Winter's chill has settled over the U.S. and has brought flurries of fresh snowfall and sub-zero temperatures, which leaves most Americans happily cooped up inside the warmth of their homes. Unfortunately, when we confine ourselves to such close quarters for lengthy durations, we become significantly more susceptible to catching a variety of cold and flu bugs that are making their way across the population. These viral infections can bring about a variety of unsavory symptoms ranging from sinus congestion and a sore throat to nausea and endless sneezing, and leave you hung up in bed for a week or longer. However, there are certain paths an individual may take to shorten the length of his or her sickness and drastically reduce the severity of symptoms.

What causes the symptoms brought on by colds and the flu?
Cold and flu strains can be caught in a number of different ways. When a sick person coughs or sneezes, he or she can expel thousands of virus-laden droplets into the air or all over certain items such as door handles, countertops, keyboards and other items we commonly touch. If you happen to breathe in the infected vapors, or accidentally touch a surface covered in these bodily invaders and subsequently wipe your nose or eyes, the virus has found it's way into your body.

It usually goes to work immediately, attempting to burrow into the cells in your airways or nasal passages, and once inside, the invading virus turns your cells into copy machines that furiously pump out new cold- and flu-causing organisms. This causes your cells to swell and eventually burst, spewing further invaders all throughout your body. The spread of these newly-minted viruses is rapid and quickly overwhelms your immune system in only a few days, causing symptoms to hit you like a freight train. At this point, the immune system is on high alert, and the majority of your body's energy is used to combat these nagging invaders. Mucosal secretions build up in an attempt to better snatch infected cells before they reach other areas of the body, and a cough ensues to push out the tainted phlegm. The immune system has been temporarily beaten, and all you can do now is suffer until it regains its foothold.

How can I alleviate my symptoms?
While attempts to thwart the spread of such viral infections may seem to be a futile endeavor, there a few choice supplements that can help your body mount a more effective defense. Olive leaf extract, zinc and vitamin C supplements, when used in combination, can help bolster your immune system to better ward off these viral annoyances. While they may not completely eradicate all your symptoms immediately, these supplements can drastically reduce the severity and duration of common colds and flu viruses.

Olive leaf extract
Olives have been one of the most widely cultivated fruits throughout human existence, and contain a broad spectrum of phytonutrients that can help promote overall health throughout the body. The primary constituent of olive leaf extract is a polyphenol compound known as oleuropein, but other nutrients such as esters, multiple iridoids, rutin, apigenin, luteolin and others are also present. According to the data found in the Alternative Medicine Review, olive leaf has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, and also interacts with certain proteins found in cold and flu virus particles which effectively halts the spread of infection. Furthermore, oleuropein specifically has been shown to possess powerful vasodilation effects that can help improve blood flow, which subsequently allows the body to more effectively transport antibodies and T cells to areas affected by the virus.

Zinc
This essential mineral is another powerful tool that can help you better combat invading viral infections, but it also fulfills a number of other roles within our system as well. Zinc is a component of at least 3,000 different proteins and more than 200 different enzymes inside your body. It helps promote prostate, immune and intestinal health, and is also utilized to maintain optimal cognitive function and mood regulation. But let us digress. Zinc plays a role in multiple facets of your immune system, and is involved in the production of neutrophils, natural killer cells, phagocytosis, cytokine and antibodies, as well as gene regulation within your lymphocytes. Scientific research indicates that taking zinc when your sick can help reduce the duration of your illness by up to 50 percent, and it also helps fortify the body's natural defenses unlike any other mineral out there. Just be sure to take the proper dosages, because too much of a good thing can quickly turn it into a bad thing. 

Vitamin C
It is no secret that vitamin C can help boost the function of the immune system, but new research is constantly being conducted to understand how this actually happens. Studies have shown if you have been infected by a cold or flu virus, taking high doses of vitamin C can shorten the duration of your illness, and can reduce the severity of your symptoms by up to 85 percent. This essential nutrient has also proven itself to be more effective in individuals who maintain a high level of physical fitness, most notably marathon runners and active military personnel. While drinking orange juice or eating citrus fruits is a natural way to provide your body with this staple vitamin, certain supplements may be more effective in providing the higher dosages you need to better combat a cold or flu virus.