Winter Health

 
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Step 1 Consume flufighting foods

An overall healthy diet will boost your immune system, but these foods help deliver a knockout punch.

Spinach

High in iron and antioxidants.

Broccoli

Good source of vitamins A and C, and folate, and is also rich in phytochemicals (plant compounds that have protective properties).

Garlic

Stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting white blood cells and also contains the phytochemical allicin, which has anti-bacterial properties.

Blueberries

Packed with vitamins C and E, and disease-fighting antioxidants.

Oats

High in soluble fibre, which absorbs cholesterol and helps establish a healthy environment in your digestive tract.

Water

Drink six to eight glasses a day to stay well hydrated, which keeps the susceptible mucus membranes in your upper respiratory tract moist and resistant to infection.

Cold-water fish

The omega-3 fats in cold-water fish, such as salmon and tuna, create high blood levels of flu-fighting T cells and interferon.

Pumpkin

High in carotenoids and B-group vitamins.

Soy products

Contain protein and a wide variety of nutrients. Soy products are also rich in isoflavanoids, which help balance your hormone and cholesterol levels.

Step 2 Supplement your diet

To make sure your immune system has all the building blocks it needs to fight off the flu, top it up with specific supplements. Following are some of the most potent flu-fighting nutrients:

Supplement

Flu-fighting properties

Vitamin C Well known for its immune-boosting properties, it increases the production of disease-fighting white blood cells and antibodies. Vitamin E High in antioxidants; helps the immune cells produce antibodies and can help reverse some of the decline in immune function that comes with ageing. Echinacea Echinacea fires up your immune system, helping prevent and treat invasive viruses. Carotene The body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, which has antioxidant and immune-boosting functions, such as the production of infection-fighting cells. Cod liver oil A rich, natural source of flu-fighting nutrients, including vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acids. Zinc Increases the number and ability of white blood cells to fight infection. Selenium An essential mineral for immune function, selenium has antioxidant properties that help prevent cellular damage from free radicals.

Step 3 Be active

There’s a link between moderate, regular exercise and a healthy immune system. Exercise temporarily increases the circulation of antibodies called macrophages—the cells that attack bacteria. Additionally, it elevates core body temperature, which boosts your body’s ability to fight viruses. There are indirect benefits, such as reduced stress, improved sleep (unless you exercise vigorously at night) and improved self-confidence through weight management. On the other hand, extended periods of intense training without adequate recovery time can weaken your immune system and increase your susceptibility to illness. It is also wise to cut back or cut out exercise when you are ill. That will give your immune system the best chance to fight an infection without the additional stress of exercise.

Step 4 Sleep more, stress less

Sleep rejuvenates and revitalises your body, and helps your immune system function at its best. Deep sleep stimulates the thymus gland to produce T-cells, which are a type of white blood cell that helps reject foreign substances, and controls the production of antibodies to fight infection. Sleep also helps your body deal with stress, which has a strong influence on your immune system. Stress triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol—hormones that reduce your body’s ability to produce antibodies. That’s why people who are highly stressed get more colds, suffer more digestive tract problems and have more frequent bouts of fatigue. Aim to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night, and practice relaxation techniques to help prevent stress.

Step 5 Sort fact from fiction

There are a number of myths about colds and flu. To clear up any confusion and make sure you know all the facts, here’s the low down.

Myth: Stay warm and dry to avoid catching a cold or flu, or to speed your recovery.

Colds and flu are spread directly from person to person, usually by touching hands. No-one catches a cold without being exposed to a virus. According to researchers, you can be virtually freezing to death but you’re no more likely to catch a cold than sitting in your warm living room. Studies have shown that cold temperature, wet hair and cold drafts have no relationship with catching a cold. Subjects who were exposed to freezing temperatures, icecold baths and sprays of cold water only caught colds when exposed to viruses, no matter how cold and wet they were. This myth has probably spread because people are more likely to catch a cold or flu in the colder months, however, this has more to do with lower humidity than a weaker immune system in colder weather.

Myth: Feed a fever, starve a cold.

One popular old wive’s tale is that you should “feed a fever and starve a cold.” This even gets mixed around the other way. However, it is poor science either way. Let common sense and your appetite be your guide: If you are hungry, eat; if you aren’t, don’t. A cold or flu can affect your ability to smell, which will diminish your taste, ultimately reducing your appetite. Restricting food does nothing to shorten the duration of a virus, which responds to little except time. Rather than fasting or feasting, it’s probably wise to take a moderate approach. However, consuming fluids is highly recommended, regardless of which approach you take. This myth has probably lasted because whichever way you look at this saying, you will probably be right! Whatever you do about colds and flu, these ailments will usually get better on their own in their own time. Infection gets better despite this advice, rather than because of it.

Myth: You can sweat out a cold.

When you have cold and flu symptoms, attempting to exercise or sweating out a cold may actually allow the viral infection to worsen. Physical activity will restrict immune function, as your body focuses on energy production and muscle rebuilding instead of fighting the virus. There may be some truth to the belief that if your symptoms are coldlike and above the neck (runny nose, sneezing, sore throat), it may be safe to exercise. However, if your symptoms are flu-like and include muscle aches, chills, coughing or high temperature, rest will lead to a faster recovery.

Myth: Vitamin C will prevent you from getting a cold.

There’s no hardand- fast scientific evidence that taking vitamin C limits your chances of contracting a cold. Vitamin C helps the immune system fight off infections in general, but not necessarily cold viruses specifically. Taking vitamin C may ease or diminish the duration of some cold symptoms for some people but for some colds, it offers no help.

Myth: Echinacea will prevent you getting a cold.

Despite its widespread use, scientific studies have proved that echinacea herbs or roots are no better than a placebo in preventing colds and upper respiratory infection. However, like vitamin C, it significantly reduces the development of a full cold once someone is infected and decreases the duration of the illness.

Myth: Chicken soup can cure the common cold.

Chicken soup is a good fluid replacement and, while it isn’t going to get rid of your cold or flu, it might help you feel better. The steamy vapour from any hot liquid will help loosen nasal mucus, clearing up congestion, letting you breathe a little easier. Other hot and spicy foods are likely to have the same effect, such as chili peppers, mustard, garlic, ginger and hot curry spices, not just chicken soup.

Myth: You can catch the flu from a flu shot.

The flu vaccine is made from an inactive virus, so you cannot get the flu from a shot. Some people may be sore at the spot where the vaccine is injected, experience fever, muscle aches and feel unwell for a day or two.

Myth: Antibiotics can speed your recovery from colds or flu.

Viruses cause both colds and flu, and antibiotics do not kill viruses. These prescription drugs are only beneficial for bacterial complications, such as sinusitis or ear infections that can develop as secondary infections. The use of antibiotics as a preventative measure will not stop secondary bacterial infections.