The busyness of the holidays, and the January crash afterward, left many of us overstretched and sleep-deprived, and at higher risk for illness, including colds and flu. There are a number of supplements and botanicals that can help to reduce your risk of getting sick and helping you recover if you do. Among them:
1. Zinc: This mineral is important for a healthy immune system, and the elderly in particular are often zinc-deficient. Be sure to eat zinc-rich foods, including oysters, beef, poultry, crab and pork. Zinc is not well absorbed from multivitamins, so if you need extra zinc, take it as a separate supplement. The RDA is 11 mg per day for men and 8 mg for women.
2. Probiotics: These may help to prevent colds or reduce the duration of symptoms, and seem to work by stimulating immune function. Try lactobacillus rhamnosus GG or a mixed probiotic containing lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
3. North American ginseng: May reduce the risk of developing colds or influenza if taken for three to four months during the winter. The dose is approximately 200 mg twice daily.
4. Vitamin C: Some data suggests this may reduce the incidence of colds, especially in people exposed to extreme stress, physical exertion or cold weather; considered a safe supplement especially if taken in moderate doses, such as 250 to 500 mg twice daily.
5. Green tea: May have antiviral effects; drink three to five cups per day.
If you do get sick, here are a few things that can help to reduce the severity or length of your symptoms:
• Zinc lozenges: Must be started within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Look for zinc acetate lozenges that contain 13 to 25 mg of zinc per lozenge and take one every two hours until you have consumed at least 75 mg total per day.
• Echinacea: May help reduce the length and severity of the common cold, though not all species are effective; Echinacea purpurea seems to work best.
• Fresh garlic: May help thwart a cold. Eat one raw clove of chopped garlic every hour at the first onset of symptoms. Stop after you’ve eaten six to eight cloves, if you get GI distress or if you start to smell like a garlic factory!
• Honey: An effective cough suppressor that also can ease a sore throat; take one or two teaspoons, either by itself or in warm herbal tea. It can also be used safely in children over the age of 1.
• Licorice: Recommended by German health officials to ease upper respiratory tract inflammation.
• Chicken soup: Seems to reduce inflammation; throw in some mushrooms, onions and garlic to support your immune system as well.
Help avoid illness by getting plenty of sleep, reducing stress, laughing, eating a healthy diet, getting exercise and washing your hands.