This is the time of year that colds and flu abound! Eating stodgy comfort foods and staying indoors can leave us even more vulnerable to picking up cold and flu viruses.
So what can we do to prevent colds and flus in the first place and to speed recovery when we do have them?
The biggest factor affecting the health of our immune systems is lifestyle: Too little sleep, stress, not drinking enough water, too much sugar and not consuming enough fruit and vegetables are all lifestyle choices that can compromise our immunity. Research has shown that when we are under stress our immune system is immediately impacted. In fact, chronic stress causes the release of cortisol - and high circulating levels of the stress hormone cortisol over a prolonged period can impair our immune function. So, if you are someone who catches every cold going, try the following simple steps:
Wash your hands frequently. Even if your hands don’t look or feel dirty. One study showed that scrubbing your hands 5 times a day with soap and water reduced the number of upper respiratory infections by 45%. A brisk 10 second hand wash rinses away 99% of viruses. Cold viruses can last for up to seven days on light switches, ATM buttons, computer keyboards and other hard surfaces and for at least 3 hours on unwashed hands, so regular hand washing during cold and flu season will greatly help.
Use alcohol based hand sanitisers for if you can’t wash – carry one around with you in the car or in your handbag. Not for everyday use – hand washing is preferable!
Get plenty of sleep. During sleep our body releases hormones that help support and improve immune function and thus help ward off cold and flu viruses.
Try to avoid stress and stressful situations. Exercise, yoga and meditation are all proven methods for reducing stress and in turn may improve immune health.
Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can compromise immune function.
Avoid high sugar foods. Research has shown that sugar can depress the immune system by as much as 40% and leave us much more susceptible to infection.
Eat 5+ portions of vegetables and fruit every day. Try a raw, cold pressed, green juice cleanse three or four times a year. Great for boosting immunity and cleansing the body.
Take a brisk walk 5 days a week. Regular exercise boosts your immune system’s natural killer cells and virus killing anti bodies. Research from the University of South Carolina found that adults who exercised moderately to vigorously at least four times a week had 25% fewer colds over one year than non-regular exercisers.
Keep warm: Being cold can increase your risk of catching a cold. According to one study, people who were exposed to cold temperatures were three times more likely to develop cold symptoms than those who stayed warm. The explanation is that being cold constricts blood vessels in the nose, reducing the supply of nutrients to infection fighting white blood cells; this may allow dormant infections to come to life. So perhaps your Mum was right, wear plenty of clothes, wrap up and keep warm during the cold winter months!
Low Vitamin D Levels May Mean More Colds and Flu: Vitamin D is emerging as a true super- vitamin as research confirms its role in promoting heart health, supporting long-term immune health and strengthening bones and teeth. It is also believed to possibly prevent some cancers. Researchers found that among 19,000 men and women (age 12 and up), those with low levels of vitamin D were nearly 40% more likely to have had a respiratory infection than those with healthy levels. Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because our body should make all we need with enough sunlight. Unfortunately with our climate and the short daylight hours of winter, our exposure to sunlight is very limited so levels often fall short. The most effective way to maintain your Vitamin D levels throughout cold and flu season is through daily supplementation. Ask your health practitioner or health shop about optimal daily doses.
Natural Cold Solutions:
If you do have a cold or flu, the following may help to relieve symptoms and to reduce the length and severity of the infection:
- Wear a hat to keep your head warm even inside the house. Might sound silly but keeping warm can help you recover more quickly.
- Season your food with garlic or take a garlic supplement; Research has shown that taking garlic boosts the activity of your immune system’s virus killing T cells and garlic users who have a cold recovered in just a day and a half compared with non garlic users who had a cold for an average of five days!
- Vitamin C: Up to 1,000 mg three times per day until cold symptoms improve.
- Take a vitamin D supplement during the winter months especially if you have a cold to help support a healthy immune system.
- Revive Active Health Supplement contains both Vitamins C & D, as well as numerous other natural ingredients to help you combat colds and flus. One of its many benefits is to help increase your immune system.
- Take plenty of warming drinks, soups and bone broths to keep nourished and hydrated see recipes below:
- 1 cinnamon stick.
- 8 Cloves.
- Thumb sized piece of ginger sliced but not peeled.
- 1 large sprig of Rosemary.
- Fresh lemon.
- Pint of Water
- Manuka or local honey.
Method: Place cinnamon, cloves, ginger and Rosemary into a saucepan with 1 pint of water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 15 mins with lid on. Remove from stove and pour liquid in to a large mug, allow to cool slightly and add juice from half a lemon and a tsp of honey. Stir well and sip the comforting hot liquid. You can actually feel it doing you good! I always add a little more water to the ingredients in the pot and make a second batch.
Immune Boosting Garlic Soup
- 1 whole garlic head.
- Good bunch of Thyme,
- Parsley and Sage.
- Thumb sized piece of ginger, sliced and peeled.
- Spring onions.
- 1 litre of water
- 1 Tbsp. of Olive oil.
Method: Peel and finely slice the garlic and allow to sit for about 10 minutes to enhance its health benefits. After 10 minutes, place it in a saucepan with the herbs and olive oil. Allow to “sweat” on the lowest heat for about 15 minutes or until garlic is transparent. (Do not over cook at this stage). Add 1 litre of water and the sliced and peeled ginger, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for one hour to allow all ingredients to infuse. Heat again. Sprinkle with more chopped fresh parsley and some finely chopped spring onions to serve.
This is a delicious, warming and immune boosting vegetarian broth and it’s so easy to make.
By Liz Gale. Dip. NT. mNTOI Website: www.lizgalenutrition.com
Thanks to Liz for contributing to the our blog this week.
Liz is a qualified nutritional therapist specialising in digestive health, autoimmune disorders, diabetes and anti- ageing. Her nutritional therapy practice is evidence-based and she uses only scientifically researched dietary treatments and therapies to help her clients reach optimal health. Her qualifications and interests include:
- Diploma in Naturopathic Nutrition from the College of Naturopathic Medicine (Dublin)
- She runs a nutritional therapy practice in Dublin, Cork and online.
- She is an active committee member of the Nutritional Therapists of Ireland (NTOI)
- She is the researcher and nutritional therapy consultant for an innovative new app, called Cook and Cure. This is the first mobile app that helps you find foods, supplements, recipes, and remedies specific to your overlapping medical conditions, health goals, and personal diet preferences, brought to you from multiple health practitioners’ perspectives.