As we leave the balmy summer days behind, it is time to start preparing for winter wellness. This is the time of year where many suffer from colds. Now is the ideal time to consider your immune system and ways to give it a boost.
Colds and the flu traditionally tend to flare up at this time of year and can take weeks to recover from. The cold virus tends to attach itself to the soft, warm surfaces of the nose, throat and sinuses. The first symptom is often an irritation or soreness in the throat. Colds are at their most contagious during the first two to four days after the symptoms appear and can remain contagious for up to three weeks.
There are many different remedies for colds on the market – however there is no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics, which treat infections caused by bacteria, do not have any effect on cold viruses. If the cold is causing symptoms such as muscle pain, headaches or a sore throat, you can take painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol to lesson any discomfort.
Nasal sprays can help to clear a blocked nose. Natural herbal cough remedies and tinctures may reduce any coughing fits.
There are also a number of vitamin supplements which are popular in treating colds.
Lastly, one of the most popular herbs to use is Echinacea which helps the body fight the symptoms of a cold by strengthening the immune system.
Cold versus flu
Although the common cold and flu share similar symptoms they are quite different infections. Flu is caused by a specific group of viruses known as the influenza virus.
Symptoms of flu are usually more severe than with colds. Additional symptoms may also be experienced – fever, nausea, chills and sweats, headache, aching muscles and loss of appetite.
Those with weaker immune function (due to illness, stress, lifestyle habits) are more likely to catch a cold or flu than the average healthy adult.
What is the immune system?
The immune system exists to protect our body against infection. It is made up of special blood cells, proteins, organs and other tissues – all designed to defend and support our body against invading organisms.
Weak immune function makes it more difficult for the body to withstand infection, so an early sign of a weak immune system is a tendency for the body to pick up infections such as colds and flu.
Why might you have weak immune function?
• Eating a bad diet
• Eating lots of fatty foods
• Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
• Being stressed and unhappy
• Not getting enough sleep
Ten tips to stay healthy and avoid colds and flu
1 Wash your hands
Common cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact. Avoid people with colds or the flu– viruses spread from their hands to door handles, the telephone or the keyboard and can live for hours on these surfaces. The next person touching the same object will pick up these bugs, so wash your hands often or use alcohol-based hand sanitisers to prevent these viruses passing into your body.
2 Use tissues and throw them away
These are great for preventing the spread of colds and flu, but remember that they can harbour viruses and contaminate any surface they come in contact with.
3 Drink plenty of fluid
Avoid becoming dehydrated – a typical healthy adult needs around 1.5 litres of water each day. Drinking water flushes out your system and helps keep your immune system strong.
4 Control stress
It is well known that stress can weaken your immune system and may make you more likely to catch a cold than your calmer counterparts.
5 Eat well
A diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help you avoid many health problems. Foods rich in vitamins A and C such as citrus fruit, dark blue and red berries, mangoes, apricots, carrots and beetroot support the immune system.
6 Avoid alcohol
We know this seems boring, but drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is bad for immune cells, which become disorientated and confused…just like us.
7 Get plenty fresh air
Avoid getting stuck in a room full of people with stale air. Find fresh air and breathe deeply. This helps the lymphatic system move protective immune cells around the body.
8 Get more sleep
Achieving restful sleep each night (8 hours) helps the body repair itself and build the immune system. If you need help sleeping, see our tips on how you can sleep better.
9 Avoid smoking
This is an irritant to the delicate tissues of your respiratory tract and increases your susceptibility to viruses that cause colds and flu.
10 Keep warm
When you are feeling a bit vulnerable to infection, stay out of the cold night air and avoid the direct stream of air-conditioned air.
To discuss your winter wellness, visit your local health store or natural health professional. www.naturallyhealthy.co.nz