Sniffle Season Strategies
Although a lucky few might dodge the airborne bugs, many of us will fall victim over the next few winter months. So how can you minimise your risk of catching colds and flu?
1. Keep Warm
Keeping warm with extra layers can help you avoid coughs, colds and flu. Did you know? ….Shivering depresses the immune system and this makes us more likely to catch colds. Also, lower levels of sunlight and altered levels of hormones such as melatonin and serotonin negatively affect how the immune system performs. We lose up to 30 per cent of our body heat through our heads, so if you are heading outside it’s important to wear a hat!
Central heating reduces our defences and affects the respiratory system by drying out the protective mucous in our nasal passages. The dry, stuffy air of central heating can also lead to sore throats and aggravate chest complaints like asthma. Try using extra layers to keep warm and turning the thermostat down a little!
2. Wash Your Hands
Although most infections are mainly carried in the air and transmitted when someone sneezes, germs can be transmitted by physical contact and enter the body when infected hands touch vulnerable parts like our eyes, mouths and noses. Avoid muffling coughs and sneezes with your hands as this can pass germs to others. When you feel a sneeze or cough coming, do so into the crook of your elbow, not into your hands or use a tissue instead and quickly throw it away.
Washing your hands often can significantly reduce the chances of catching a virus, especially the rotavirus, which tends to infect children and causes vomiting and diarrhoea. You could also consider using and alcohol based hand gel.
3. Herbal Support
The Echinacea plant was originally used by Native Americans to heal wounds and infections. Nowadays, it is popularly used to boost the immune system in fighting colds and flu, and also as an agent to help heal viral and bacterial infections.
Although Echinacea is used to boost the immune system, it does tend to lose effectiveness with lengthy usage. Ideally, you should take it for no more than six to eight weeks at a time.
The normal dose is 3-4ml of alcoholic extract or 300mg of powdered herb tablets taken three times daily at the first sign of infection. It is not recommended for people with progressive systemic and autoimmune diseases such as tuberculosis, lupus or Aids (1).
4. Vitamin C, Zinc and Garlic
Always make sure you eat a healthy balanced diet and include foods rich in vitamin C and Zinc.
The mineral zinc is essential to help fight colds and provide a boost to a flagging immune system. Good food sources include:
Vitamin C: strawberries, Acerola cherry, citrus fruits, papayas, kiwi, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, bell-peppers and tomatoes.
Zinc: meat, oysters, eggs, seafood, tofu, black- eyed peas and wheat germ. Zinc and Vitamin C make a great cold-busting duo.
Garlic helps ease chest complaints, and small amounts taken daily may also reduce the frequency of colds and flu.
5. Keep Hydrated
Ideally try and drink 1.5 litres of hydrating fluid daily. Drinking water helps to flush toxins out of the body. If you have a cold, being dehydrated makes your mucus drier and thicker and less able to cope against invading bacteria and viruses. If you’ve already caught a cold, drinking plenty of fluids will help flush out the infection.
6. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Lack of sleep can make us more prone to infection. Tray and adopt a healthy routine for going to bed aiming for between 6.5 – 7.5 hours of ‘quality’ sleep per night’. See (9) below.
7. Keep On Moving
Don’t underestimate the importance of regular activity, especially in winter (4). Apart from keeping our circulation going, regular moderate exercise increases the number of natural killer (NK) cells in our bodies, supporting the lymphatic system.
These lymphocytes in the bloodstream and the mucosal layer of the nose and airways travel around our bodies scavenging foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.
8. Take Vitamins and Probiotics
Taking a daily multivitamin is especially important in the winter when we may be less likely to be eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables, and are also more at risk from infection.
Probiotics, such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, are ‘friendly’ bacteria in our intestines and increasingly recognised for their importance not only in maintaining a healthy digestive system, but for improving the body’s natural defence mechanisms.
Studies have shown that taking probiotic supplements can improve the body’s resistance to bacterial and viral infections (2).
9. Lose The Booze – Avoid Stimulants
Alcohol is not only considered a ‘vitamin robber’ (as processing alcohol in the body uses up our stores of important vitamins), but it also acts as a stimulant and may interfere with sleep quality, and we are much more likely to get sick when we are sleep-deprived! Other stimulants include caffeine products such as coffee, tea and some caffeinated drinks e.g. coke.
10. Avoid Dairy
Dairy may increase mucus production (for some people) and may also contribute to ‘thickened’ ‘sluggish’ lymph flow.
11. Sip Hot Drinks Regularly
Breathing in steam stimulates the cilia (the hair follicles in the nose) to move out germs more efficiently. Try hot lemon, ginger and honey – lemon thins mucus, and honey and ginger is antibacterial.
12. Start Juicing
During cold and flu season, you may also like to start your day making and drinking juice e.g. kale, broccoli, apple, arugula, parsley, cucumber, carrots, Swiss chard, lemon and mint. A great way to boost important vitamins and minerals in your body!
1. Schapowal, A., Klein, P. and Johnston, S.L., 2015. Echinacea reduces the risk of recurrent respiratory tract infections and complications: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Advances in therapy, 32(3), pp.187-200. http://www.scicompdf.se/echinaforce/Schapowal_2015.pdf
2. King, S., Glanville, J., Sanders, M.E., Fitzgerald, A. and Varley, D., 2014. Effectiveness of probiotics on the duration of illness in healthy children and adults who develop common acute respiratory infectious conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition, 112(1), pp.41-54. https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/4382D42135F5C78FFA96E5F4C581944D/S0007114514000075a.pdf/effectiveness_of_probiotics_on_the_duration_of_illness_in_healthy_children_and_adults_who_develop_common_acute_respiratory_infectious_conditions_a_systematic_review_and_metaanalysis.pdf
3. Allan, G.M. and Arroll, B., 2014. Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 186(3), pp.190-199. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3928210/
4. Hemilä, H., 2014. Does exercise prevent the common cold?. Korean journal of family medicine, 35(5), pp.259-260. https://www.e-sciencecentral.org/upload/kjfm/pdf/kjfm-35-259.pdf