Staying healthy during cold and flu season

The MSU Food and Nutrition Association dispels popular nutrition myths

Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.

The sounds of sniffles accompanied by rustling as students locate Kleenex tissues within pockets echo within the lecture halls of MSU. The months of November through March host the cold and flu season.

And although the common cold seems mundane, the number of reported cold-related illnesses has been referred to as an epidemic this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, “an average of 226,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 to 4,900 cold and flu related deaths occur each year.”

Many believe quick fixes, such as consuming large amounts of vitamin C, are the end-all cure to the cold. Because of this, the amount of vitamin C supplements and packets purchased by college students is on the rise.

Although the marketing claims for these products seem plausible, they might not be valid or scientifically based. What we know about vitamin metabolism is that a single vitamin, especially in overly-large doses, usually is not beneficial.

The National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements has reported, “Although vitamin C has been a popular remedy for the common cold, research shows that for most people, vitamin C supplements do not reduce the risk of getting the common cold.”

Vitamin C recommendations set forth by the National Institutes of Health are 90 mg per day for adult men and 75 mg per day for adult women.

Excess vitamin C that surpasses the daily recommendations is excreted from the body. Mega doses of vitamin C not only are ineffective, but also potentially could be harmful. Side effects reported by the Mayo Clinic include, “nausea, vomiting, heartburn, abdominal cramps and headache. Dental erosion (also) may occur from chronically chewing vitamin C tablets.”

Oranges, grapefruit and clementines, which naturally are rich in vitamin C, are in season during the winter months and are easy to carry for a quick pick-me-up. One large orange or 1/2 cup of juice will meet the requirements for vitamin C. Other foods rich in vitamin C are cantaloupe, kiwi, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, potatoes and strawberries.

Jillian Gorman, a nursing senior, says she consistently has come down with a cold during the last few winters. However, Gorman says she has been taking as many precautions as possible to prevent one this winter.

“I wash my hands all the time and I got the flu shot a while ago. I haven’t come down with anything so far.”

Gorman also noted she is not surprised so many MSU students and faculty, including herself, fall victim to illness during the winter months.

“When you start to feel sick, you’re supposed to avoid crowded places and not push your body too hard, but for a lot of (faculty and students) that really isn’t an option.”

Many MSU students agree with Gorman. They say when they are feeling under the weather, obligations such as school and work prevent them from getting the amount of rest and care their bodies require.

The real solution to combating a cold during the winter season is good overall health and nutritional habits. There are many foods that aid the body in strengthening its immune system that are easy to incorporate within the fast-paced life of a college student.

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables containing vitamins can contribute to a strong immune system. Whole fruits by far surpass supplements. Foods such as yogurt contain probiotics that might increase beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. A healthy digestive tract is a vital component of immunity.

Keeping hydrated is important, especially if you are fighting a cold or flu. Water is a calorie-free fluid and might be more soothing if served warm — as in coffee or tea. You might prefer juice, but if you are concerned about calories, check the label for added sugars.

Another comfort food for the common cold is chicken noodle soup. Many college students look to packaged condensed soups as a remedy for winter illness.

Although these products are convenient, if you are feeling a little spurt of energy or have a loving roommate, a healthier and homemade version is easy to prepare.

Simply boil some noodles in chicken broth and then add frozen vegetables and chicken pieces. Soup is known to help ease the discomfort of a sore throat and can provide immune-enhancing vitamins from the vegetables.

Stay healthy during cold and flu season, MSU!

The MSU Food and Nutrition Association is a preprofessional club composed primarily of Dietetics, food science, and nutritional Science majors. Joann Bahri, Stephanie Send, Ashley Bittinger and Carolyn Hofner contributed to this column.

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