Foods and News That Fight Colds and Flu

Colds are a fact of life every winter but that doesn?t mean you can?t take some precautions (and save some of your sick days for spring fever). A cold is a virus, so antibiotics can?t conquer it?they only work against bacterial infections?but you can shorten the misery and avoid spreading it to those around you.

Colds are a fact of life every winter

but that doesn’t mean you can’t take

some precautions (and save some of

your sick days for spring fever). A cold

is a virus, so antibiotics can’t conquer

it—they only work against bacterial

infections—but you can shorten the

misery and avoid spreading it to those

around you. Here are some tips on how

to relieve the symptoms and germ-proof

your home, from so-called old wives’

tales to a few new surprises. Listen up,

and you’ll be ditching those tissues

sooner than you can say “spring.”


Hot tea & herbs

The facts

Any hot

liquid can help

break up congestion,

but tea has extra benefits. It contains

compounds called theophyllines, which

open up airways and ease breathing.

So curl up with a mug of your favorite

green, black or herbal tea, and soothe

your scratchy throat while you ease your

stuffy nose.

The latest

Chamomile tea might be

especially powerful: People who drink

five cups of it daily have elevated levels

of hippurate—a by-product of plant

compounds that may have antibacterial

properties—according to a report in the

January 26, 2005 issue of the

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry


Soup & C

The facts

Like tea, soup’s healing

properties come partly from any hot

liquid’s ability to ease congestion. But

if you’re looking to do more than clear

your head, add some crushed garlic to

your next bowlful. Crushing garlic

releases allicin, a natural antibiotic that

fights viral and bacterial infections.

In other words, Grandma’s chicken



could have worked just as

well without the chicken!

The latest

We’ve all heard that vitamin

C can ward off or knock out a cold.

Sadly, a review of multiple studies says it

isn’t so. Taking vitamin C at the first

sign of a cold doesn’t shorten or lessen

your symptoms, reported reviewers in

October 2005 in the

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

. So stick to your

soup and slurp away—we won’t tell.

Steam & scent

The facts

Steam soothes irritated

nasal passages and helps clear your

nose, at least temporarily. Eucalyptus

oil helps loosen phlegm, says the

University of Maryland Medical

Center, so head to the shower,

and use a eucalyptus body

wash for a head-clearing

aromatherapy lift. Imagine you’re at

a spa, and you’ll feel even better.

The latest

Have a humidifier? You may

need one. Cold viruses thrive in low

humidity, which may be one reason we

get more colds in winter than any other

season. To the rescue: cool- or hot-mist

vaporizers (you can add eucalyptus oil

or medications to hot-mist). The Mayo

Clinic suggests no more than 50 percent

humidity in a room; too much and

mold will thrive. Keep your machines

mold-free with a thorough daily

cleansing and water change.


Tissues & trash

The facts

Get those germ-filled tissues

into the trash and out of the house

as soon as possible lest anyone else

come in contact with them and catch

your cold.

The latest

The art of tissues keeps

evolving—Kleenex now makes an

antiviral tissue that purports to kill

99 percent of cold viruses. Made

up of three layers, the center one is

treated with an antiviral formula.

Bleach wipes & kids

The facts

If you’ve already got a cold,

stop it from spreading to everyone in

the house by sanitizing everything you

touch: light switches, doorknobs,

books, phones, remote controls, you

name it—give it a once-over with

a disposable bleach wipe. And don’t

forget everything in the kitchen and

bathroom, such as refrigerator handles,

drawer knobs and faucets.

The latest

Germs can live up to three

hours on your skin and hard surfaces,

according to the National Institutes

of Health. And kids catch and carry

home more cold germs than anyone,

so run those bleach wipes over all

the surfaces in your kids’ rooms too.

Soaps & sanitizers

The facts

Wash your hands, wash

your hands, wash your hands.

The easiest way to spread infections is

through human contact, says Jack M.

Gwaltney, MD, director of internal

medicine at the University of Virginia

School of Medicine in Charlottesville.

About 15–20 seconds of vigorous hand

scrubbing (the time it takes to sing

“Happy Birthday” twice) is the most

effective way to prevent the spread of

germs—short of becoming a hermit.

The latest

Any soap will do (it’s the

sudsy scrubbing that

removes germs). Antibacterial

soaps may have

other purposes, but they’re

no better than regular

soaps at fighting colds and

flu because both are caused

by viruses, not bacteria.

What’s better than soap? Alcohol-based hand sanitizers—the alcohol zaps germs, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Yogurt & supplements

The facts

Yogurt is loaded with

probiotics—beneficial microorganisms

that settle in your intestines and

enhance overall immune function.

Yogurt with live cultures also helps

promote the “good” bacteria in

your body; this is particularly helpful

if you’re taking antibiotics, which

destroy bad


good bacteria.

The latest

Taking a probiotic supplement

along with a multivitamin/mineral

pill could help reduce the number and

severity of cold symptoms, found

a study in the July 2005 issue of the

International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics


Paper cups & toothbrushes

The facts

Bathroom cups brim with

icky germs, so stock up on paper cups

for rinsing, gargling and swishing

liquids to soothe sore throats.

The latest

The CDC says there’s no

research to suggest you should change

your toothbrush after recovering from 

a cold. But not everyone

agrees: Germs can thrive on

your toothbrush, says R. Tom

Glass, professor emeritus of

oral pathology at the University

of Oklahoma Health

Sciences Center. A possible

compromise: Opt for

transparent or translucent

brush heads, which seem to

resist contamination better

than solid colored ones.

The reason may have to do

with how easily ultraviolet

light—which may eliminate

viruses from your brush—

passes through them.

Of course, there are other suggestions to cut colds short, but not all are warranted. For instance, many people swear by echinacea but a study in the July 28, 2005 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine found that it doesn’t prevent or ease colds. Studies on zinc are inconclusive too: Taking zinc lozenges after you’ve caught a cold doesn’t seem to help more than any other lozenge. But using zinc lozenges daily when you aren’t sick may reduce the chance of catching a cold, reported a November 2002 study in the American Journal of Therapeutics.

However, zinc can have some side effects such as nausea and a metallic taste. So maybe just try sipping somesoup and stocking up onpaper cups—it’s better to be safe than sneezy.