Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cold Breaking

So there are a ton of home remedies out there on how best to get rid of your cold. Seeing as I've caught a hold of the latest nasty bug going around, I figured it'd be a good time to consider these. And I figure some of you might be in the same boat as I am.

Chicken soup - so it appears this isn't just an Old Wives' Tale. Sure, it's grandma's remedy, but CNN reported that chicken soup contains several ingredients that affect the body's immune system. It turns out that chicken soup and many of its ingredients stop the movement of neutrophils, which are "white blood cells that eat up bacteria and cellular debris and which are released in great numbers by viral infections like colds." Neutrophils also stimulate the release of mucous and may cause coughs and runny noses. In addition, the steam from the soup may soothe inflamed airways. I think that perhaps I should defrost some of the chicken spinach soup in my freezer tonight...

Vitamin C - you've probably heard it a million times. You get a cold, and everyone starts telling you to take C, or drink orange juice, or take Airborne, or eat oranges. So you do, because honestly, you'll try anything to get rid of the mucous invasion and body-rattling cough. I know...I had three colds in the span of four months last year. The scientists are on this one too, and they've compared studies over the last 60 years about the effect of C on the body.

It turns out that once you're sick, vitamin C isn't going to do much for you (unless you take a bunch of it the first day you're sick, then maybe maybe it might make your cold a bit shorter). However, if you take vitamin C regularly when you're well, you can help prevent colds to some extent (about 50% less chance of getting a cold). So taking Airborne isn't going to help get rid of your cold, and won't necessarily prevent it either (they actually were sued for having claimed that it prevents colds, and they lost).

But if you take a vitamin C supplement, it could help out in the long run. One thing to pay attention to with your vitamins, however, is that it is possible to get too much of a good thing. Many vitamins have 300% or 500% or whatever of daily value of a vitamin. And for vitamin C, this isn't a big deal. But for the fat soluble vitamins, the ones that build up in your system and don't wash out every day (A, D, E, and K), there can be detrimental effects to having too much. So check the specs on your multi-vitamin before taking it every day. I take Centrum Chewables, which has a max of 100% daily value, and the fat solubles are less than that due to food sources (plus, it's tasty, like eating candy).

Vitamin E - Tufts University did a study of the effect of vitamin E on people 65 or older. It turns out that having 200 IU daily of vitamin E decreased the chances of getting a cold by 20%. The effect isn't as great among younger people, and the supposition is that the immune response declines with age, so vitamin E has more of an effect on older people. It's also best to take vitamin E with a meal containing some fat, since it's a fat soluble vitamin. However, as I mentioned above, it's best not to get too much E, because it doesn't wash out of the system right away. Getting 400 IU or more per day can increase the risk of dying, according to Johns Hopkins research. Adults get about 10 IU from diet. My multi-vitamin gives me 30 IU and lists it as 100% of daily value. Long story short - don't take too much vitamin E and don't take super-doses when you're sick (because there's nothing that says it will get rid of an entrenched cold).

Garlic - this article mentions a 2001 study concluded that garlic supplements can help to prevent colds, or to reduce the length of the cold. However, that study has not been replicated. But seeing as garlic is one of the ingredients in my chicken soup recipe, maybe I'll stick with getting it that way.

Water/Juice/Broth - "drown a cold, starve a fever." I've had this rattling through my head the past couple days. And while you can't wash out a cold just by drinking lots of fluids, keeping hydrated is important. Water, juice, broth, or warm lemon water with honey can help loosen congestion as well as hydrating. Avoid alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated sodas, which can make dehydration worse (oops, wasn't thinking of that when I had all that alcohol on Saturday night... maybe that's why the hangover was that much worse, with the alcohol + cold).

OTC medications - reduce symptoms of colds, but don't prevent them or reduce their duration. So they'll perhaps make your life a little easier for a few days, but don't actually impact the cold itself. And here's my take on it - you take this medicine to reduce symptoms, then you feel better. So maybe you stay up later, or you go to the gym, or basically put more stress on your body than you should, considering that you're sick. I think that sickness is our body's way to tell us to slow down for a little while, until we're better. So I don't take medicine unless I have to (for instance, if I can't breathe because of the mucous, or I'm coughing so much I can't sleep).

Echinacea/zinc - studies are mixed on this. Some of them show that they help, some that they have no effect at all. I think some of the effect is in believing that they're going to help, because the mind does work in funny ways.

Antibiotics/antihistimines - in this country, we're all about the quick fix. Why suffer through a cold if you can just twist your doctor's arm into giving you antibiotics? Antibiotics will kill bacteria, but don't do anything to a cold virus, and using them so much also leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ergo the rise in resistant infections recently). So as hard as it is (especially if you're a parent and your child has a cold), better to just let it run its course.

Neti pot - otherwise called a "nose bidet," this "new" trend caught on when Oprah discussed it last year. It's claimed that it reduces sinus headaches, respiratory issues, and possibly even can affect colds and flu. I've never tried it, but it sounds intriguing (though strange and bordering on gross).

Rest - I almost put this number one on the list, but since it's the final one you're going to read, maybe it'll stick in the mind. Rest rest rest. In the fast paced city world I live in, it's hard to remember to relax sometimes, even when we're not feeling well. But I firmly believe that rest will help me get better faster. So I went home early yesterday. I watched DVDs and cross-stitched. I subbed out my classes at the gym. I drank lots of tea. And while I'm coughing up a storm, the congestion is gone (apart from a little runny nose), and I don't feel like I'm thinking through a cotton ball.


Romny said...

Although I agree that Airborne doesn't prevent colds, I do think it helps with making a cold go away faster but only if it's taken at the first inkling that you are getting a cold. Taking it while you are in full cold status may help a little, but not as much. I usually take Zicam, again, you need to take it at the first indication that you are getting a cold. It's a homeopathic cold remedy. I don't get colds that often, but when I do, I take Zycam and it lasts maybe one or two days.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

I think that agrees with with research I found saying that if you take extra vitamin C at the first sign of a cold, you can reduce the duration of it. And Airborne is basically just vitamin C, I think...

Charlotte said...

Don't forget Vitamin D! It's the new wonder supplement;)

Great list tho...

Missicat said...

Thanks for the info...have to run home and check my vitamin labels.
I have tried the neti pot and it does seem to work! It is a little weird thought...

The Dieting Ninja said...

On the vitamins, my doctor told me that if I absolutely must have a supplement (she advocates getting a full round through food, which I do not currently think I am capable of planning), to just get the Flintstone's chewables, for pretty much the same reason you said here. Expensive vitamins, according to her, are literally pissing away money.

But I do like the Dino shaped ones. *winks*