Spring is getting closer and, for those of us here in LA, there have been some days you may have even been fooled into thinking it was already summer (so much for the foretold rainy days of El Niño).
However, even with the spurts of warmer weather, there are still plenty of those annoying winter cold and flu symptoms floating around. Cold symptoms are dreadful. You are often left feeling you have no choice but to wait out that congested head and runny nose for a couple weeks. While there is no cure for the common cold, there ARE things you can do to make symptoms more manageable, and potentially even help shorten the length of your symptoms… sometimes by days.
1. Vitamin C
Our body uses vitamin C in tissue growth and repair. It is an antioxidant, meaning it reduces free radicals in the body that can cause damage to cells. And studies also show it can help to improve immune function.
One study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism stated getting adequate vitamin C and zinc could help alleviate and shorten symptoms of respiratory infections, including those of the common cold. Plants provide our best sources of vitamin C including citrus fruits, papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and leafy greens.
Zinc is a mineral important for good skin health, immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, and more. A Cochrane Review of zinc studies showed that zinc supplementation within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms did reduce the duration of the common cold, however not the severity.
Zinc lozenges are a popular way to supplement, although some complain of a bad taste and/or nausea. Good food sources of zinc include oysters and other shellfish, beef, lamb, nuts and seeds (i.e. sesame, pumpkin, cashews), mushrooms, spinach, quinoa, and oats.
Garlic, a close relative to onions, also contains antioxidant properties and is known to boost immune function, among many other health benefits. An article from Clinical Nutrition showed garlic supplementation decreasing the duration of colds and flu by 61 percent.
Use raw garlic in dressings and salsas, or enjoy it sautéed or roasted for extra flavor in almost any dish.
Everything works better when you’re hydrated, sick or not. Drinking water while you have a cold or flu can help aid in flushing out toxins and getting rid of wastes, loosening mucus, carrying nutrients to the cells, and replacing any fluids lost through fever or diarrhea.
You can also supplement your fluid intake when sick with clear broth, hot tea with lemon and honey, and juice. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
5. Light Activity
Exercise is great for preventative health, however you might want to avoid that intense workout session while you’re sick, if for no other reason than your respiratory issues might make it more uncomfortable to push that hard and it’s not proven to speed up recovery time.
However, small amounts of light activity, like a light jog or walk, can help you feel and cope better. Don’t be afraid to get a little fresh air and sunlight when you’re under the weather.
We all know getting adequate sleep is important for good health. Our body repairs tissues and cells while we sleep and a lack of sleep can actually weaken the immune system.
When you have a cold, you likely find yourself more exhausted than usual. Take that hint your body is giving you and get a little extra rest so it has ample opportunity to fight off infection.
If you’re thinking to yourself that this information doesn’t seem revolutionary…that’s because it isn’t, but rather a reinforcement of age-old and proven recommendations. The best advice is not always the most radical. In fact, extreme measures often don’t hold up to their claims. Usually best to stick to the basics (not to mention it is usually easier on the pocketbook as well).
As always, my preference is to use whole, real foods to meet nutritional needs and stay healthy. However, if you’re considering supplementing with any of the above-mentioned vitamins or minerals to help alleviate your cold or flu symptoms, please consult your doctor and/or registered dietitian beforehand for personalized health recommendations.
Contributed by By Rebekah Blakely, RD (Nutrition Director, Wellfit Malibu)