This year’s flu season is not messing around.
As the virus has swept the US in recent months, people have turned to some strange habits to keep illness at bay, like chugging orange juice, “starving” their fevers, and taking antibiotics. (Spoiler: None of these will help.)
Orange juice is high in sugar and there’s little to no evidence that the vitamin C it contains helps beat viruses. Depriving yourself of nutrients while you’re sick may also backfire; your weakened immune system needs nutrients to fight off illness. And antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses — which characterize both the flu and the common cold.
Instead, there are several research-backed steps you can take to fight off illness.
Keep in mind, too, that the symptoms of the flu and the common cold can be very similar, but these preventive and defensive tips should help in most cases.
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Gargle with plain water.
If you’re just starting to feel a cold coming on, try gargling with plain water. A study of close to 400 healthy volunteers published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that those who gargled with plain water were significantly less likely to come down with upper-respiratory-tract infections (URTIs) — a type of infection often linked with colds and the flu — during the study period. The researchers concluded that “simple water gargling was effective to prevent URTIs among healthy people.”
Have some chicken soup.
Strangely enough, several recent studies have suggested that chicken soup may actually reduce the symptoms of a cold. The jury’s still out on precisely why this old-school remedy appears to help, but the available evidence suggests that some component of the soup helps calm down the inflammation that triggers many cold symptoms.
For a study published in the journal Chest, the official publication of the American College of Chest Physicians, researchers found that chicken soup appeared to slow the movement of neutrophils, the white blood cells that are the hallmark of acute infection. In an attempt to decipher precisely which part of the soup was beneficial, they also tested some of the components individually, and concluded that both the vegetables and the chicken appeared to have “inhibitory activity.”
Get plenty of rest.
Getting enough sleep — somewhere between seven and nine hours a night — is key to a properly functioning immune system, which plays a critical role in both helping fight off an existing cold and defending you against a new one.
For a 2009 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers tracked the sleep habits of 153 healthy men and women for two weeks to get a sense of their sleep patterns. Then, they gave them nasal drops containing rhinovirus, also known as the common cold, and monitored them for five more days.
Volunteers who regularly got less than seven hours of sleep were nearly three times more likely to come down with the cold than those who slept eight hours or more each night.