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Drs. Oz & Roizen: Fending Off Illness

There’s nothing like feeling that winter is finally ending… only to be sidelined with another cold. Use our tips to stay healthy all spring—and for life.

Q: I live in New York City, where the tap water is actually tasty. But some colleagues at work still insist on using water filters at their desks. Should I be doing it, too?

A: By and large, Americans have access to extremely clean water—especially when you compare it with the water in many developing nations (in fact, 30,000 people die each week from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions, according to charity:water). Still, we’d urge you to rethink relying on drinking only water straight from the tap. The truth is, even our pretty-darn-clean H2O may contain high enough levels of certain substances to cause low-grade intestinal discomforts and other conditions (whether infectious or not), potentially bringing on symptoms such as bloatedness, itchy eyes, stomach cramping and fatigue. (Though chances are, you’d never have any clue what caused those problems!)

We’re not saying you need to blow your 401(k) on bottled water, but it’s a smart idea to use a water filter for any drinking water you’re getting from the faucet. Even a simple pitcher with a charcoal filter can clear tap water of many impurities. If you want to shell out a bit more, reverse-osmosis filtering systems or ultraviolet water filters destroy many bacteria before the water even leaves the faucet.

Q: What foods will keep me from getting sick?

A: Your body’s T (“fighter”) and other white blood cells do an excellent job on their own in helping you stay healthy. And not smoking, eating a diet free of or very low in the five food felons (transfat, saturated fat, added sugar, syrups and any grain that isn’t whole), getting plenty of exercise and sleep, washing your hands, and limiting alcohol to two drinks or fewer a night go a long way toward helping them out.

But it never hurts to call in reinforcements. To start with, consider adding flavonoids, vitaminlike substances that have been shown to decrease the rate of arterial and immune aging, to your diet. In fact, a diet rich in flavonoids can make you up to 3.2 years younger in what we call RealAge terms. A few foods rich in flavonoids: oats (3 mg per cup), onions (4 mg for one small), broccoli (4.2 mg per cup), tomatoes (2.6 mg for one small), apples (4.2 mg for one medium), cranberries (8 mg for one 8-ounce cup), strawberries (4.2 mg per cup), cranberry juice (11.2 mg per 8 ounces), tomato juice or tea (7.2 mg per 8 ounces of tomato juice or brewed non-herbal tea), grape juice (3 mg per 5 ounces) and red wine (3 mg per 5 ounces).

If you do get sick, the bad news is that you can’t “cure” a cold, but the good news is, there are three things you can ingest that may help speed up its course: chicken soup, zinc and vitamin C. (And before you ask, we don’t know why they work, although research has shown that they do!) The moment you start feeling symptoms, start taking regular doses: that’s 500 mg of vitamin C three or four times each day, a zinc lozenge every six hours or a cup of chicken soup four times a day. You may feel better a few days earlier.

Q: I keep hearing that stress increases your risk of getting sick, but isn’t everyone stressed? Why do I get sick more frequently than my equally busy colleagues?

A: You’re right: If stress makes us sick, almost everyone in the world would have a cold all the time! While it’s true that stress is associated with infections (not to mention arterial aging and injury-causing accidents), it’s not really the stress we’re worried about—it’s your response to the stress.

You’ve probably noticed this happening: You’re in a high-stress mode, working your tail off at work and cruising along just fine. But when you come down from that stressful situation and things settle down a bit, you often get a sort of rebound effect where you are more prone to infections. (Ever gotten sick at the beginning of a vacation, or noticed the sniffles starting up at a much-deserved happy hour?)

The key here isn’t to avoid stress, because that’s impossible for most people. Instead, experiment to find out what helps you feel less freaked out by it. For some people, it’s playing basketball; for others, it’s sitting in a steam room or listening to Mozart (or Metallica!). And there’s one thing everyone can do in the face of stress: Remove yourself from the situation immediately. We’re not talking about quitting your job, of course, but when things start heating up, take a walk around the block or simply move to the next room—that momentary timeout gives you a chance to breathe and react rationally. At the very least, take 10 deep breaths or even scrunch up your face for 15 seconds and then release. It’ll help remove you from the emotions of a stressful situation and get your mind in a better place to handle the chaos (you can learn a lot of techniques with the Cleveland Clinic’s program “StressFreeNow” at ClevelandClinicWellness.com).

And remember, what’s stressful is the way you handle a situation. A demanding boss, a broken screen door, the cable company that never seems to get the bill right—they’re not trying to be jerks on purpose, and they’re not intentionally stressing you out. Reminding yourself of that may lead you to having a more manageable response to otherwise stressful situations (focusing on the steps you need to take to solve the problem rather than your frustration or anger about the problem)—and that’s a healthier way to deal with them.

Q: Confession: I haven’t been to the dentist in a while. But my teeth seem fine. Any reason I should go anyway?

A: Yes! Just because your teeth look good and aren’t causing you pain doesn’t mean that health problems aren’t lurking in your mouth. Seeing a dental professional every six months will help suss out those problems—such as gingivitis, an incredibly common early stage of gum disease—before they turn into issues requiring painful and expensive treatments and surgeries.

It’s also important to remember that the mouth is like a window into the health of your entire body. In fact, gum disease has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and even cancer. So regular care may help keep the rest of your body healthy, too—and having someone checking for oral signs and symptoms of more serious diseases is never a bad idea, either.

And while we’re at it, you’re flossing daily and brushing twice a day, right? Good.

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