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Cold wars

Arm yourself with these cold and flu remedies
By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal Staff Writer
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There's a certain soundtrack to this time of year, and it ain't "Jingle Bells." Whether you're in the classroom, the office, home or at church, take a listen. It won't take long before a chorus of nose-blowing, aaa-chooing, coughing, sniffling and throat clearing starts to flood the eardrums. To avoid getting a bottle of NyQuil in your Christmas stocking or receiving a flat of Kleenex instead of holiday cards, here is a cold-and-flu-season refresher, no medical co-pay necessary. Dr. Mark Vaughan, a general practitioner with Auburn Medical Group, said the only definite way to avoid a cold or flu is to not have contact with the people who carry the viruses.Those with more social contact, those who do not follow the golden rule of frequent handwashing and those who have weakened immune systems are more prone to coming down with something, Vaughan said. Busybodies who can't hibernate all winter would do well to follow a couple tips. "Frequent handwashing and avoiding close contact with other people are the most effective measures to avoid coming in contact with the viruses which cause the illness," Vaughan said via e-mail. Mom wasn't necessarily right when she told you not to leave the house with wet hair for fear of catching a cold. "A cold is not caused by exposure to a temperature. It is caused by a virus," Vaughan said. "Extreme exposure can make a person more vulnerable to a virus they are exposed to by lowering their resistance to infection." There are a number of effective treatments for the symptoms of a cold available at the neighborhood drugstore, Vaughan said. "A mucus thinner (expectorant) containing the medication guaifenesin helps keep mucus from plugging passages in the respiratory tract and causing a congested sensation," he said. "People who do not have certain heart problems, high blood pressure, a seizure disorder, take other stimulant medications or have medication sensitivities can use a decongestant containing pseudoephedrine to help reduce the amount of mucus produced by the body." How does Vaughan feel about the use of vitamins and herbs to prevent and treat the symptoms of a cold? "There is some evidence that vitamin C and Zinc may play a role in making people more resistant to catching colds," he said. "There has also been similar evidence in favor of the use of Echinacea, but it has other negative effects on people that have made it less useful. There is very little to no evidence that these products will speed the recovery from a cold once it has started." Vaughan questions the effectiveness of products like Airborne, a fizzy dietary supplement that promises to ward off common colds, or Emergen-C, a vitamin C powder that can be added to fluids and drunk. "I have not been able to get scientifically sound information about the ingredients of these products," Vaughan said. "All of the claims I have found were based on the manufacturer's materials and are not to be considered as reliable as independent studies." Sandie Neel is the owner of Country Naturals, located on Elm Avenue in Auburn. Her shop, open since 1979, carries a variety of supplements for those wishing to go a less medicinal route when gearing up for cold season. "What's popular this time of year is our wellness formula," she said. One of the more popular items is Oreganol, an oregano extract available in capsule and oil format, which is said to be antiviral, antibiotic and antifungal, Neel said. Olive leaf extract, also known as d-Lenolate, is another favorite. "It's the maximum immune power booster," Neel said. "I do d-Lenolate, and the Oreganol." Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic remedy for flu-like symptoms, Neel said. "It helps with fevers, chills, aches and pains," she said. A little vitamin-stocked smoothie can't do any harm when trying to treat the symptoms of a cold, says Vickie Nemes, team leader at Jamba Juice on Highway 49. Jamba Juice offers a "Cold Buster" smoothie, made up of orange juice, orange sherbert, peaches and bananas, along with immunity and antioxidant "boosts," or vitamin supplement powders. The Immunity boost has vitamins A, C and E, along with calcium and echinacea. "It's one of our popular smoothies," Nemes said. Nemes incorporates smoothies into her get-well-soon plan of attack. "I'm one of those people, I stay on the couch, I do the chicken soup thing, and since I work here I'm totally addicted, and if I can't make it out of the house I'm sending my mom or my dad or my boyfriend," she said. "I don't get up. I try not to medicate - I figure when you really need it, take it." Zach Boorinakis, a Placer High School junior, is big on relaxing while sick as well. "I watch TV and try to keep it off my mind and stay active as much as I can while still resting," he said Thursday, while hanging out at the Boys & Girls Club downtown clubhouse. "Sprite is pretty good for your stomach, too. Soda's pretty good when you're sick." Fellow Boys & Girls Club member Shelby Kindice, 7, said she has some tried-and-true cold treatment methods. "I eat healthy and I try to stay in bed so I don't get other people sick and I take medicine from my doctor," she said. "At night my mom does a special thing for me when I'm sick, she brings my dinner up to me in bed so I don't get my brother and my sister sick." Shelby's mom also gives her another "sick food" - carrots. "My mom says it helps me with my sneezing," she said. Does it work? "Sometimes," Shelby said with a little giggle. The Journal's Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at lorylln@goldcountrymedia.com, or comment online at auburnjournal.com.
Strategies
The Mayo Clinic shares what works what doesnt and what cant hurt when you have a cold

What works
- Water and other fluids. You can't flush a cold out of your system, but drinking plenty of liquids can help. Water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey helps loosen congestion and prevents dehydration. Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas, which make dehydration worse.
- Salt water. A saltwater gargle - 1/2 teaspoon salt in an 8-ounce glass of warm water - can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat.
- Saline nasal sprays. Over-the-counter saline nasal sprays combat stuffiness and congestion. Unlike nasal decongestants, saline sprays don't lead to a rebound effect - a worsening of symptoms when the medication is discontinued - and most are safe and nonirritating, even for children.
- Chicken soup. Generations of parents have spooned chicken soup into their sick children. Now scientists have put chicken soup to the test, discovering that it does seem to help relieve cold and flu symptoms in two ways. First, it acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the movement of neutrophils - immune system cells that participate in the body's inflammatory response. Second, it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus through the nose, relieving congestion and limiting the time viruses are in contact with the nose lining.
- Over-the-counter cold medications. Non-prescription decongestants and pain relievers offer some symptom relief, but they won't prevent a cold or shorten its duration, and most have some side effects.
Humidity. Cold viruses thrive in dry conditions - another reason why colds are more common in winter. Parched air also dries the mucous membranes, causing a stuffy nose and scratchy throat. A humidifier can add moisture to your home.

What doesn't work
- Antibiotics. These destroy bacteria, but they're no help against cold viruses.
- Antihistamines. Although antihistamines can help the runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing that occur with allergies, they have the opposite effect on cold symptoms.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) cough syrups. The American College of Chest Physicians strongly discourages the use of these medications because they're not effective at treating the underlying cause of cough due to colds.
- Not eating. Despite the old adage "Starve a cold, feed a fever," there's no evidence that avoiding food shortens a cold's duration or reduces symptoms.

What probably can't hurt
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C doesn't appear to prevent colds in most people, but taking large doses - up to 5,000 milligrams - at the beginning of a cold may reduce the severity of symptoms.
- Echinacea. A National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine study released in 2005 found that echinacea did little to prevent or shorten colds. But testing herbs is difficult, and scientists say more research is necessary. Some people swear by Airborne, an herbal cold remedy that's sold over the counter in many drugstores.
- Zinc. The cold-fighting reputation of zinc has had its ups and downs. That's because many zinc studies are flawed. In studies with positive results, zinc seemed most effective taken as a lozenge or nasal spray within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.