WCBS 880 anchor and Health & Well Being correspondent Pat Farnack spoke with its author – Reader’s Digest executive editor Courtenay Smith.
One big thing to avoid when you’re sick is alcohol.
“We’ve heard that a drink a day can keep our heart healthy, but alcohol when you have the cold or flu, first it dehydrates you and that makes it harder for your body to fight a fever and it also dilates your small blood vessels. So, all those nasal passages are going to feel even more congested if you have a drink and people ‘Oh, alcohol, it kills germs” but it’s not true in this case,” Smith told Farnack.
What about a hot toddy?
“That is a myth. The alcohol is going to make the congestion feel worse. So, that’s home remedy that I would tell people to stay away from,” said Smith.
But Smith said that one home remedy that does work is chicken soup.
“Mom and grandma were totally right about that because it contains a compound called Cysteine which actually helps thin mucus. So, that will relieve congestion throughout your system,” she said.
Feed a cold, starve a fever?
“I especially want to urge people that saying ‘Feed a cold. Starve a fever.’ that is also not true,” she said. “Your body is really depleted and needs nutrients to fight the bug. So, even with a flu where you might not have that much of an appetite, it’s still important to try and get whatever nutrients you can in your system.”
What else should we look for when we’re sick?
“Well, one that people miss out on often are foods that are rich in zinc. Good sources of zinc-rich food include seafood, red meat and poultry (so, the chicken in that chicken noodle soup), yogurt, and also whole grains,” she said. “So, when you’re having toast with your tea, let’s say, because that’s a common thing people eat, choose whole wheat or whole grain bread for your toast and then you’re getting some of the zinc that your immune system needs.”
What about Emergen-C and Airborne? Are those good things to take?
“Well, unfortunately, Vitamin C in large doses has not been shown to prevent colds. This has been studied and experts are in agreement that this seems to be a myth,” Smith said. “But what Vitamin C can do is it can shorten the duration of a cold by up to two days.”
What do you do if you don’t have the flu, but everyone around you in your workplace is sniffling – what foods should you stock up on to make sure you don’t come down with the flu?
“Well, the number one thing that you want to do in that case is don’t take like the group brownies that are on the giveaway table that everybody is touching,” she said. “But quite simply, washing your hands before you eat anything in the office or using hand sanitizer, that’s really going to be your best preventive strategy in that case because it’s really letting our hands get near our face and the virus then goes from our hands into our eyes, our nose, our mouth. That’s the real trouble starts.”
A surprising recommendation…
“Besides the foods that I mentioned, one that’s surprising that you can try are spicy foods. So, anything with hot peppers or chilis, they contain capsaicin and that’s a substance that can help break up nasal and sinus congestion and also raw garlic, if you chop that up into a meal, or turmeric which is a spice in a lot of Indian foods if you’re going the takeout route,” Smith said. “These are some of the foods that can at least help relieve that stuffy nose and that miserable feeling a little bit.”