The cold and flu season usually only lasts a few months of the year but the recent spread of H1N1, or swine flu, has many people on edge. Not to mention the dreaded summer flu that air conditioners seem to be so good at spreading. While there's no magic elixir, certain foods can give a healthy boost to your immune system enabling you, in some instances, to ward off a cold or flu, or at least lessen the symptoms.
If you're a fan of eating garlic at the first sign of a sniffle, you may be in luck. A study by British researchers published in the journal Advances in Therapy found that garlic could not only prevent the onset of the common cold but may help speed up recovery. Study participants who received a garlic supplement for 12 weeks experienced 63 per cent fewer colds than those who skipped the supplement, and when they did get sick, symptoms lasted one-and-a-half days on average, compared to five days. The active compound in garlic is called allicin, which is activated when a clove is broken up. Fresh garlic that is crushed or chopped is more potent than dried garlic flakes or garlic oil.
One of the most popular cold remedies, vitamin C has long been touted as a must-have supplement when cold and flu season hits. The largest study to date found that like garlic, vitamin C was ineffective in stopping the onset of a cold or flu but did have a small benefit in shortening the duration and severity of symptoms. Taking vitamin C also plays an important role in wound healing as well as the maintenance of cartilage, bones and teeth. There are plenty of excellent sources of it available in the UAE. It's easy to meet your daily requirement through whole food including oranges, papaya, broccoli and red bell peppers.
This is certainly a favourite comfort food when you're feeling under the weather. And believe it or not, it has proven medicinal properties. A study published in the journal Chest found that chicken soup has a mild anti-inflammatory effect and is a mucus stimulant, helping clear nasal congestion. Findings aside, soup is a great way to load up on liquids and much-needed nutrients when you're feeling unwell.
Ginseng is a popular cold remedy with good reason. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that participants who took a North American ginseng supplement for four months experienced fewer colds and less severe symptoms than those who didn't take it. While it's safe for most people, those on blood thinners should not take this herb. As a general rule, it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting any supplement.
There is conflicting evidence as to whether zinc will help fight off the common cold or flu. One of the largest studies on the subject published in the journal Clinical and Infectious Diseases found zinc lozenges gave little benefit. On the other hand, another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that, taken at the onset of a cold, lozenges could reduce coughing, headache and sore throat. Your best food sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, beans, nuts and whole grains. If you opt for lozenges, remember that they may be more effective at the first signs of illness. Be sure to follow the dosage recommendations.
We've all heard the age-old advice that you should starve a cold and feed a fever but from a nutrition standpoint, there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. In fact, the opposite is true. Eating a balanced diet will ensure you are getting the basic vitamins and minerals for a healthy immune system. When your body is well nourished, it is more equipped to fight infections.
Of course, nothing can replace common sense for preventing a cold or flu in the first place. Getting plenty of rest, staying well hydrated and washing your hands thoroughly and frequently remain your best lines of defence against catching germs.