Whether we like it or not, there's a good chance a cold or the flu is looming: According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the height of the season is December through February, but it can run as late into Spring as May. With so many holiday parties to attend — and subsequent bills to pay — you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who has the time to be sidelined by a cold or the flu.
Is it possible to boost our immunity enough to build a stronger resistance to colds and flu? And if you have managed to catch a cold or the flu, is it possible to do anything to shorten their duration?
Dr. Gustavo Ferrer, President of Intensive Care Experts, in Weston, FL and author of Cough Cures: The Best Natural Remedies and Over-the-Counter Drugs for Acute and Chronic Cough, says you certainly can try. "There are some easy, affordable, and natural steps you can take to help prevent and fight against these illnesses, even before you get a sniffle," he says.
So what are they? Here are five ways to stave off that winter cold or flu:
1. Work out
Dr. Ferrer says if you aren't too sick, going for a run, or doing whatever form of cardio induces a sweat, can elevate your body temperature enough to snap your immune system into action, just like a fever. According to a study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, a low-grade fever temporarily enhances the function of certain types of cells that comprise your immune system.
2. Eat garlic
Though you may smell like a pizza, garlic — or allicin, an enzyme released when garlic is chopped or crushed — can improve immune cell function and thus help to stave off colds and flu, says a study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Christina Morris-Ituassu, acupuncturist and owner of Element Healing Arts in Brooklyn, NY. "Heating garlic can inactivate this enzyme, so add chopped garlic in the last few minutes of cooking," she recommends. Another study found it might even help to keep your arteries from hardening.
3. Sip elderberry
Elderberry not only tastes good, it can help fight human pathogenic bacteria as well as influenza viruses, says one study. Another study claims the berry has antioxidant properties. "With elderberry, studies have shown cold and flu symptoms to be relieved 4 days earlier on average," explains Ferrer.
4. Slurp chicken soup
A popular study published in CHEST found chicken soup to have a number of substances with "beneficial medicinal activity." "A mild anti-inflammatory effect could be one mechanism by which the soup could result in the mitigation of symptomatic upper respiratory tract infections," it reads. So if you're feeling some malaise coming on, you have nothing to lose by having a second helping and hey — it tastes good anyway.
5. Take probiotics
The live active cultures found in yogurt are healthy bacteria are known to keep germs at bay in your gut and intestines, but those cultures can also help to stave off respiratory infections, says Ferrer. According to a study from theBritish Journal of Nutrition, a probiotic strain called Lactobacillus casei can help to reduce the severity of respiratory infections.
Lucky for us, most of these remedies are inexpensive and easy to stock up on. After all, you have nothing to lose and chicken soup is much less expensive — and easier to deal with — than lost days of work.