Diet can help ward off cold, flu bugs

Lean Plate Club's Sally Squires on warding off illness (WTOP)

WASHINGTON — We are right in the middle of another cold and flu season. Each year, more than a million Americans get colds, and between 5 and 20 percent of us will get the flu.

Your best defense against the flu is the flu shot. There are some antiviral medications now available to help limit the spread of the flu among family members of those who already have it. And, if caught early, sometimes the anti-viral meds can minimize or shorten the symptoms. For colds, washing your hands and covering your mouth and nose remain crucial in reducing the spread of a virus.

But Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog, said your diet could provide a good defense, too.

The scientific evidence is still emerging, but garlic seems to provide some protection. You’ve probably seen how people used to wear garlic around their necks to ward off illness. It turns out that garlic does appear to have some beneficial effects in helping prevent the common cold, but you need to eat it, not wear it.

One of the most recent studies is from the UK, where a researcher randomly assigned 144 participants to receive either garlic supplements or a placebo over 12 weeks. Those who received garlic got fewer colds, and the colds they did get lasted fewer days than the colds of people in the control group.

The active ingredient in garlic is called allicin. A review of the literature by the respected Cochrane Library in England said that these results are interesting but need to be studied further. In the meantime, while the scientists sort it out, you can also simply eat more garlic or other foods containing allicin, such as onions.

A lot of folks take vitamin C to ward off colds. Nobel laureate Linus Pauling was a big advocate for high doses of Vitamin C to prevent colds, but the evidence is actually a little conflicting.

Echinacea and ginseng are also believed to be useful in keeping colds at bay, but Sally said evidence for Echinacea and ginseng working isn’t very strong. Oral zinc products do seem to have a positive effect, cutting the duration of colds in adults. But some people who take it could experience a bad taste or nausea.

Neti pots have become very popular, but she advises to use filtered water only in a neti pot, and to clean it thoroughly.

Probiotics, found in yogurt, have many benefits, including reducing the number of colds and respiratory infections. They may even shorten the duration of illness.

And don’t underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep. Sally said it can boost your immune system, which may make you less likely to get sick.

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