Keeping the colds away
And it’s again that time of the year when people around you generally start to sneeze and cough. The change from the milder weather in early autumn to the colder temperatures of late autumn often triggers that response.
The current estimate is that in average Australians get around 2 colds per year, kids even more often. One thing to keep in mind is that the common cold and the influenza (flu) are not one and the same. Generally a cold resolves itself. The flu is more serious and depending on the health of your immune system it can take longer to recover from it.
Both the cold and the flu are spread by droplets in the air from sneezing and coughing. But you can also get infected by touching a surface that has been contaminated and then transferring the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. It’s useful to keep in mind that cold and flu viruses can stay active for several hours once they have landed on a hard surface.
So what can you do to prevent an infection? Here are some general tips:
- Wash your hands frequently especially before handling food or eating as well as after using public transport or being in places that are frequented by many people (I.e. supermarkets etc.)
- If possible avoid crowded places
- Drink plenty of water. Our cells (including our immune cells) need adequate hydration to function properly
- Make sure you get enough sleep. The body and as such the immune system recover during sleep
- Have plenty of fresh, colourful fruit and vegetables as they contain vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that are essential for the immune system
- Garlic and onions have antimicrobial activity, so include them in your diet;
- Do some moderate exercise 3-4 times per week. Studies have shown that moderate exercise increases immune function;
- Make sure to have plenty of fibre in your diet. Fibre acts as a food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. More and more research shows that those bacteria play a large role in a healthy immune system.
In addition to that there are few nutrients are very useful in preventing infections, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E and Zinc. But increasingly Vitamin D has been shown to be of great benefit.
Ideally we all would get our Vitamin D by having enough exposure to sunlight. It is assumed that in order for the skin to produce adequate amounts of Vitamin D it is necessary to have 10-15 min of unprotected sun exposure to 15% of the skin daily between 10am and 3pm during the months of October to March. The rest of the year we need up to an hour of sun exposure daily. Unfortunately this is not always practical or achievable.
Another source of Vitamin D is the diet. Small amounts of Vit D can be found in fatty fish such as herring, sardines or salmon. Cod liver oil and fortified foods can also provide some Vitamin D. However, these food sources do not provide large amounts of Vitamin D.
Which leaves supplements as the third option, especially during the darker winter months when it is very hard to get any sun exposure during some of Melbourne’s rainy days. A recent article in the British Medicine Journal analysed 25 randomised controlled trials involving Vitamin D and came to the conclusion that regular Vitamin D supplementation was safe and that it was overall protective against acute respiratory tract infections, which is good news.
In general many Australians have low Vitamin D levels. As such it can make sense to take a good quality supplement to increase Vitamin D levels especially if you don’t get much sun or have naturally very dark skin. A good guide is to take 1000 IU of Vitamin D3 on a daily basis, particularly during the winter months.
And what can you do if you feel the first symptoms of a cold after all? The best way to recover from it is to give your body adequate rest and keep warm. This allows the immune system to do its job. Avoid falling for the promise of advertising that any type of cold and flu tablet will help your recovery. All they do is mask the symptoms. It is much better to help the body to increase its own temperature by drinking a homemade hot lemon and ginger tea with a bit of honey and chilli or a cup of YEP (Yarrow, Elderflower & Peppermint) tea. By increasing the body temperature you create a mild fever, which is one of the body’s first defences against any infection. There are also a number of herbs and nutrients that can help in fighting the cold. For these you should contact your natural healthcare practitioner for an appointment. They will be able to prescribe you the best possible combination of herbs and nutrients to help you to recover from the cold and to support your immune system.