Cold Remedies: What Works and What Doesn’t

There’s a good reason for calling it the “common cold” since this particular virus infects over one billion people per year in the U.S alone. Even though it’s considered a minor illness and some people never even notice that they’re sick, the symptoms of a cold could be enough to take you out of your regular fitness routine.

Considering the prevalence of the cold, it’s no wonder that so many home remedies have been devised and promoted over the years. In the interest of getting you out of bed and keeping you active through yet another cold season, it’s worth considering a few of the more popular cold remedies.

Chicken Soup

Countless gallons of chicken soup have been served to sick children by generations of mothers who, apparently, really knew what they were doing. Recent research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that chicken soup can help to ease symptoms of the cold of several levels.

First, the ingredients of the classic chicken soup seem to inhibit the action of neutrophils, a specific type of white blood cell used to fight off viral infections. Controlling these neutrophils will limit both mucous production and coughs associated with the common cold.

The various vitamins and minerals found in chicken soup may also have an immune boosting effect to help your body fight the virus.

Of course there is also the emotional and physical calm that you can expect from enjoying a warm bowl of soup. Closely tied to that is the relaxing effect of inhaling the steam to stop inflammation in your airways.

Vitamin C

Since the 1970s, alternative medicine advocates have been promoting the benefits of vitamin C as a cure-all. This all started with the claim that the vitamin could prevent and cure the common cold.

The vitamin, and the mega-doses often offered in over-the-counter cold medications, is still very controversial. Research is inconclusive but, according to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin C supplementation may be worth a try.

While most otherwise healthy people probably won’t get any benefits from taking the vitamin, those who are constantly exposed to the virus like school aged children, may be able to hold off the cold.

It’s also possible that taking vitamin C once you get the flu could shorten the duration of your symptoms but this is another cause for contention among researchers. Since symptom duration and severity is controlled by many individual factors, it’s very difficult to judge whether or not the virus has a shorter life span than it would have had without supplementation.


Zinc has also had a controversial background in the cold-remedy arena. There have been many studies with conflicting results, most of which are considered “low-quality.” The studies that are judged “high-quality” by the experts at the Mayo Clinic all found that zinc had no benefit in the treatment of the cold.

Unlike vitamin C, however, zinc has potentially serious side effects that make it unwise to even try nasal sprays containing the mineral. Zinc can cause strange tastes, nausea and even a long-lasting or permanent loss of smell, called anosmia.

Overall, the best course of treatment for a cold is still rest and plenty of water. Always consult a doctor before beginning any supplementation, especially if you’re currently taking medication.

Have you experienced the benefits of any home cold remedies? Please share your experience in the comments!






Exercise Your Mind

The physical benefits from proper, regular exercise are no secret. But what is surprising, and not yet fully understood, are the many positive effects that the same exercise can have on your brain. True, it’s been known for centuries that exercise can improve your mood and help you reduce stress but new research is deepening our understanding of exactly how exercise can improve overall brain health.

What the Research Shows

The functions and health of your brain are actually the result of several aspects including alertness, memory, comprehension and even the ability to execute movements, or motor commands. These individual factors are, in turn, controlled by an even more complex web of hormones, signals and neurological structures. Interestingly, the emerging studies show that exercise can exert a positive influence on all of these factors.

According to a review of the many studies, published in the scientific journal Trends in Neuroscience, exercise has a much deeper impact on the brain than was previously understood. Several hormones, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) control brain growth and maintenance. The levels of these substances are increased by exercise. Certain genes related to brain plasticity, or the ability to retain information, are activated as well. These impacts of exercise combine to have an overwhelming impacted on cognitive function.

Perhaps the most impressive test of this idea was undertaken in the proving groups of a high school in Naperville, Illinois. The program began when the school placed all of the students who were struggling with math and reading in a physical education class first thing in the morning.

Reading scores increased dramatically and math scores shot up by 20 percent.

Naperville Central High School has since instituted changes that keep the students physically active throughout the day, including placing exercise bikes and sports equipment in classrooms. Teachers make a point of including some kind of physical activity in their plan for every class. Overall, the results at Naperville are a testament to the mental benefits of exercise.

How To Do It

The good news is, to get these types of results you don’t need to exercise to exhaustion. In fact, many of the studies that showed these exciting responses simply had people walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes.

Many experts also encourage activities that are physically complex. For example, Naperville High School includes square dancing in their physical education program. Complicated activities and exercise modes involve more neurons than simple actions, and these neurons then produce increased amounts of hormones and growth chemicals.

Experts generally recommend trying to start your day with this sort of brain-stimulating activity, even if it’s only a brisk walk. If you can’t squeeze it in in the morning, though, fit your exercise into your schedule however you can. The key is to be regular and stick to your plan.

Have you enjoyed the brain-boosting benefits of exercise? Please share your experience with us in the comments!




