flu vaccineMore than one billion colds hit Americans every year. Now, with news that the flu vaccine may not be the ultimate safeguard we've been told it is, it seems more important than ever for us to research different -- perhaps even unconventional -- ways to stave off illness.

There are some fantastic cold and flu fighters that don't always come packaged as such. Here, six of the most surprising ones to keep you healthy this winter.

  1. Tea. Whether it's green or black, a nice hot "cuppa" (as they call it across the pond) isn't just the perfect accompaniment to a day spent on the couch, catching up with your DVR. It will also obliterate cell-damaging free radicals, thanks to its rich supply of immune system-bolstering polyphenols, a type of antioxidant.
  2. Garlic. Whether you prefer it in dips, soups, or your favorite pasta sauce, the stinky herb does more than keep vampires away. A 2001 study found that participants who took a garlic supplement daily from November to February were less likely to get colds than those who took a placebo. Eating it fresh is best (think crushed up in salad dressing); aim for three cloves a day.
  3. Elderberry. Having used this plant to keep my own colds at bay for the past couple of years, I believe elderberry definitely lives up to its hype. Research from Hadassah University in Jerusalem found that it appears to activate the immune system.
  4. Honey. It's not just an old wives' tale! If you happen to get sidelined with a cough, this sweet elixir may come in handy. A couple of years ago, a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that buckwheat honey may reduce cough by coating and soothing an irritated throat. The study was even done on kiddos and beat regular cough syrup. Sweet!
  5. Zinc. A plain old supplement (or a syrup or a lozenge) here will do for shortening a cold when taken in the first few days of symptoms, according to some research. It also appeared to prevent colds in people who used it over the course of about five months.
  6. Work out. Of course pushing yourself to get to the gym when you're already feeling like a cold is coming on probably isn't the best idea or even one you're going to be all that keen on. But keeping up a regular exercise regimen can prevent you from catching a cold or the flu in the first place. That's because cardio boosts your body's natural defense against viruses. All you have to do is a daily 30-minute walk.

What's your favorite, surprising flu and cold fighter?

 

Image via USACE Europe District/Flickr