By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.
It’s that time of year when any sniffle, cough or sneeze is noticed — and if it didn’t come from you, chances are you’re subtly putting a little space between you and whoever it came from.
There’s no better time than the present to talk about immune-boosting myths — from colds to allergies. Read on so that you’re not duped by these three myths about boosting your immunity.
Myth: Vitamin C will ward off a cold.
It won’t. Vitamin C has long had a reputation for helping prevent colds, but clinical studies have shown no effect for vitamin C in cold prevention in normal situations. However, research has shown that daily doses of 200 mg or greater (more than twice the 60-75 mg current recommended dietary intake for adults) may help reduce the duration of colds slightly. The likelihood of success seems to vary with the person — some people improve after taking vitamin C supplements, others don’t. Go ahead and try it, but don’t exceed 2,000 mg per day. More than this can cause an upset stomach.
Similarly, zinc lozenges may also help cut the number of days you’re sick. In a study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, adults who took zinc in lozenge form (13.3 mg every 2 to 3 hours for as long as their cold lasted) within a day of noticing the telltale signs kicked the bug about 3 days sooner than those who got a placebo. Though that dose exceeds the recommended daily max of 40 mg, it’s safe for a 3- to 5-day period, says study author Ananda Prasad, M.D., Ph.D. Scientists think zinc binds to cell receptors in the mouth and throat, blocking the cold virus from attaching and spreading. Go for the lozenges, and skip nasal sprays and swabs: they may damage your sense of smell. And zinc from food (beef, dark poultry meat, shellfish) probably won’t help, either, as you can’t get enough that way.
Myth: Honey will “cure” your allergies.
The theory is this: Honeybees gather pollen from the very plants that cause your itchy eyes, so consuming a small daily dose of the local honey — and subsequently these pollens — may stimulate your immune system and reduce allergies. But it’s the windborne pollens that cause sneezing and congestion — not the pollens bees collect from flowers, so it’s not likely to make a difference, say researchers.
But don’t nix honey quite yet. It may help soothe your cough. Researchers at Penn State University pitted honey against dextromethorphan — the active ingredient in most cough medicines — as a cough suppressant for children and found honey to be more effective. That’s possibly because the part of the brain that registers sweet tastes and the part that causes coughing are located near each other, so sensing sweetness may affect coughing. One (major) disclaimer: Don’t give honey to a baby younger than 1 year old.
Myth: Dairy will make you more congested.
Some people avoid dairy products when they’re sick because they are thought to further increase mucus secretions, but scientific evidence has yet to support this. So go ahead and have that glass of milk or a latte — the vitamin D in it may help boost your immune system. Don’t skimp on yogurt, either — it contains good-for-you probiotics that may actually stimulate your immune system.
EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.