things are not so good—that’s good for your immune system,” says Dave Rakel, MD, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin.
He cites a classic Carnegie Mellon University study where researchers shot rhinovirus—the cause of the common cold—up people’s noses (imagine volunteering for that study…), and found that those with the most diverse social networks were least susceptible to the sniffles.
Take note: It’s about social variety—connecting with family, neighbors, friends, workmates, fellow volunteers—not just the sheer number of people you know. (Experts aren’t sure why, but they do suggest that social diversity may help build up immune resistance.) So spread yourself around: Call your old gal pal from college, ask your work buddy to grab lunch, or pay a visit to your favorite aunt you don’t see often enough.
THE HOMEOPATHIC DOCTOR: Load up on garlic
The same compound in garlic that wards off pests in the garden can help fight the flu and colds. Allicin, an organosulfur compound in garlic, is a potent infection fighter, says Amy Rothenberg, ND, who specializes in therapeutic nutrition and homeopathic medicine. “Using garlic in cooking is an excellent way to help bolster immune function.”
The secret is macerating fresh, raw cloves with a garlic press, which gives you a maximal dose of the crud-fighting compound. “If you cook it to a crisp, it’s not as effective,” says Dr. Rothenberg. And those little jars of pre-chopped garlic? The air exposure causes some of the medicinal properties to diminish. So crush a clove about 15 minutes before you use it, and sprinkle it on salads, rice, or veggies, or add it to salad dressing or cream cheese. The typical dose docs recommend: one clove a day.
Don’t want garlic breath? As an alternative, you can take 250 milligrams of a garlic supplement twice a day during the season of sickness. Dr. Rothenberg recommends Kyolic brand, which doesn’t “repeat on people”—that is, give you garlicky breath or burps (ugh).
THE PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERT: Get gargling
When a virus invades, it has to fight its way through the mucus in your throat before attacking your cells. “To a virus, that’s a huge journey,” which is why you don’t get sick immediately after exposure, says Dr. Greger, a public health expert and founder of NutritionFacts.org.
That means you have time to fight back: Simply gargle shortly after you’ve come face-to-face with germs (pretty much any time you touch a public surface). “You’re basically washing away that layer of mucus, with the virus trapped in it,” says Dr. Greger. In fact, in a Japanese study, people who swooshed water in their throats three times a day were 35% less likely to catch a cold than non-garglers.
Stick to tap water instead of the filtered stuff in your fridge, since the small amount of chlorine may enhance the germ-fighting effect, he says. The technique: Tilt your head back, inhale deeply, take a gulp of water, and exhale out through your mouth. When you run out of breath, spit, take another mouthful, and repeat until you’ve gargled for about a minute.
THE ACUPUNCTURIST: Fight off germs with needles
On pins and needles about catching that nasty cold going around the office? Acupuncture may be the answer. “It makes sure that all of your body’s fluids are circulating as they should,” says Mary van den Berg-Wolf, MD, a licensed acupuncturist and a professor of medicine at Temple University. “There are systems we can activate that deal primarily with ‘defensive energy,’ which would prevent you from getting a cold.”
To fire up your defenses, your practitioner would insert needles into your upper back, near your shoulder blades—an area that Chinese medicine docs call the “wind gate,” where viruses are thought to enter. “You can close the gate by inserting needles,” says Dr. van den Berg-Wolf. She suggests seeking this treatment every 6 to 8 weeks during the cold season. You can also ask for the “acupuncture flu shot.” It targets spots in your upper and lower back thought to shield against the influenza virus.
THE EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Heat up your wardrobe
In the U.K., many hospitals have adopted a “bare below the elbows” and no-tie dress code. Why? To prevent pathogens from clinging to docs’ clothing. According to an International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH) report, the flu virus may survive 8 to 12 hours on cotton clothing—and only 1 to 10 virus particles may be necessary for infection.
Protect yourself by cranking up the heat. When washing your clothes, “both very hot water and a full drying cycle can help prevent illness,” says Allison Aiello, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. “It's likely that the heat helps kill some disease-causing viruses.” Ironing afterward? Use the steam setting, which may further reduce the microbial load on your clothes, the IFH report suggests.
