It’s that time of the year, where every other person you pass is either coughing or sniffing.
It’s hard to avoid dreaded cold and flu season entirely – short of barricading yourself in your home, but there are ways you can cut down the likelihood of catching a virus.
From supplements that boost your immune system to eating the right food and expert tips on getting your body fighting fit to battle bugs, we have everything you need to get you through this season without the sniffles…
1. Stay warm
Ever get told ‘You’ll catch your death’?
Your nan was onto something.
A Yale University study found the immune system doesn’t work as well in chilly weather.
‘Viruses don’t like your body to be warm, so dressing for the cold may help ward them off before they take hold,’ says nutritional therapist Alison Cullen on behalf of Avogel.
2. Prioritise sleep
‘While you’re asleep, your body secretes hormones involved in fighting disease,’ says GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer of Healthspan.
‘People who sleep for 7-8 hours have better immunity than those who are sleep-deprived.’
If you’re low on zzzs, make up for it with an immune-boosting nap, says Alison.
‘One study found just a 30-minute daytime nap was enough to counteract the effect of poor night-time sleep on stress and immune markers.’
3. Wear a scarf
‘The moisture and hair inside your nose acts as a protective barrier and traps viruses so your immune defences can deal with them before they multiply,’ says Dr Brewer.
‘If your nose gets too cold or dry, this line of defence stops working properly.
‘It helps to wear a scarf around your nose, and use nasal spray to counteract drying central heating.’
4. Keep it clean
While you’re right to back away from anyone hacking and coughing, you’re more likely to pick up cold viruses from something you touch than the air you breathe.
‘Cold viruses often lurk on surfaces, such as door knobs, as they’re often touched after sneezing,’ says Dr Brewer.
‘Wash your hands regularly and carry hand sanitiser.’
No way to clean your hands?
Avoid touching your eyes or nose, says immunologist Dr Ross Walton.
‘This is a very common route for viruses to get into your system.’
5. Exercise at the right level
‘Moderate exercise keeps immune cells circulating and counters the sapping effects of stress, so resist the urge to hibernate,’ says Alison.
‘However, intense exercise increases demands on your body and suppresses immunity, leaving you more vulnerable to winter bugs.’
So maybe this isn’t the time to take up marathon training.
6. Get the flu jab
Colds are one thing, but flu is the winter illness to really avoid.
Last year there was a fall in the flu jab uptake, particularly among the over-65s.
‘Worryingly, this is the group least able to fight off the flu virus and most vulnerable to potentially life-threatening complications like pneumonia,’ says Dr Walton.
He urges people not to be put off by ‘fake news’.
‘It’s a myth having the flu jab can give you flu.
‘At worst, you might feel a little below par for a few days as your immune system makes antibodies against the vaccine’s weakened form of the virus.’
It’s true the jab can’t protect against all strains of flu, and its effectiveness varies from year to year.
‘But getting vaccinated saves lives,’ says Dr Walton.
‘If you’re offered it, have it. If you’re not at-risk, you’re still helping to reduce the spread of flu to those who are.
I certainly have one every year.’
Fact: You have a 95% chance of being infected if you encounter a new cold virus, but having a strong immune system gives you a chance of fighting it off before it actually makes you ill.
7. Take supplements that could help
‘This has perhaps the most complete evidence in terms of cold prevention,’ says Dr Walton.
‘A large study at The Institute Of Common Cold on preventative use of A.Vogel Echinaforce, £4.99, over four months found a 59% reduction in recurrent colds, and a reduction in severity and duration of symptoms.’
Over 70% of your body’s immune system is located in your gut, so the right balance of gut bacteria is critical for good immunity, says Solgar’s Paul Chamberlain.
‘Solgar’s new Ultibio Immune, £31.25, provides patented immune support shown to reduce the frequency of infections, and can be as part of a daily winter wellness regime.’
‘Diet comes first, but this guards against deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamins C and D, selenium and iron that can affect immunity,’ says Dr Brewer.
‘One study showed older people who took multivitamins for one year had half as many days ill with infections compared with those who didn’t.’
It’s not just what you eat, but how
1. Chew your food well
‘Stomach acid destroys certain viruses, and chewing food well stimulates this important line of defence,’ says Alison.
‘Avoid drinking with meals, as liquids dilute stomach acid.
‘I see a lot of clients who suffer repeated infections linked to low stomach acid.
‘If you’re on acid-suppressing medication, discuss with your GP to see if it’s still necessary.’
2. Eat hot meals
People assume ‘healthy food’ means raw salads, but it’s a good idea to go for nutritious cooked meals this time of year, says Alison.
‘When you eat cold food, your body spends energy warming it up, which means less energy to power the immune system.’
3. Immunity boosters
Dr Brewer’s cold-proofing diet tips
Fruit provides so many immune-boosting antioxidants with the greatest protection coming from pomegranates, prunes, plums, green peppers (a fruit!), berries, cherries, black grapes and apples.
Veg with the highest levels of immune-boosting phytochemicals include purple-red cabbage, beetroot, kidney beans and aubergines.
Onions and garlic contain chemicals that help protect against colds.
– Oily fish
Salmon, mackerel and sardines provide omega-3 fats, which help cells respond to immune signals and fight infections more quickly.
If you don’t eat oily fish once a week, consider an omega-3 supplement.