10 things you didn’t know about coldsA sniffle, a sneeze—you know all about the common cold, right? Or do you? We scoured the latest research and talked to experts to dig up the most surprising things you may not have known about catching and recovering from the common cold.
A sniffle, a sneeze—you know all about the common cold, right? Or do you? We scoured the latest research and talked to experts to dig up the most surprising things you may not have known about catching and recovering from the common cold.
1. It takes about 48 hours to infect you and make you sick
That scratchy throat and runny nose that’s coming on? Think back to where you were 48 hours ago. Chances are, that’s where you picked up your cold bug. Experts say that it takes about two days for a cold to embed into the lining of your cells and produce symptoms. Baffled by whether you've come down with the flu or with a cold? While no one can predict how an infection will progress—and sometimes even experts are fooled by colds masquerading as the flu—you can use this rule of thumb from Ron Eccles, BSc, PhD, DSc, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University in the U.K.: “Cold viruses do not usually cause fever in adults,” he says. “Sudden onset, fever and cough are the best predictors of influenza.”
2. The best cold-fighting weapon may be your tennis shoes
Your medicine cabinet may be stocked with the latest cold-fighting medicines, but when it comes down to it, experts say the best way to protect yourself isn’t with a pill, but by breaking a sweat. Appalachian State University researchers have studied how the immune system and viruses are affected by exercise, and the findings are fascinating: Any exercise, however limited, is great. The researchers say that if you really want to ward off colds this winter, you’re best off working out at least 5 days per week—but no marathon-training is required. A brisk 30-minute walk 5 times per week does the trick to cold-proof your immune system. “Mild exercise is good as it moves the blood around the body and also moves the immune white cells around to search for infection,” says Dr. Eccles.
3. Late nights could be contributing to your sniffling and sneezing
How much sleep did you get last night? If it was fewer than seven hours, you’re three times more likely to catch a cold, say researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, whose study was published in a recent issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. It’s also important to use your time in bed wisely—meaning, when you're in bed, sleep. The researchers call it “sleep efficiency.” For instance, study participants who spent less than 92 percent of their time in bed asleep were at least five times more likely to pick up a cold virus than those who fell asleep quicker and stayed asleep longer. To get more shut-eye, sleep experts recommend banishing the TV as well as night lights, which can distract and impede your sleep cycles.
4. A tall glass of orange juice isn't a cold cure-all
When you start to feel the first signs of a cold coming on, what do you do? If your first response is to load up on OJ in hopes of boosting your body’s vitamin C levels, you might reconsider. A major review of more than 30 studies conducted by researchers at Australian National University and the University of Helsinki say that for the majority of people, vitamin C does nothing to prevent or reduce the symptoms of a cold.
Disappointing, yes. But there’s a caveat. If you’re under a lot of stress, or are putting your body to the test—for example, training for a marathon—a daily dose of 200 mg of vitamin C may reduce your chances of catching a cold by about half. To get more C naturally, load up on these foods: oranges and citrus, of course, and also papaya, broccoli, tomatoes, red peppers and kiwi.
5. There’s a flower that may help fight cold viruses
You’ve probably heard of echinacea, a plant with a stunning pink flower, which is believed to help boost the immune system. University of Connecticut researchers put the theory to the test recently, and after studying more than 1,600 people, they reported that not only did echinacea cut the chances of catching a cold in half, but also those study participants who took it reduced the duration of their colds by about 1.4 days.
Should you supplement with echinacea? It’s worth a try, says Dr. Eccles. "As it is a natural product, it is not possible to standardize the medicine, so, like buying wine, get the best quality from [herbal supplement makers] who have been in the business for a while.”
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