An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but don’t assume all grandma’s adages are true. That one about starving a cold? The truth is actually the opposite: Your body needs nutrients and food compounds to fortify your immune system against viruses and help speed your recovery, explains Dayong Wu, M.D., Ph.D, scientist at the Nutritional Immunology Laboratory at Tufts University.
But nutrition works both ways: “There are also some foods that negatively impact your body’s resistance to sicknesses,” he adds. Since winter is the flu’s favorite season, keep your kitchen stocked with immune boosters, for the time before you catch something and, unfortunately, if you are fighting it off. So what should you believe and what advice should you toss when it comes to staying healthy this season? Here’s the truth behind five common flu-fighting myths.
The myth: The most important immune-boosting nutrient is vitamin C.
The truth: Vitamin D is just as helpful: People who took roughly 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily over two years were less likely to get sick than those who were D-deficient, according to a recent Australian study.
Why it works: Without adequate amounts of the sunshine vitamin in your body, your T-cells—an essential part of the immune system—remain dormant and unresponsive to invading viruses and bacteria. Stick to a 2,000 IU supplement, though: Fish is the most D-rich food and, while fish oil is beneficial for fighting several chronic diseases, some of the the fatty acids in the compound can suppress immune cell function and compromise your body’s defense against flu, says Dr. Wu. High intake of fish oil can potentially compromise the body’s defense against flu and delay recovery after catching it, he warns.
The myth: Alcohol can wreak havoc on your immune system, upping your odds of catching a cold and worsening the symptoms.
The truth: Moderate drinking may actually bolster your immune system and help it fight off infection, reports new research from Oregon Health and Science University.
Why it works: Researchers aren’t sure exactly what’s at play, but think some of the booze benefits we already know of—like antioxidants protecting cells against free radicals—might be related to the immune boost. And since studies have found beer to be just as beneficial as wine, the key to keeping a cold away is not in what you drink, but in how much. Heavy drinkers showed even less resilience against viruses than either moderate drinkers or abstainers. Stick to one or two glasses of your favorite indulgence a day.
The myth: Downing orange juice will keep colds away.
The truth: OJ might work, but people who drink a glass of cranberry juice daily see fewer cold and flu symptoms than those who don’t, according to a new study from the University of Florida.
Why it works: Cranberry juice has immune-boosting antioxidants and vitamin C, just like OJ, but it also has nutrients called proanthocyanidins. These interact with your intestine’s immune cells to put them in a state of readiness, allowing your immune system to respond faster and better when attacked by a virus, explains study author Susan Percival, Ph.D. Drink two glasses—about 15 ounces—of cranberry juice every day to keep your body ready to fight off an attack.
The myth: Chicken noodle soup is a cold and flu butt-kicker.
The truth: Mom really does know best: In a landmark study, Stephen Rennard, M.D., of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, proved that the famous cold cure really can help fight off a virus.
Why it works: Rennard found that chicken noodle soup acts as an anti-inflammatory, deterring neutrophils—a type of white blood cells that increases inflammation—from congregating in your respiratory tract. Additionally, a 2009 Japanese study found that chicken itself contains an amino acid similar to a prescribed bronchitis medicine, which helps thin out mucus in the lungs, allowing you to cough up the stuff faster. Even better? Canned versions are just as beneficial as the homemade stuff at warding off inflammation. Stick to a vegetable-packed version, though: Rennard believes it’s the combination of vegetables, chicken, and the broth that makes mom’s soup so powerful.
The myth: Ginger ale will help settle your stomach.
The truth: It’s not the soda that helps so much as the namesake ingredient.
Why it works: While the jury is still out on the secret behind ginger’s power, even a small amount can help: A University of Rochester study found that as little as ¼ of a teaspoon of ginger cut nausea by 40 percent in queasy chemotherapy patients. Since sugary sodas are never on the suggested list, stick to a ginger tea, like Yogi Ginger or Tazo Green Ginger.