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Most of us sniffle and sneeze our way through two to four colds per year. Is there anything gentle and natural that you can do to keep from getting sick in the first place? There are lots of possibilities, but which really work? Here, a rundown:
Cold Blocker: Vitamin C
Research Findings: 2,000 milligrams or more per day doesn't help most of us but may prevent colds in marathoners, skiers, or soldiers in subarctic climates.
The Verdict: Megadoses of C can upset your stomach, so stick with the RDA of 75 mg for women per day.
Cold Blocker: Exercise
Research Findings: In a year, sedentary women who only stretched had three times the risk for colds as those who walked briskly 45 minutes a day, five days a week.
The Verdict: There's no other proof of this, but given its many other health benefits, it's worth trying.
Cold Blocker: Zinc Gluconate Lozenges/Nasal Gel
Research Findings: Most studies have been flawed, says a major review. No unflawed study found a benefit from lozenges; only one saw a benefit from nasal gel.
The Verdict: The jury is still out on its value, plus zinc can cause a sore mouth or an upset stomach.
Cold Blocker: Echinacea
Research Findings: Some products cut the odds of catching a cold 58 percent and shorten colds by 1.4 days, says a recent analysis. Other studies are divided.
The Verdict: It may help. Take at first sign of a cold. (Check with your doctor -- it may be risky with some drugs.)
Cold Blocker: Washing Hands
Research Findings: A 2001 study found that Navy recruits who washed their hands at least five times a day had 45 percent fewer colds.
The Verdict: Use soap or a sanitizer, especially before eating and after being with someone who has a cold.
Should you toss your toothbrush after a cold?
No. Cold expert Jack Gwaltney, MD, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, in Charlottesville, says cold viruses usually do not infect through the mouth. If you rinse the brush after use, it won?t have much virus on it.
Prescription steroids are the usual cure for chronic sinus infections, but new data find that an over-the-counter saline solution may help ease symptoms. It thins and washes away mucus so congestion lessens.
-- Lauren Strupp
Good news: This year there's no flu vaccine shortage -- 132 million doses are available (up from 120 million in 2006). That's lucky, because 75 percent of Americans are at high risk for influenza: children 6 months to 5 years, people over 50, and anyone with health problems such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease. Flu complications such as pneumonia can put high-risk people in the hospital.
You need a new shot every year. The viruses that cause the flu change, and so does the vaccine.
Needle phobic? Healthy people ages 5 through 49 can get the vaccine in a nasal spray. Doctors don't give it to everyone because it's made from a weakened form of the viruses (the shot is from killed virus).
The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in, so it's best to schedule it in the fall. Since the flu season often peaks in January or February, even a late dose can help. If you get the flu, call a doctor right away. Taking a prescription antiviral, such as Tamiflu, within two days can shorten symptoms by a few days and reduce their severity as well.
-- Mego Lien
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, November 2007.