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    The Truth Behind Mom's Cold and Flu Advice

    Mom said: "Wash your hands!"

    The reality: Mom wins this round. Frequent hand washing is one of the best things you can do to avoid catching whatever bugs might be going around. The key to making it count is doing it right: You need to use lots of soapy water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. You should also think about what you're touching right afterward, Pekosz says. If you're in a public restroom, use a paper towel instead of your bare hand when you touch the door handle. At home, you should regularly disinfect doorknobs with Lysol spray or disinfectant wipes. And don't forget about your germy computer keyboard. Pekosz says it's a good idea to run a disinfectant wipe over those keys.

    Mom said: "Take a multivitamin."

    The reality: Sorry, mom. There's no proof that taking a multivitamin will prevent you from falling ill. "Vitamins are not a magic wand," Richel says. If reducing your number of sick days is your goal, you're better off focusing on eating healthfully, drinking lots of fluids, and getting enough rest. But he does think multivitamins have some merits. "How many parents can honestly say, 'My child is a star eater who gets enough from all of the major food groups on a weekly basis'?" Richel asks. "There's no evidence that they'll prevent colds or flu, but multivitamins may round out the diet."

    Mom said: "Get lots of vitamin C."

    The reality: Don't bother gulping glasses of OJ or popping mega-doses of C when you get the sniffles. "Juice is hydrating, and a little extra vitamin C is not a bad thing," Richel says. But many studies have found that taking extra C at the beginning of a cold does pretty much nothing. Using vitamin C as a preventive measure -- say, during the entire winter to reduce your risk of getting sick -- won't help most people, either, though it did cut the incidence of colds in half among soldiers, skiers, and marathon runners who exercised in cold climates.

    Mom said: "Feeling nauseous? Sip some ginger ale."

    The reality: The flu mainly causes respiratory problems, along with fever and muscle aches. But some people (especially children) also end up with vomiting and diarrhea, which is no fun for anyone. Is ginger the fix? Research has shown that it can indeed help. It may even work as well as the medication metoclopramide.

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