Preventing Cold & Flu: How Doctors Keep Germs at Bay
Doctors give their top tips for avoiding nasty cold and flu germs.
Does vitamin C help colds?
The jury is out on whether vitamin C can prevent a cold. And according to
the latest research, vitamin C doesn’t make a cold shorter or less severe.
Although experts do not recommend upping your dosage for that purpose, some
say it may help ward off germs if you’ve been exposed to physical or
environmental stress -- for example, with especially strenuous exercise or
exposure to bitter cold weather.
Even so, some people swear by it. “I have some vitamin C in my diet every
day, but I bump the dose up when I get sick,” Richter says.
“Generally it will reduce the length of the symptoms by at least a day or
two and also will help with the severity,” she says. An extra 500 milligrams a
day is about all you need.
Sore throat remedies
When their throats are scratchy and raw, doctors often find relief from
items stocked in their pantry and fridge. “I’m a big believer in herbal tea
with honey and lemon,” Fryhofer says. “It’s easy to get down because it’s warm
and comforting.” Honey may also help if you have a cough. One study showed that
buckwheat honey relieved children’s coughs even better than the cough
Chicken soup for colds and flu
Doctors say they use over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines only
when their symptoms are severe, and even then only sparingly. Many prefer
natural alternatives, such as saline (salt and water) solution, which helps
clear out nasal mucus. “One time when I had a cold I used it 18 times in one
day,” says Marcella Bothwell, MD, FAAP, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Rady
Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “You won’t get side effects from saline. Your
body is mostly water, so you’re just putting into it what’s already there.”
Grandma’s good old-fashioned “penicillin” is another great soother of
stuffed noses. “I’ve enjoyed chicken soup for years,” says Schachter. “The
vapor alone clears nasal passages and relieves the throbbing in the sinuses.”
Recently researchers have discovered what grandmothers have suspected all along
-- that the ingredients in chicken soup (including the chicken stock, carrot,
onion, and celery) might actually have a medicinal effect on the body’s immune
system, easing the inflammation caused by cold viruses.
Preventing colds and flu with acupuncture
The ancient Chinese medical tradition of using hair-thin needles to
stimulate pressure points around the body has been used to treat everything
from headaches to arthritis, and there’s some suggestion it might help with
colds as well.
“I’m a huge fan of acupuncture, and I use it for prevention because there
are many studies that show acupuncture boosts your immune system,” Richter
says. “I get it about every six to eight weeks, and then more frequently if I
get sick.” There isn’t any real evidence that acupuncture relieves colds, but
considering the few side effects, trying it probably can’t hurt.