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Sick of Being Sick?

11. Have a laugh

Those Friends reruns could rev up your immune response. In a study from Western Kentucky University, healthy women who laughed vigorously at clips featuring funnyman Bill Cosby showed significantly greater activity of their body's natural killer cells than women who didn't laugh or had to sit through a tourism video. "If your natural killer cells are working well, they can help fight off colds and flu, including strains you've never been exposed to before," says Mary P. Bennett, Ph.D., director of nursing.

12. Get culture

Yogurt, that is, along with other products containing probiotics. While research is young, it seems these healthy bacteria can have significant immune-boosting effects. In a recent, company-sponsored study, people who took the probiotic supplement Sustenex for a month mounted a greater immune response. Yogurt works, too, research from the University of California Davis found. Subjects who ate a cup every day for four months increased their levels of gamma interferon, an immune substance that helps white blood cells fight disease. To get the cold-curbing benefits, look for "live, active cultures" on the package or the Live & Active Cultures seal.

13. Enjoy a drink

Spirits aren't just good for your heart. "Having one or two drinks a day is associated with less risk of getting a cold," says Cohen. Red wine may be particularly protective, report researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela and the Harvard School of Public Health. They found that, compared with nondrinkers, those who drank two glasses daily had about half the risk of coming down with a cold. The reasons for the lower risk are unclear, but it might be the anti-inflammatory action of the resveratrol in red wine. But don't start drinking if you don't do so already.

14. Go green

When researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville, gave volunteers a green tea supplement containing L-theanine and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) for 12 weeks, cold and flu incidence dropped by 32 percent. And those who did become sick "had less severe and shorter bouts of illness," says nutritional sciences professor Susan S. Percival, Ph.D. You can get the boost by drinking six to eight cups of green tea daily or taking green tea capsules; look for L-theanine and EGCG in the ingredients.

Did you know: 20 million workdays are lost due to colds every year

If You Do Get Sick:
You can't stop every cold, but you can lessen the impact, especially if you act quickly. To feel better, get well faster, and head off complications:

  • Sip hot soup...or tea, or enjoy a hot meal. The warmth may promote salivation and mucus secretions, which lubricate and soothe the throat, says Ron Eccles, Ph.D., D.Sc., director of Cardiff University's Common Cold Centre. "Spicy foods are also good," he adds.
  • Take a shower Or follow Dr. Schaffner's prescription and opt for two a day. "Warm moisture gets into mucous membranes and helps clear your nasal passages," he says.
  • Pop a supplement Echinacea can reduce a cold's duration by about a day and a half, a review of studies from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy found. Effective dose: 900 mg of Echinacea purpurea daily. (Bonus: In this study, the herb also cut the number of colds.)
  • Work it out Regular exercise may not only head off colds, but also cut them short. Rule of thumb: If symptoms are from the neck up, try a light workout; if they are below the neck, rest till they're gone.
  • Blow gently CT scans taken as part of a University of Virginia Health Sciences Center study documented that vigorous nose blowing can push mucus from the nose up into the sinuses. This could make your cold worse or bring on a secondary sinus infection. Solution: Gently blow each nostril separately, and take a nasal decongestant to reduce fluid buildup, says Anil K. Lalwani, M.D., chair of the department of otolaryngology at New York University Langone Medical Center. "A combination product that has both an antihistamine and pseudoephedrine is generally more effective than pills with just one of those ingredients," he says. Some brand names: Actifed, Claritin-D, Allegra-D.

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