Get healthy again! Here's how you can recover quickly from cold symptoms and the flu.
Feel better with superfoods
Sure, loading up on vitamin C helps: One study reported that taking 0.2 grams or more (about two cups of OJ) daily shortened the number of days a cold lasted by 8 percent. But this shouldn't be your only line of defense. Vitamins A, B6, and E along with zinc, selenium, and iron—found in lean meats, fish, fruits, veggies, and whole grains—all play a role in maintaining a healthy immune system, says Lona Sandon, M.Ed., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Also add probiotics, the "good" bacteria, to your diet. They not only help raise your guard against harmful germs, but also may shorten the duration of infection, according to a new French study. Soon you might be able to stop a cold from developing by chewing a new kind of gum, made with unique probiotics called BLIS K12. Probiotic Gum, as the product is named, is available in Canada and undergoing testing in the U.S. But until it hits our market, pick up other foods containing probiotics, such as yogurt and cheese, at your grocery store.
As for Mom's unscientific advice to "starve a fever," if you're hungry, eat! "For every degree above normal [that your body temp rises], your metabolism increases about 7 percent," Sandon says. "Having a fever actually causes you to burn more calories." So it's very important to consume nutrient-rich foods, especially hydrating ones such as chicken soup, to rebuild your strength.
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Feel better with hot and cold drinks
Wash down your superfoods with a sore-throat-soothing cup of Echinacea tea. The flowering plant, used by Native Americans to treat infections for more than four centuries, may cut the duration of the common cold and flu by up to 1.4 days, according to a report published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases.
The medicinal plant, which contains active antiviral agents (how they work is unclear), may also lower the risk of catching a cold by 58 percent. Though some newer studies have seen conflicting results about the benefits of Echinacea, the good news is that drinking lots of this fluid at the first sign of symptoms will at the very least keep you hydrated. This is essential to prevent dehydration and complications, like bronchitis and ear infections, plus make it easier to flush out mucus.
If you prefer something cold, reach for Gatorade or Powerade. When you're having trouble keeping things in your stomach thanks to nausea or diarrhea, drinking sport drinks, which contain electrolytes and glucose, will help replenish your energy so you can kick the virus to the curb faster, says Elisabetta Politi, M.P.H., R.D., nutrition director at Duke Diet and Fitness Center. Aim to drink water or the above mentioned beverages, every two hours.
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Feel better with OTC meds
Until scientists discover a cure for the common cold (let's hope cancer comes first!), you'll have to rely on over-the-counter products—specifically those containing Consumer Reports—approved ingredients like chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine, oxymetazoline, and pseudoephedrine—to ease symptoms while your body naturally preps an army of antibodies to attack the invading virus.
This process generally takes at least three to four days and can't be rushed. And beware: You can unintentionally slow down the process by overmedicating. If your body gets too used to medicines, such as nasal spray, symptoms can return once you stop using them, so follow package directions or your doctor's orders.
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Feel better with sleep
As tempting as it is to stay up and comfort yourself with an entire season of Mad Men, step away from the Netflix and get some much-needed shut-eye.
"Getting plenty of sleep when you're sick is good because one, it keeps you out of circulation so that you're not spreading it in the office, and two, it's going to help the immune system combat the flu," says Mark Opp, Ph.D., a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle.
And on a related note, a good night's rest is particularly crucial the night before getting a flu shot. Opp says of a 14-day study involving healthy college students, those who slept eight hours a night on average produced twice as many antibodies against the flu shot as individuals who got only four hours of sleep on average. Bottom line: Don't get the vaccine when you're in serious sleep debt.
Feel better with exercise
Before you decide to sweat off the sniffles, do the neck check.
"If symptoms are above the neck, such as a runny nose and scratchy throat, then you are likely fine to exercise at a moderate intensity," says Barbara Bushman, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine.
After a day in bed, step outside for some fresh air: Women who walked briskly for 35 to 45 minutes, five days a week for three to four months recovered from cold symptoms in half the time of their sedentary counterparts, according to the ACSM.
"However, if your symptoms are below the neck, like achy muscles and joints or fever, then you should take time off," Bushman says. Too much stress on an already weakened body could have an opposite effect and actually prolong the infection.