Scroll down to find out all about what you can do to boost your immune system naturally and resist any colds and flus this colder weather is well known for spreading.
Top 10 Tips to Beat the Winter Bugs
By Maya Brosnan
Over 300,000 Australians on average contract the flu virus each year.
The nasty Influenza virus causes up to 3500 deaths on average, with the elderly and sufferers of chronic disease being at a higher risk category, while each year an average of about 18,000 of influenza patients are being hospitalised. During the colder winter months we also notice a lot of us are also more susceptible to contracting some pretty nasty colds, some of them presenting with cough, blocked sinuses and chest infections.
Soldiering on is not worth it
If you or your children are feeling unwell, running high fevers, presenting with headaches, lethargy and muscle aches and pains, rather than soldiering on – give your body a good rest! Take time off work, school or Uni to stop spreading your bug and allow your natural well equipped army of immune cells to do the job they are highly trained in, in order to help you get better naturally. This way you are a lot more likely to contain your virus and avoid any nasty secondary bacterial infections as well as recover faster. I also suggest getting a proper diagnosis from a GP, just to make sure you are not dealing with any other type of illness or bacterial infection, in which case resting alone might not be enough as other medical intervention may be necessary.
The Flu Vaccine may not be enough
More than 200 different individual strains of viruses can cause flu and colds. Strains of these viruses are constantly changing, which is why it is important to support our immune systems as much as we can naturally during these cold winter months, even if we have been vaccinated against the flu.
The best cure to the flu is prevention. Following the guidelines listed below can help give us and our families much stronger chances of resisting or fighting any nasty cold and flu bugs this colder weather is well known for spreading.
Do More of This:
- Start a C Trend
Vitamin C has been long known for its health and immune benefits. However, it seems to have become less ‘trendy’ amongst the health conscious in recent years as many have been trying different natural vitamins, herbs and other remedies. I still strongly believe, however, Vitamin C should be the first ‘go – to’ nutrient when it comes to fighting or preventing colds and flu. The plasma concentrations of this important vitamin have been shown to drop during periods of infection and stress. Vitamin C cannot be stored in the body, and regular consumption of vitamin C rich foods as well as Vitamin C supplementation have been shown to improve the immune system’s antimicrobial and natural killer cell activity, support overall immune function and protect against free radical damage within the respiratory tract and in the inflammatory response.
The best sources of Vitamin C include: uncooked tomatoes, strawberries, pineapple, sweet potato, potato, citrus fruit, broccoli, parsley, Brussel sprouts, blackcurrant and aloe vera juice.
“Double Trouble” – Coupling Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids (usually found in the same food sources as Vitamin C, but very highly effective in supplement form) holds greater immune benefits as together they have stronger antiviral effects.
Boost your Zinc
This more than essential micro mineral has more than a full time job looking after the function of our immune system. It is a potent immunostimulant which nourishes our cells. Zinc deficiencies have been associated with weakened immune response as low zinc levels have been shown to impair our immune cellular mediators including natural killer cell activity for instance. Zinc supplementation combined with vitamin C has been shown to have a positive effect improving symptoms of colds and flu as well as shortening the duration of viral infections
The best sources of Zinc include pumpkin and sunflower seeds, ginger, seafood (especially oysters), eggs, ginger, beef, lamb, capsicum. .
IMMUNE TIP: Sucking on zinc lozenges rather than swallowing zinc tablets is more effective when fighting colds and flu.
- Have Garlic Breath
This wonderful flavour enhancer we use so often in cooking is more than a powerful antioxidant. Garlic also contains over 100 sulfuric compounds which along with a compound called allicin, give it strong antibacterial, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties.
IMMUNE TIP: include garlic in cooking regularly to boost the immune system, but when fighting a cold or any infection, have raw crushed garlic mixed in salad dressings or with honey as some of the sulfuric compounds it contains are lost in the heating process. Garlic taken in capsule or tablet form is also a great way to support the immune system.
- Binge on Ginger
Another common and popular ingredient used frequently in cooking, baking and in herbal tea, ginger is a super food you can’t ignore. Many are aware of the benefits ginger has on the tummy, as it helps relieve nausea, sooth a sore or bloated belly and helps improve constipation. But when it comes to our immune system fighting viruses and infections, ginger is an absolute super star. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plus it has also been demonstrated to hold antiviral properties, as it stimulates respiratory cells to secrete antiviral protein.
