10 Easy Ways to Beat the Common Cold

If you don’t fast-forward through commercials, you’ve seen this one from Zicam: A pretty woman daintily sneezes into her elbow when out of nowhere a snot-nosed monster of a cold is chasing her. “That first sneeze. You have a pre-cold,” the voiceover says. She runs. He corners her in a dark alley. She panics.

You’ve been there. Adults average two to four colds a year, and the typical upper respiratory infection takes up to 10 days to get over. But that first sniffle, throat tickle, or cough doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. In this case, a heroic box of Zicam saved the day, of course, flattening Snot-Nose like a semi.

But it turns out there are other cold-fighting heroes out there, too. You could ...

1. Pop zinc. Research shows taking zinc (the active ingredient in Zicam) lozenges, tablets, or syrup within a day of your first symptoms can reduce both their severity and duration. Taking a supplement regularly can help, too. (Click here to find out the Top 10 Supplements for Men.)

2. Find zen. “When you’re under stress, your immune system ends up under-reacting to viral and bacterial infections,” says Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, M.D., internist and past president of the American College of Physicians. Perhaps that’s why University of Wisconsin researchers found mindfulness meditation training reduced the incidence, duration, and severity of a cold by 35 to 60 percent.

3. Make like Grandpa and gargle. Evidence shows gargling with water a few times a day during cold and flu season may also help flush out bugs.

4. Jack up your H2O intake. “Hydration helps keep your nasal passages moist, so they can actually get rid of little particles from bacteria,” Dr. Fryhofer says.

5. Pop a probiotic. In a recent study, probiotic supplements shortened the duration of a cold from 6 days to 4, made symptoms a third less severe, and halved the number of days subjects stayed home. Look for the strains LGG and BB12.

6. Try an herbal remedy. There’s evidence that the little-known herb Pelargonium sidoides can reduce a cold’s severity and duration. Like zinc, these drops should be taken at the first signs of sniffles. Look for the brand name Umcka in the homeopathic aisle.

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7. Hop on the D train. It seems like no coincidence that colds hit hardest when the sun is lowest. And some research has supported 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D3 a day for adults during cold season to reduce risk and speed recovery.

8. Get garlic breath. Used as a home remedy for its supposed antimicrobial and antiviral superpowers, garlic hasn’t been formally studied much. However, some evidence shows it may ward off colds. Try a supplement or crush a clove with dinner.

9. Pause your workout. Regular moderate exercise is best for warding off bugs, research shows. But once you’ve caught a cold, take a rest. “You just need to listen to your body,” Dr. Fryhofer says. “Don’t try to push through it.” 

10. Head to bed. Since sleep boosts immune function, that “pre-cold” may be a good indicator that you haven’t been getting enough lately. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who slept less than 7 hours a night were three times more susceptible to colds than those who slept 8 or more hours per night.

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Research and writing by Jessica Levine

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