The typical adult averages two to three colds a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And whether you’ve already topped that number or you’ve somehow stayed congestion-free this season, you’d probably try pretty much anything that promises to stop a cold in its tracks before it gets into your respiratory system. But the truth is, once a cold virus enters your system, nothing will truly prevent it from running its course. That’s right: So-called cold fighters such as vitamin C, zinc, and herbs like garlic just aren’t supported by science, says Holly Phillips, M.D., a women’s health specialist in New York City. And while OTC meds can ease symptoms, they’re no cure for the congestion, runny nose, and body aches that confine you to the couch for three to 10 days, surrounded by tissues and comforted by a Real Housewives marathon.
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That said, you’re not totally defenseless. If you can keep your immune system strong, you’ll be more likely to fight off a cold virus invasion, says Phillips. Consider these immune system boosters your anti-cold arsenal.
Score quality sleep. We know, easier said than done. But the fact is, inadequate sleep makes a dent in your immune system. “The exact mechanism of how sleep deprivation does this isn’t entirely clear,” says Phillips, “but some studies have shown that it derails T-cell functioning and increases inflammatory cytokines, both of which lessen our ability to fight colds and the flu.”
Load up on plant food. Fruits, veggies, and whole grains pack high quantities of antioxidants, which are critical for cell repair and give your immune system a lift, says Phillips. “They minimize stress on the immune system so it can better fight off infections.” Bring this list of antioxidant-rich foods with you next time you go grocery shopping.
Eat more mushrooms. They have immune-upping powers—and no, not the Harold and Kumar kind. We’re talking about shitake mushrooms, which have a special place in ancient Chinese medicine. “They likely enhance cell lines involved in fighting infections, like interleukins and interferon,” says Phillips. Make them a regular part of your meal plans by tossing them into stir-fries or salads.
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Cut stress. You’ve heard it a million times, but it’s important, so it bears repeating. “Like sleep deprivation, long-term stress releases a cascade of stress hormones into your system, which ultimately lowers production of white blood cells, which are critical for fending off infections,” says Phillips.
Stay hydrated. We’re talking hot soup, tea, and other steamy liquids, which help loosen mucus and make a sore throat feel better. Even room-temperature liquid can work. “Adequate hydration helps the body fight infection,” says Phillips.
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