Ways to Survive Cold and Flu Season

Eat yogurt for breakfast

The same live cultures that help ease digestive distress can help stave off a cold, says Dr. Phillips, who wroteThe Exhaustion Breakthrough ($20; amazon.com). A 2011 study backs this up: Scientists found that people who consumed probiotics via supplements or fermented foods (think yogurt, kefir and kimchi) had 12 percent fewer upper respiratory infections.

Crack open a window

Spending the day in a stuffy room with anyone who’s under the weather raises your risk of catching a bug. Letting a little fresh air circulate keeps airborne viral particles on the move, making them harder to pick up, says Dr. Phillips.

Have some mushrooms

New research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition offered evidence of their immune-boosting powers. People who ate a cooked shiitake mushroom daily for a month showed higher numbers of T cells and less inflammation.

Quit touching your lips

You might as well lick a restroom door (ick). “Not touching your face greatly cuts your odds of getting sick,” says Margarita Rohr, MD, an internist at NYU Langone Medical Center. But that’s easier said than done: The average person puts a hand on her mouth or nose more than three times an hour. To break the habit, try sitting on your hands when they’re idle.

Score regular sleep

Take advantage of longer nights and log enough shut-eye. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that subjects who slept for fewer than seven hours were nearly three times as susceptible to colds as people who slept for at least eight hours.

Flush out your nose

Throughout cold season, add this to your nighttime routine: Rinse your nose using a neti pot with boiled (and cooled) salted water, or an over-the-counter nasal irrigator or saline solution. “It will help clear out viral particles you’ve breathed in during the day before they take root in your system,” says Richard Lebowitz, MD, an otolaryngologist at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Pop zinc lozenges

Try taking them as soon as you start feeling under the weather, says Dr. Lebowitz. Zinc is a mineral essential to the cells of the immune system, and a 2013 Cochrane Library analysis of 18 trials found that ingesting it within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms reduces the duration of the illness. The study authors recommend a daily dose of 75 milligrams.

You could also ramp up your intake of these 13 zinc-rich foods. In addition to cutting the time of your colds, zinc may boost your libido, help heal wounds, and prevent out-of-control inflammation.

Load up on liquids

“Fluids help thin out the mucus that your body makes when you’re sick,” says Dr. Phillips. “And when that germ-filled mucus is thinner, it’s easier to clear out of your system.” She suggests downing at least 2 liters of water or other fluids a day.

Think it’s the flu? Get an Rx, stat

If taken within the first 48 hours of symptoms, the prescription medication Tamiflu stops the virus from replicating and could reduce the length of time you’re stuck in bed by a whole day. Before writing a script, your provider may use a rapid nasal swab test to confirm the diagnosis, says Dr. Phillips.

Try elderberry extract

A syrup made from these little black berries has long been used as a folk remedy for viral infections. In concentrated form, the berries’ nutrients seem to offer some relief from congestion, aches and pains, says Jaclyn Chasse, a naturopathic physician in Bedford, N.H. Indeed, a 2004 study in the Journal of International Medical Research suggests that taking a 15-milliliter dose of elderberry extract four times a day can cut short flu symptoms by four(!) days on average.

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