- Heat up the Inside
Chilli is a rich source of Beta – Carotene which the body converts into Vitamin A. This essential nutrient is needed to help maintain healthy mucus membranes which protect the body against foreign invaders. Chilli also contains Capsaicin, a substance which acts as an anti-inflammatory and helps clear congestion. Regular consumption of chilli has also been associated with an increase in antibodies.
WATCH OUT IF YOU ARE MEDICATED: Chilli and garlic have a natural blood thinning effect. If you are on any blood thinning medication, including aspirin, and have recently increased your chilli intake significantly and/or have gone on a garlic supplement you may need to contact your doctor as your medication dosage may need to be adjusted.
- Get Hooked on Manuka
The delicious Manuka honey contains up to four times the amount of nutrients we get in regular honey. It is not cheap by any means, but it’s money very well spent if you are looking at building your immune up this winter. It also contains significantly higher levels of enzymes than those of regular honey, which create natural hydrogen peroxide that works as an antibacterial. The Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) rating you’ll find on Manuka Honey jars, relates to its antibacterial strength. The higher the rating – the stronger the antibacterial properties. Lower UMF values of none to 10+ are beneficial to use as maintenance, while UMF of 20+ or higher are best used therapeutically, especially when treating any upper respiratory tract infections, sinus congestion and colds.
IMMUNE TIP: to treat a sore throat, have one teaspoon of UMF 20+ (or higher) Manuka Honey every two hours. Manuka honey is best consumed at room temperature as many of its immune properties are lost when heated so avoid adding it to your tea.
Do Less of This:
- Get High on Sugar
Even if we do over eat, over – indulge or over – feed ourselves or our children, our bodies may still be undernourished; Regular consumption of refined sugar (including soft drinks, energy drinks and commercial fruit juice) refined carbohydrates (such as white flour based products including white bread, pasta, bakery goods, savoury or sweet biscuits etc.) and junk food in general will compromise our nutritional status as these nutrient – empty, calorie – dense foods over time ‘rob’ our bodies of their precious nutrient stores.
Multiple nutrient deficiencies, single nutrient deficiencies and imbalances amongst individual nutrients have all been associated with compromising the performance of the immune system and impair our resistance to infection. Some of the most common immune – related deficiencies include the vitamins A, E, C, B6, B5, folic acid, iron, copper, zinc, CoQ10 and the amino acid Lysine.
- Stress Out
When our Sympathetic Nervous System is hyper stimulated for long periods of time, it will compromise our natural immune competence and our ability to resist infection. Recent research has also associated prolonged stress with inflammation in the body, which is very demanding on our immune system to say the least. Taking a good quality magnesium supplement as well as supplementing with a Mega B Complex can help get our Nervous System and our Immune System back on track. Practicing yoga, meditation and pranayama (yogic breath – control exercises), can help calm our Sympathetic Nervous System as well as activate our Parasympathetic Nervous System (the‘rest and digest’ Nervous System), bringing more balance to the body and taking some pressure off the immune system.
- Stay Up Late
When mum said you need to get some sleep to stay healthy, she knew what she was talking about. There is now evidence to show that people who regularly get 7 hours or more of good quality sleep per night are less likely to become unwell. When sleep is compromised, the number of our immune – stimulating T cells decrease, while the number of inflammatory cytokines increase which can potentially increase our chances of catching a cold or even the flu. Furthermore, lack of good quality sleep can increase our cortisol levels, which can then compromise the health of not only our nervous system but our immune system too.
- Be a Couch Potato
Exercising in the colder weather will not only burn more energy (as the body utilises more energy warming up when it’s cold than cooling down when it’s hot, believe it or not!), but it will also stimulate our immune system and help us resist infections and flu.
But beware – There is a fine line between doing enough exercise and doing too much. Over – exercising can have the exact opposite effect on the immune system as it is quite taxing on the body. So make sure you choose the types of exercise that has the after ‘energy -uplifting effect’, rather than the types that make you want to crawl back under the doona for the rest of the day. And make sure you enjoy at least 30 minutes to one hour of (energising) exercise daily.
Flu – Fighting Tea
Bring 1 litre of water to the boil and then add:
1 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 lemon, sliced (with skin)
1 cinnamon stick OR ½ tsp of cinnamon powder
1 clove of garlic
¼ tsp. fresh chopped chilli
- After adding ingredients continue to boil for 1 minute.
- Enjoy as a hot beverage, otherwise allow to cool slightly and have throughout the day.