THE INTERNIST: Watch out for little ones
“Children keep the common cold virus longer than adults,” says Jack Gwaltney, MD, an internist and founder of CommonCold.org. “And they can be infected and really not show as many signs of a cold as an adult. They may just have a little nasal mucus, but they’re still infectious.” Your impulse to hug, kiss, and hold hands with the cute little munchkins only compounds your risk of infection.
His advice is simple: If you interact with any child—even one who seems healthy—scrub your hands immediately afterward. “When they say goodbye, I go in the bathroom and wash my hands,” says Dr. Gwaltney. Take a cue from the kiddos and sing the alphabet song 3 times fast while scrubbing up to ensure you give the soap enough time to do its germ-fighting job.
THE NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE DOCTOR: Soak your socks
Staying hydrated isn’t the only way water can keep your body in check come winter. Slipping on a pair of cold, wet socks, then putting dry wool socks on top, may help stave off sickness, says Leslie Solomonian, ND, an assistant professor of medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.
“This encourages arteries to deliver more blood to the feet in an attempt to dry out those wet socks,” she says. “If worn over night, this will drive circulation throughout the entire body, which increases surveillance of the immune system.” Bonus: It also helps pull fluids away from your head, where they tend to accumulate when you’re coming down with something, says Dr. Solomonian.
How cold is cold enough? Chilly tap water is fine—but if you can tolerate it, dunking your socks in an ice bath is even better. Don’t forget the socks on top, which help keep your feet’s heat from escaping.
THE SLEEP DOCTOR: Stick to a shut-eye schedule
In a recent Carnegie Mellon University study, researchers found that people who logged less than 7 hours of sleep each night were nearly three times more likely to catch a cold than those who clocked at least 8 hours. “There are clear links between sleep and the immune system,” says W. Christopher Winter, MD, a board-certified sleep medicine specialist. “During the cold and flu season, make sure you’re not only getting enough sleep, but that you’re really sticking to your schedule.”
Shift workers, he says, are a prime example of the ill effects of a wonky schedule. “They’re not getting enough sleep, or have unusual sleep patterns,” says Dr. Winter. “Their rates of illness and missed days of work are through the roof.”
Keep in mind, bedtime isn’t necessarily when you feel your eyes sagging. “Just because you can stay up and feel fine the next day doesn’t mean you should,” says Dr. Winter. Since most bodily functions, immune activity included, operate by the clock, adhering to a strict bedtime, even if you have the energy to burn the midnight oil, will keep your system running smoothly. So pick a time to tuck in, and stick with it.
THE INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE SPECIALIST: Supplement with astragalus
The herb astragalus is what integrative medicine docs call an “adaptogen.” “There are some adaptogens in every kind of medicine, except Western medicine,” says Victoria Maizes, MD, executive director for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. “These are herbs that help normalize things. Astragalus is a good adaptogen for the immune system.”
Although in Chinese medicine astragalus root is traditionally added to soup, the easiest way to take the herb is in pill form. If you’re constantly exposed to germs—say, you’re a preschool teacher—consider taking 200 milligrams twice a day throughout the winter. If you’re anticipating a one-time assault—for example, during a plane ride—start supplementing just a few days in advance with the same dose as above.
THE SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR: Drink more beer
You probably associate “beer” with “gut,” but a bottle of brew is actually a rich source of health-protecting polyphenols, says Johannes Scherr, MD, PhD, a sports medicine physician in Germany. In a recent study, he found that runners who regularly drank non-alcoholic beer were less likely to contract an upper respiratory tract infection after a race than non-imbibers. He credits the anti-inflammatory quality of polyphenols for the immune-strengthening effect of beer after strenuous exercise, which is known to increase susceptibility to infections.
The researchers studied marathon runners, since it’s well established that their bodies are “open windows” to infection after such hard, prolonged exercise. So can beer benefit 5-K runners, too? Dr. Scherr says yes—but to a smaller extent, since baseline susceptibility to infection isn’t as high among less intense athletes.
But don't go too crazy: Too much alcohol can actually dampen your immune response, increasing your risk of sickness, he says. In fact, in a recent study from China and Japan, people’s frequency of imbibing was more critical for warding off colds than the actual amount of alcohol—that is to say, having just one daily drink (around 14 grams of alcohol) will probably protect you more than downing a full bottle of wine every Friday night.
Source : prevention.com