NEW YORK (MainStreet) — With each winter comes the fear of getting sick. Whether it’s the common cold, the flu, or now possibly even Ebola, the general population gets a heightened fear of germs as winter approaches. However, while hand-washing is known to prevent the spread of germs, how effective are things like drinking orange juice and exercising regularly? MainStreet caught up with a few health professionals to bust the myths and find the facts to keep your body and wallet healthy during cold season.

1. Stress-Relieving Practices: Fact!

Stress is one of the biggest factors when it comes to immune system depletion, and keeping stress levels in check is necessary in order to prevent illness of any kind. While daily meditation practices may be asking too much of those who are always on the go, it has been proven that various stress-reduction practices boost the immune system. Doing small things daily — such as simple deep breathing techniques, like this one — has the power to ease stress effortlessly. Even just smiling and laughing helps the body relax. Dr. Kathy Gruver, author of The Alternative Medicine Cabinet, explains that calming one's stress response is key. She recommends opting for mini meditations with concentrated breathing throughout the day, or using all five senses to visualize oneself in a relaxing place.


2. Guzzling Fruit Juices: Myth!

How often is the phrase, "Make sure you drink plenty of orange juice!” repeated? Many assume that fruit juices, especially citrus fruit juices, are a necessity to boost the immune system when it comes to colds and flus because of the Vitamin C factor. However, studies have shown that, while Vitamin C on a daily basis as part of a well-rounded diet may help strengthen the immune response against pathogens, a blast of Vitamin C to prevent symptoms is not the answer. According to Dr. Anthony Marotta, board-certified chiropractor and wellness coach based in New York, when it comes to orange juice and most other commercial fruit juices, you’re doing more harm than good. The juices are loaded with added sugars, and too much sugar has the power to acidify the body's pH levels, in turn making the body more susceptible to illness—the exact opposite of its intended purpose.

3. Drinking Tea: Fact!

Drinking tea, primarily green or black, on a regular basis and in the midst of a cold, has been shown to assist with symptoms. Dr. Murray Grossan, ENT physician with Cedars Sinai Hospital in California, explains that these types of tea contain l-theanine, which is a water-soluble amino acid. According to a recent study, l-theanine has been found to have both antioxidant and relaxant effects, which works well for both physical symptoms as well as stress levels. Dr. Grossan also explains that staying hydrated to the point where urine becomes light in color, the offending virus gets diluted, which then helps the body’s natural immune factors fight it off.


4. Ginseng, Zinc, and Echinacea: Fact, fact, fact!

While Vitamin C may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, there are other options that exist in the way of herbs, minerals and nutrients that have been shown to effectively prevent, shorten and/or minimize the course and severity of colds and flu. Dr. David Vastola, a practicing internist and gastroenterologist in Palm Beach, explains that the herbs ginseng and Echinacea, and the mineral zinc, are all options when it comes to prevention, treatment , and care. However, each of these have been shown to be effective at different times. When taken at the first sign of illness, Echinacea has the power to reduce symptoms. On the other hand, daily ginseng supplementation may assist in the prevention of respiratory infections and illness. Thirdly, when zinc is administered at the onset of symptoms, it has the power to reduce severity and, with continued use, can also shorten the duration of the illness.



5. Chicken Soup: Fact!

Before you run off to the supermarket for any old can of condensed chicken noodle, the studies that support the benefits of chicken soup will explain that the perks are from real chicken broth made from whole chickens. According to Dr. Grossan, “chicken broth contains compounds that help break up congestion and ease the flow of nasal secretions.” He continues to add that “[chicken broth] is also thought to inhibit certain white blood cells that trigger the inflammatory response that causes sore throats and the production of phlegm.” The doctor also explains that chicken soup contains l-cysteine, which is an amino acid that has been shown to thin mucus in the lungs, assisting greatly in the healing process, especially in influenza patients. The psychoimmune, or psychoneuroimmune, response received from consuming chicken soup is also a benefit, as the comfort food serves to stimulate good chemistry in the brain through memories of being taken care of by a mother or mother-figure as a child.



6. Exercise: Both!

In this case, exercise to prevent colds and flu can go both ways. While moderate, steady exercise improves overall health and has been shown to boost the immune system, too much exercise can do the exact opposite. Dr. Marotta keys in on this topic by explaining that too much exercise has the power to decrease immune function, especially if the person doing the exercising doesn’t give himself enough time to rest and heal. According to the same study, researcher Michael Flynn at Purdue University found that the best way to use exercise to reap health benefits and boost the immune system is to work out three or four times a week, for approximately thirty minutes each time. It was also found that athletes who perform grueling endurance training over a long period of time have double the likelihood of getting sick compared to those doing moderate exercise.

7. Sleep: Fact!

To the human body, sleep is seen as a time for regeneration—for refueling, regrowth, and recovery. Dr. Marotta explains that sleeping is what allows the body to do what it has to do in order to keep the person moving. Sleep permits the body to focus its energy on fighting off foreign invaders instead of working, moving and doing all of the other things that it has to do while awake and in motion. Studies show that lack of sleep is associated with a plethora of health problems, not just reduced immunity to colds and flu. Chronic sleep loss can also be attributed to weight gain, mood swings, cardiovascular health and reduced ability to learn and memorize.

8. “Starving” the Cold: Myth!

If you’re already stuck with the cold, most of the preventive methods contained within this article will work as treatment remedies as well. However, WebMD explains that the commonly-known suggestion of “starving an illness,” whether it’s the cold or the flu, is never the proper route to take. Mostly because of the absorption factor, a diet that is in its own rich in vitamins and nutrients works much more efficiently to improve health as opposed to a poor diet supplemented by taking vitamins.


9. Vitamin D3: Fact!

While there have been many studies citing the benefits of Vitamin D(3), primarily with improvement with cognitive behavior, autoimmunity and bone health, it has also been shown to also assist with fighting the flu. Ann Musico, holistic health coach at Three Dimensional Vitality, explains that supplementing with Vitamin D(3) is quite promising in the way of preventing the flu. She supports her opinion by citing a study that was performed in 2008-2009 and published on PubMed. A randomized, placebo-controlled study was performed on schoolchildren. and it concluded with evidence that Vitamin D(3) supplementation in the winter months may reduce the incidence of the flu.


--Written by Ciara Larkin for MainStreet