tissueI’d noticed lately that more people seem to be coughing and sneezing. But, it wasn’t till I turned on my local TV news yesterday and saw the meteorologist standing in for the news anchor because the entire rest of the news team was out sick that it sunk in that this is turning out to be one bad cold season.

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate being sick. I turn into this whiny mess that’s convinced the sore throat, congestion and aches will never ever end. So, I do everything I can to avoid catching a cold to begin with.

Luckily, there are easy ways to lower your risk of succumbing to a cold virus. And one of them has to do with your menstrual cycle:

Turns out, it’s important to wash your hands more frequently during your Week 2, which is the week leading up to and including ovulation. That’s because on these days your immune system weakens a bit and the mucus in your nose, eyes and mouth becomes thinner, making it easier for cold viruses that you’ve picked up on door handles, ATM buttons, shopping carts and other germy hotspots to pass through and take hold.

Why does this happen? Since this is the fertile time of your cycle, researchers speculate that a lowered immune system prevents the body from targeting sperm as a harmful invader and thinner mucus helps sperm pass through your cervix more easily for a better chance at conception. Unfortunately, this extra help in the sperm department leaves you more vulnerable to baddies getting past your body’s your usual defenses.

Of course, there are many other easy ways you can help reduce your risk of catching a cold. I’ve rounded up 5 of my favorites here:

1. Gargle with tap water: Folks who gargle with plain ol’ tap water three times daily reduce their risk of catching a respiratory illness by 36%, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. While the researchers aren’t sure why this works, they theorize that the water may flush viruses from the throat, preventing them from taking hold. Already caught a cold? Switch to gargling with salt water, which reduces pain and inflammation.

2. Pop probiotics: In a recent analysis of 12 studies, researchers found that taking probiotics daily reduced the frequency of colds in adults and children. Researchers believe that once probiotics reach the gut, they send immune-boosting messages to the body, making it more effective at fending off viruses. Look for a probiotic blend that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Here’s the one I take three times daily.

3. Get plenty of sleep: Getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep nightly doesn’t just boost your daytime energy. It also makes you significantly less likely to catch a cold—even if you’re exposed to a cold virus. The proof: In a recent study in the journal SLEEP, volunteers who had a cold virus sprayed into their nostrils were more than four times more likely to develop cold symptoms if they slept six or fewer hours per night than those who slept seven hours or longer. Why? Sleep helps your body shore up your immune system so it can target and kill invading viruses more effectively.

4. Wear a scarf over your nose: A Yale University study suggests that wearing a scarf over your mouth and nose when outdoors lowers your risk of developing cold symptoms. As the researchers explain, your body’s immune system works better at fighting cold viruses that have already found their way inside your nose when nasal passages are warmed-up.

5. Drink dark cocoa: Great news, chocolate lovers: Drinking dark cocoa daily can lower your risk of catching a cold by as much as 33%, according to a study from Australia’s University of Auckland. Dark cocoa is rich in flavonoids—compounds that have anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, the researchers say. Get an even bigger health boost by consuming other foods and beverages brimming with cold-fighting flavonoids, which include apples, blueberries, green tea and onions.

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[Photo: Jason Kuffer]

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