I just spoke with a friend, Sarah, who is feeling a little under the weather. She's got a bad cold and is generally not feeling well. She wanted to know if there was anything she could take in addition to orange juice and tea to help her feel better.
Where to get your vitamin C
Most people reach for orange juice when they've got a cold. They're thinking they need vitamin C and this is their best source. It's been shown that vitamin C can prove beneficial in lessening the duration of a cold. One particular study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that cold and flu symptoms could be reduced by as much as 85% with the administration of megadoses of vitamin C.
But orange juice is actually not your best choice. Yes, vitamin C boosts the immune system, but sugar suppresses it and there's a lot of sugar in orange juice (approximately 22g per 8 ounces). Even eating fruit is not necessarily recommended as the fruit sugars will still work to suppress your immune system. If taking vitamin C in supplemental form you'll need to take several doses through out the day as our bodies don't tend to absorb more than 1,000 mg at a time.
Good non-fruit food sources of vitamin C (not in order of nutrient density) include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, swiss chard, collard greens, spinach, winter squash and green peas. There are others but these tend to be the highest.
Other good choices for supporting the system are zinc lozenges and elderberry syrup. Long considered to be folk remedies, these are being studied for their effectiveness in supporting cold symptoms.
According to one study published in the journal BioMed Central:
Zinc acetate lozenges shortened the duration of nasal discharge by 34% (95% CI: 17% to 51%), nasal congestion by 37% (15% to 58%), sneezing by 22% (−1% to 45%), scratchy throat by 33% (8% to 59%), sore throat by 18% (−10% to 46%), hoarseness by 43% (3% to 83%), and cough by 46% (28% to 64%). Zinc lozenges shortened the duration of muscle ache by 54% (18% to 89%), but there was no difference in the duration of headache and fever.
Another study published in Nutrients which looked at air travelers and cold symptoms, cold duration, and symptoms found:
Placebo group participants had a significantly longer duration of cold episode days (117 vs. 57, p = 0.02) and the average symptom score over these days was also significantly higher (583 vs. 247, p = 0.05). These data suggest a significant reduction of cold duration and severity in air travelers.
Traditional hygiene and wellness strategies
These still apply. We know them but sometimes we get a little lazy. During cold and flu season be sure to protect your health by incorporating the following:
- Wash hands, especially after shaking hands or touching door knobs, elevator buttons or stair rails.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can contribute significantly to reduced immune function
- Go outdoors. Fresh air and sunshine are an important part of wellness. Although we do not get as much vitamin D from the sun in the winter, we’re still making serotonin which can help with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
- Drink up. Include soups, fresh juices, and herbal teas to stay hydrated and keep your system functioning well.
- Eating a colorful diet. In the winter we have a need for certain nutrients found in the seasonal vegetables. These would include dark leafy greens and winter squashes.