tissuesWell, looks like cold season is here for many of us. One Christmas shopping trip to the mall made that crystal clear to me as I personally witnessed dozens of should-have-been-home-in-bed shoppers coughing, sneezing and wheezing their way through clogged stores and extra-long register lines.

I bring this up to you today because there’s a bit of news you should know about regarding colds and zinc lozenges, zinc nose spray and zinc supplements–popular home remedies thought to battle cold symptoms and shorten the duration of a cold.

Turns out, the latest research shows that zinc is not only unhelpful when it comes to battling cold viruses–it can actually cause long-lasting, even permanent, harm. Check out this recent article in Consumer Reports that reveals 6 reasons to skip zinc for colds.

Want to be one of the lucky ones who avoids catching a cold this season? Or at least avoids catching another cold?

As you probably already know, washing your hands frequently and using antibacterial gel is key, especially after touching germy hotspots, like shopping cart handles and ATM buttons.

However, if you’re in Week 2 of your cycle (which starts 8 days from the onset of your period–sooner if you have a cycle that’s shorter than 28 days), it’s even more critical to keep up your hand-sanitizing habits to evade cold viruses.

That’s because during your Week 2–especially the latter half–your immune system weakens a bit and the mucus in your nose, eyes and mouth becomes thinner, making it easier for cold viruses to pass through and take hold.

Why does this happen? Since this is a fertile time of the month for you (ovulation occurs at the end of your Week 2), 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.

Since I’m no fan of being sidelined by colds, I take extra precautions to thwart cold viruses all cycle long–and especially during my Week 2. If, like me, you have no time to stay home with the sniffles either, here are four study-proven, natural ways to lower your risk of catching a cold all cycle long:

1. Pop probiotics: Specifically, take the combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. In a 2012 study, taking this probiotic duo twice daily reduced the frequency of colds in schoolchildren. And it’s believed to work just as well in adults. Researchers theorize that once these probiotics reach the gut, they send immune-boosting messages to the body, making it more effective at warding off colds. Here’s the one I take three times daily.

2. Take garlic supplements: Study volunteers who took one allicin-containing garlic supplement daily were less likely to catch a cold than those who took a placebo. What’s more, garlic-takers who did catch a cold got better 24 hours faster than those in the placebo group who fell ill. Researchers believe credit goes to antibacterial and antiviral compounds in garlic that fight off the cold virus. (Note: Don’t take garlic supplements if you take hormone birth control because it can make it less effective by speeding up the breakdown of the synthetic estrogen in your body.)

3. Eat mushrooms: White button mushrooms–the most common kind of mushroom in supermarkets and farmer’s markets–contain compounds that activate natural killer cells that destroy cold- and flu-causing viruses, research suggests.

4. Down vitamin D: While researchers keep going back and forth about how effective vitamin D is for reducing your risk of catching a cold, there’s enough evidence (for instance, from this study and this one) to suggest this key nutrient could protect you by prompting your body to produce more antimicrobial proteins. Aim for 2000 IU of vitamin D daily.

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