Exercise, meditation or yoga and a healthy diet high in Omega-3’s may help ward off winter colds, according to Birgit Rakel, Director of the Women’s Health Program at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Jefferson.
“You can think of this triad as your New Year’s resolutions,” says Rakel.
Among her top recommendations to prevent the sniffles:
Exercise: Moderate, aerobic exercise can boost your immune system. Rakel cites evidence that exercising outside – particularly around trees -- might provide an even bigger boost.
Meditation: Some evidence shows that meditation, visualization and mindfulness all help support the immune system, while making people happier and more resilient.
Healthy eating: After a holiday filled with too much sugar and fats, Rakel urges people to take a break and focus on adding greens, fresh fruit, vegetables and grains to their diet.
“Particularly healthy are foods with high omega-3’s, such as avocado and fish,” she says.
Rakel also recommends getting immunized yearly, but not too early.
“Even though pharmacies start advertising flu immunizations in August and September, you’re better off doing it in October, November or December for more protection,” she says.
But what if you still get a cold?
Rakel recommends treating each cold based on individual symptoms. For patients with head colds who do not have ragweed allergies, for example, she recommends herbal steam inhalation. This can be a do it at home affair – simply add three to five chamomile tea bags or a little eucalyptus oil to hot water, drape your head in a towel and hold it above the steam.
For her patients, she also employs a number of homeopathic remedies, including a tea of ginger, lemon and honey, although little scientific evidence supports their efficacy. Despite this, she finds that some people some people seem to feel better after homeopathic treatments, “although it could be a placebo affect.”
Rakel also relies on herbal supplements for colds, although she doesn’t recommend taking them for more than three days. These include astragalus, a Chinese root said to build the immune system; Echinacea, a Native American plant that has shown mixed proof in preventing and treating colds, and andrographis, an herb that has been shown in some scientific studies to help with such symptoms as earache, sleeplessness, nasal drainage and sore throat.
She also recommends taking zinc lozenges -- about 20-30 mg -- every few hours, but to avoid all zinc nose sprays, which have been shown to affect the sense of smell.
“There is also an Echinacea throat spray that can be very effective in easing the pain of a sore throat,” she says. Saline nasal sprays and a spray that uses the herb euphorobium can also be helpful, says Rakel.
“But all of these supplements should only be taken if a patient is already eating a healthy diet,” she says.