Sunday, January 11, 2009

Man the Battlements!

It's remarkable that by January there hasn't really been anything "going around" yet - it was bound to start eventually, and sure enough, Rainier and Avalon found some germs and brought them home. I've been trying desperately to not get sick, and it was a reminder that I've been meaning to put up a list of all my collected attempts at avoiding colds or making them at least not so bad. Having gone from being a kid who would get sick every couple months and be sick for two weeks each time, and now getting 1-2 short, not too bad colds a year, I attribute at least some of the change not just to aging but to deliberate immune support. Thus, here's my list of collected anti-cold knowledge; I'll update the post when I find more so that it's all in one place.
  • Airborne (okay, everybody's heard of this one)
    • Last I heard, echinacea was shown not to actually do anything in closely controlled studies. But, there's a bunch of other stuff in there, it's soothing, and (to me at least) the zesty orange flavor tastes pretty good (and that's the one you can get at Costco).
  • Cold-Eeze
    • The package claims studies showing that their form of zinc reduces cold intensity and duration by almost half, and my personal experience seems to support this. After years of getting sick all the time, and having it come on just the same way, there were times I felt like I was surely going to get sick, started taking these (dissolved, don't chew), and either didn't get sick or only got barely sick.
  • Weird burning Chinese drink (I don't make it sound very appealing, do I? Okay, it's not that bad, and you get to like it, or at least not mind it so much... and it's still better than being sick.)
    • This is a combination of a couple of remedies I got from my aunt who knows a lot about Chinese medicine. It's not a prevention so much as clearing you up and cleaning you out if you're already sick and stuffy. Ingredients :
      • Ginger, piece about the size of the last two digits of your thumb
      • Brown sugar, about 2 Tbsp.
      • Green onions, white portion near roots, about 6
    • Instructions: Mince the ginger, and then mash/cut the brown sugar into it so that it's mixing with the juices of the ginger. Cut the green onion ends into small rounds. Put both of these into a mug. Pour boiling water over it, and drink it as soon as it's cool enough to get down. It burns because of the ginger, so if you're like me, you might want to just dump it down your throat without tasting it too much. Then, wrap yourself up in a blanket and sweat it out. It should clear up your sinuses quickly, and you should feel better after. You can repeat this more than once a day, but it gets less effective after the first time, so make the first one full strength and make yourself sweat.
  • Nasal Lavage
    • Colds come in through the nose ("rhinovirus"), and nasal lavage has been shown to help nasal cilia function more effectively, as well as directly remove potential infectious agents. Plus it helps you feel less stuffy, in both your nose and your ears (it's all connected). It's recommended for scuba divers as well, to make ear equilization easier and problems equilizing less likely. I'd strongly suspect it helps with respiratory allergies as well, although I don't have experience with that personally, nor have I looked into it.
    • Most people hear about this and think of it as yet another innocuous hygiene practice. Some substantial fraction back in horror when this is described, either due to not wanting the sensation of water up the nose, or because it just sounds weird and gross. For those of you in the latter crowd, I will assure you that it doesn't burn (use an isotonic formula, not fresh water), and it makes your head and nose feel really nice and clean. You can do the low-tech way with just a bowl and making salt water that tastes about as salty as tears, or you can get a Neti Pot and pre-mixed solute packets. There are instructions online, so I won't go into any more description here.
  • Probiotics!
    • I finally found a form of probiotics I actually enjoy consuming. I'll eat yogurt on occasion, but it has to be with other things (I like neither sour nor creamy), and usually that's too much time/energy for a breakfast item. But, several healthfood stores and even Safeway carry a probiotic juice drink called Goodbelly. I think there are actually others of the same form, but this is the first one I saw and tried and liked. The package claims that 70% of your immune system is in your digestive tract. Who knows how they're measuring that (plenty of individual cells, certainly, because they're tiny...), but again, I've heard consistently that probiotics are great for the immune system and overall wellbeing (digest food better, more nutrients, lose weight, etc), and my personal experience seems to support this.
  • Peroxide in ears
    • I have less substantiation for this one, and the mechanism seems odd, but anecdotally (me and several friends I've talked into it), it works extremely well. Ears, nose, and throat are all connected, and all of them have defenses, but the ears are the least defended (just wax), and supposedly infections can enter through the ears, and then they're right back in where you start getting sick. (I'm not sure how they're supposed to get past the eardrum, but assuming some workaround for that, it's highly plausible.) The idea of this one is simple - every few hours, put a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in your ear, let it sit for 15-30 seconds, let it drip out, and repeat on the other ear.
  • Warm feet
    • Despite all the controversy over whether cold gives you colds, and many vehemently claiming it's just an old wives' tale and it just seems like it because people are in close quarters more in the cold (staying indoors at least), there is scientific support for at least one specific thing: feet being cold make your more likely to get sick. The study I heard had people put their feet in cold water for 20 minutes, and found that they were much more likely to get sick the following week than controls (I forget the exact figure - something around 1/3 more). Hearing that only supported my desire to wear socks all the time.
  • Rest the first day
    • Of all the time a cold lasts, the first day, when you've just gotten sick (or better, if you feel that you're about to get sick, or have been exposed), take it easy. Sleep extra, don't stress, take care of yourself. Sweating it out may well work toward the end, but at the beginning, taking it easy will make the rest shorter and easier.