Let’s look at how to minimize the risk of catching colds and flu. As days get cold and we are confined to crowded indoor spaces, it’s hard to avoid catching some sort of infection. At the very least this can mean a runny nose, headaches and a sore throat, but it can also signal the complications of fever. The combined effect leaves you lethargic. Although having a cold won’t be fatal, influenza (or flu) can be. For this reason, it is vital to try to prevent the onset of flu symptoms.
Staying healthy by eating well, keeping warm and washing hands goes a long way to preventing contamination, but health experts say that the most effective protection against the flu is vaccination. Now is the time to be vaccinated.
Here are some ways to increase your chances of beating colds and flu:
- Granny was right. Keeping warm can help you avoid coughs, colds and flu. If you aren’t dressed properly for chilly weather, you will feel the cold and start to shiver. 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 our immune system performs. We lose up to 30 per cent of our body heat through our heads, so wear a hat in cold weather.
- Clinical scientists say that most infections are carried in the air and transmitted by the aerosol effect when someone sneezes. But, they suggest, germs can be transmitted by physical contact and enter the body when infected hands touch vulnerable parts like our eyes, mouths and noses.. These areas offer easy access to invading germs despite being equipped with defence mechanisms such as mucous and hairs.
- Washing hands often and drying them on disposable paper towels or laundering hand towels regularly, can significantly reduce the chances of catching a virus. Use some hand sterilizer before eating. Avoid touching anything that someone with a cold has touched, coughed or sneezed on, and avoid touching your face if your hands are dirty.
- Low cloud, dull and misty conditions tend to bring on an increase in germs. Viruses survive longer when the weather is moist, experts say. Viruses can hang in the air attached to water droplets more easily and when it’s cloudy and dull there are fewer breezes to blow the germs away. This is the time when you are more likely to catch something although you may not notice you have done so until ten or twelve days later, which is the incubation period for many colds and coughs.
- As people tend to be physically closer together during winter, it is easier for infections to spread. Crowded trains, lifts and areas with little ventilation make catching a cold more likely. Indoor heating affects the respiratory system by drying out the protective mucous in our nasal passages. The dry, stuffy air can also lead to sore throats and aggravate chest complaints like asthma. A vaporiser will help. Sterile, isotonic saline without a preservative will lubricate the tender mucous surfaces in your nose to help their function.
- Immune systems can be pepped up to withstand the onslaught of germs by taking echinacea. The echinacea plant was originally used by the native Americans to heal wounds and infections. Now it is used to boost the immune system in fighting colds and flu, and also as an agent to heal viral and bacterial infections.
- The mineral zinc is essential to help fight colds and provide a boost to a flagging immune system. Good food sources include meat, oysters, eggs, seafood, tofu and wheatgerm. Zinc and Vitamin C make a good cold busting duo
- For optimum health, doctors recommend we drink about eight glasses of water a day. Water helps the kidneys function properly and flushes out the toxins that accumulate in our bodies. If you have a cold, being dehydrated makes your mucous dryer and thicker and less able to cope against invading bacteria and viruses. If you have already caught a cold, drinking plenty of fluids will help flush out the infection.
- Inadequate sleep makes people more prone to infection and therefore good quality sleep is really important. Moods also affect our ability to fight off infections and if you feel stressed you are more likely to become ill compared to when you are feeling buoyant, happy and relaxed.
- Regular physical activity should not be underestimated for warding off colds. Apart from keeping our circulation going, regular moderate exercise increases the number of natural killer cells in our body. These lymphocytes in the bloodstream and the mucosal layer of the nose and airways travel around our body scavenging foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. When you exercise, natural killer cell levels go up and stay elevated for about thirty six hours. However, if you exercise too much, this will actually lower levels of natural killer cells. Experts recommend thirty minutes of walking five days a week.
- Taking a multivitamin is important at this time of the year when we are less likely to be eating enough fruit and vegetables, and are also more at risk from infection. Ask your pharmacist for advice on are the ideal supplements because the comprehensive list of nutritional support ensures maximum levels of important nutrients when immune support is most needed. The usual dose of ONE each morning may be increased to ONE morning and evening if stress levels are affecting your general health. Probiotics introduce “friendly” bacteria in our intestines and these are increasingly recognized for their importance not only in maintaining a healthy digestive system, but also 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.
– Gerald Quigley, Pharmacist and Master Herbalist