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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 27, 2003

Black tea, yogurt, chicken soup among flu fighters

By Amy Tousman

Q. Are there any foods I can eat to reduce my risk of catching the flu or a cold?

A. Although washing your hands frequently and getting a flu shot are the best ways to prevent colds and flu, some foods may offer additional protection and/or relieve symptoms. Black tea, yogurt, chicken soup, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, chili peppers, horseradish and wasabi have shown some benefits.

Japanese researchers have found that gargling with black tea extract twice daily reduces your risk of catching the flu. Substances in black tea bind to the influenza virus, making it powerless.

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital found that when volunteers drank 20 ounces of black tea daily, their immune systems made five times more of a certain infection-fighting chemical than before they started drinking tea.

Some varieties of yogurt contain a type of bacteria called Lactobacillus GG. This bacteria can stimulate the immune system and help prevent colds. Look for yogurt with a seal on the label that says "live active cultures."

Some preliminary research suggests shiitake mushrooms have antiviral properties that may help prevent the flu.

If you are already sick, certain foods may help you feel better. Chicken soup contains substances that attack the cells that trigger stuffy noses and coughs. The more concentrated the soup, the more powerful its action. Store-bought chicken soups also help, but some work better than others.

Garlic can prevent cold and flu symptoms if taken at the first sign of illness. It inhibits cough and cold microbes and also works as a decongestant.

Ginger helps treat the coughing and fever that often accompany colds and flu. There is some evidence that it can destroy flu viruses. You can add 2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger to tea.

A common home remedy is hot gingered lemonade, taken three times daily. It is made from ginger, fresh lemon and honey. The honey soothes dry, sore throats, while the lemon juice thins mucus and adds vitamin C.

If you are congested, chili peppers, horseradish or wasabi will also do wonders for clearing your sinuses by breaking up mucus in the lungs.

Vitamin C and/or zinc gluconate lozenges taken at the first sign of cold symptoms may shorten the duration and severity of colds. The herb echinacea may help reduce flu symptoms.

Amy Tousman is a registered dietitian with the Health Education Center of Straub Clinic and Hospital. Hawai'i experts in traditional medicine, naturopathic medicine and diet take turns writing the Prescriptions column. Send your questions to: Prescriptions, Island Life, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; fax 535-8170; e-mail islandlife@honoluluadvertiser.com. This column is not intended to provide medical advice.