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Win the Cold War: 7 Ways to Boost Your Immune System

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Should You Pop That Pill?

Your sneezing colleagues are downing vitamin C, and your mom is forwarding e-mails about herbal remedies. Do any of these supplements even work? Check out our cheat sheet.

Vitamin C: Give it a try. Research is mixed, but taking 500 milligrams a day at the start of a cold may lessen your misery.

Echinacea: Skip it. Many studies show that it doesn't prevent colds.

Garlic: Give it a try. The benefits of fresh garlic are minimized in its supplement form, but even so, research suggests that garlic supplements may help prevent a cold and shorten its duration.

Vitamin D: Take it. A deficiency of D can raise your chances of getting an upper-respiratory infection. Though the RDA is 600 international units, 1,000 is often recommended.

Zinc: Give it a try. The jury is out. But some studies found that taking zinc lozenges at the first sign of a sniffle may hasten your recovery.

Sources: Neil Schachter, MD, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City; Cochrane Library; Advances in Therapy; University of Colorado School of Medicine; Annals of Internal Medicine.

Cold Comfort

Uh-oh. That tickle in your throat is the first clue that you're about to use up some of your sick days. By knowing what to expect and acting quickly, you can ease the symptoms and recover stat.

Days 1 and 2: You are tired and have a sore throat. Getting plenty of rest can strengthen your immune system; vitamin C tablets and zinc lozenges may help lessen the severity of a cold. If you are also running a fever and have body aches and/or chills, you may have the flu. Play it safe; see your doctor ASAP. She can prescribe an antiviral medication, which can reduce your misery by a day or two.

Days 3 to 5: You're sneezing, coughing, stuffed up, a little achy. Gargle with salt water and use a steam inhaler, like the Vicks Personal Steam Inhaler ($36,, to help ease congestion. Take aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen for achiness; an antihistamine for sneezing; and cough syrup with the suppressant dextromethorphan.

Days 6 and 7: Except for the cough, which can linger, you're feeling better. To let your body fully recover, resist the temptation to resume your regular routine. Go to bed early and do a lighter-than-usual workout. If you're battling the flu, it will probably be another week before you're back to normal. If your symptoms don't improve, call your doctor to check for complications, such as bronchitis.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, January 2014.


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