North Pole Marathon–Coolest Race on Earth

Photo courtesy

On my various marathon travels, I’ve met a number of runners with incredible tall tales of racing stories from around the globe. None meet the intensity and awe I feel toward the North Pole Marathon. Yep, this exists. Boasting itself as the “Coolest Race on Earth” (I’m sure both literally and figuratively), once a year runners from throughout the world trek to the top of the earth to take part in one of the most challenging marathons on this planet.

In honor of the upcoming holidays, I thought I’d delve a little into this truly adventurous race.

What is it?
The North Pole Marathon is a 26.2-mile foot race across the Arctic snow and no, no one has run into Santa Claus (also both literally and figuratively). It started in 2002 and now a total of 10 races have been completed with 38 nations represented.

What makes it unique?
If running at the top of the world isn’t enough, the North Pole Marathon offers a heated tent every few miles to warm up the body so you don’t get hypothermic. Because it is near impossible to run it all, the cut-off time is very generous so even the slowest penguin-like runners can still finish. People who have never completed a marathon still finish the North Pole Marathon–which means you can do it! Because runners traverse over snow and ice, trail running shoes are worn and flags guide them through the course.

Is it expensive?
Yes. If you have bags of money, this race is certainly a must-do. If you do not (like me), this race is merely a dream. Most of the runners I’ve met who’ve completed it are quite a bit wealthier than I am (actually, that’s an understatement…a lot wealthier than I am).

What do you wear?
In addition to the aforementioned trail running shoes, racers wear thermal clothes, thick ski gloves, as well as face masks, hats, gaiters and goggles. ¬†I can’t imagine how cold your body gets, even while running a marathon. Bundling and layering is a necessity to keep your body temperature warm.

Is it safe?
So far so good. No one has yet to see any polar bears and no flight accidents have occurred getting runners to and from the North Pole. The only time runners should be concerned is keeping their bodies warm and not frost bitten.

Is it worth it?
According to my friends, the answer is yes. I cannot speak from experience because I am not Daddy Warbucks and cannot afford it right now, but this race is enticing and I hope some day to check it off my bucket list…when I win the lottery!

Good luck if you do it! I’d love to hear about it…hopefully someday I will be at that starting line.


Foods for the Winter Blues

Last week, we discussed how certain types of exercise can help you control your seasonal depression. But, as with most aspects of health and fitness, exercise is only one part of the equation. Diet, both what you do and do not eat, also plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy mood and energy level.

The Bad

The holidays surround us by sugary, fattening foods. To make it even worse, depression can increase your cravings for these so-called “comfort foods.” That’s because carbohydrates cause an increase in¬†serotonin which, in turn, can improve your mood. The mood spike doesn’t last long, however, since these simple carbs are absorbed quickly and cause a spike in insulin and a resulting blood sugar crash. Since simple carbs can also have a terrible effect on your weight, that can also contribute to your depression.

Alcohol, a depressant, should also be avoided if you’re struggling with depression. While many people attempt to self-medicate this can create a host of complications if you’re already depressed.

The Good

So what can you eat? While the list of bad seems to eliminate many tradition seasonal foods, the good news is that there are plenty of delicious foods that have the potential actually improve your seasonal depression.

First, replace all of the simple carbs with complex ones. These include whole wheat, oats and many vegetables and absorb much more gradually then simple carbohydrates. This slow absorption means that complex carbs don’t cause an insulin spike while still positively influencing your serotonin levels.

Although the exact causes of seasonal depression aren’t totally understood and can vary on a case-by-case basis, it seems that a vitamin D deficiency is generally involved. This may be because very few foods contain a bioavailable form of the vitamin and our bodies create it from sunlight. During the fall and winter, however, we generally do not get enough sun to create enough vitamin D. The research is still inconclusive, though promising, about the impact of vitamin D on seasonal depression.

Even though there aren’t many foods that offer vitamin D naturally, without being “fortified,” the foods that do contain it also contain omega-3 fatty acids which may also help fight seasonal depression. Specifically, we’re talking about fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Again, the research isn’t consistent enough to definitively say that omega-3s will cure your depression but there’s enough evidence to encourage further studies. For example, symptoms of omega-3 deficiencies include poor memory, poor concentration, mood swings, fatigue and depression. Logically, then, researchers see a not-yet-fully-understood connection between omega-3s and depression.

If you don’t like the taste of these fish, you can opt for a fish oil supplements. In that case, choose a high quality supplement that contains higher levels of EPA, a specific type of omega-3, since reviews of the research show that this form is the most effect in treating depression.

Of course, these are only small steps towards treating what is possibly a serious condition and you should consult your doctor before beginning any course of self-treatment or supplementation.

Have good dietary decisions helped you in your battle with seasonal depression? Please share your experience with us in the comments!