8 Ways to Beat the Cold and Flu

Growing up, cold and flu season meant . . . oranges. My mom bought bags of them at the first sign of a sniffle. I was fine with it: I love oranges, especially when I’m sick. But truth is, even though vitamin C has been shown to boost the immune system, it’s never been proven to effectively shorten the duration of either colds or flu.

You probably have your own go-to prevention techniques and remedies: chicken soup, zinc supplements, hot tea, stiff shot of whisky. Some of my colleagues here at Men’s Health purchase Purell by the case every winter. Some of these may even work. But, truth is, the active ingredient in most of them is the placebo effect.

This cold and flu season will be different. Your new approach: science. We've assembled the latest research on how to arm your immune system so it'll strike at the first tickle in the throat. Or immediately after a suspicious double sneeze. Or right after that vague, blah feeling begins creeping in. In the past we've always allowed the cold virus to establish a beachhead in our bodies before fighting back. This time, the second it lands, we hit and we hit hard.

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Strategy #1: Eat an Antiviral Breakfast
Woke up sick and tired? The right morning meal can help quash the cold virus before it quashes you. In a recent study from the Netherlands, researchers found that consuming a 1,200-calorie breakfast increased blood levels of gamma interferon, a natural antiviral agent, by 450 percent. Going hungry caused a 17 percent decrease. That doesn’t mean you should reach for the pancake syrup. Instead, hit your quota by eating a bowl of Kellogg's Raisin Bran (with 2 percent milk), a glass of orange juice, and a toasted English muffin with peanut butter and grape jelly, followed by a Stonyfield Farm smoothie.

Strategy #2: Strike Back with Stress
An Ohio State University study found that exposing yourself to short-term stress—the kind you have some control over—can supercharge your immune system. "Stress response is a normal protective coping mechanism," says Jos A. Bosch, Ph.D., the study author. "The body prepares itself for potential harm and activates its immune resources." To use stress as medicine, Bosch suggests taking on a small extra project at work or helping a coworker with a task. "It shouldn't take longer than a day or half a day," he says.

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