The cold and flu season is unfortunately upon us! The common cold and seasonal flu are caused by viruses and as most of us know, flu symptoms are usually more serious than the sneezing and blocked nose that you associate with a common cold – Symptoms of flu include fever, headaches, muscle aches and make us feel low and miserable.
Colds and flu are more common in winter because people spend more time in close contact with each other, allowing the viruses to spread more easily. The virus can be spread in the air, by sneezing or coughing or by touching an area where the virus has landed.
So what can we do to help prevent colds and flu this season?
- This may sound simple, but the number one way to prevent colds/flu is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds to kill viruses and to reduce spreading these germs.
- Having a good night’s sleep, ideally 7-9 hours per day. Sleep helps us to repair and fight off toxins and bacteria that we have come into contact with, boosting our immune system. Studies have shown that we are more prone to cold viruses when we have less than 7 hours sleep. A lack of sleep has the opposite effect and supresses our immune system.
- Taking time to relax and de-stress – Stress is known to suppress your immune system and there is evidence to show that when you de-stress e.g. meditation, it boosts your immune function.
- Stay active throughout winter – Exercise boosts your immune system by increasing your circulation. Increased circulation allows antibodies to travel through the bloodstream faster, allowing your immune system to fight off any illnesses, increasing your body’s natural virus-killing cells. Exercise also reduces stress levels and boosts happy endorphins.
- Drink plenty of fluid – Water oxygenates the blood and flushes out harmful toxins from your body helping to fight off illnesses. Drinking water will also help organs like your eyes and mouth to remain moist and repel contaminants that could cause colds/flu.
- Include lots of colourful foods full of phytonutrients (phytochemicals) in your meals. – “Phyto” means plants, and these chemicals help protect plants from germs, fungi, bugs, and threats, giving us supercharged vitamins when we eat them. Eat a rainbow of dark green, red, and yellow vegetables and fruits. Citrus fruits, berries, apricots, carrots and beetroots are full of vitamin A and C to support the immune system.
- Avoid refined sugar as much as possible as this can interfere with both digestion and lower the immune system. Sugar competes with Vitamin C in the body, so the more sugar you eat, the less vitamin C you’ll have to use.
- Make the most of fresh air – breathe deeply outside to help the lymphatic system move protective immune cells around the body. Even opening the window for a few minutes every hour and renewing the air inside can help.
- Reduce alcohol consumption – moderate alcohol consumption suppresses your central nervous system, and therefore your immune system. Heavy drinking curbs the immune system and dehydrates your body. An increase in alcohol consumption can increase a person’s exposure to bacterial and viral infections.
The NHS Flu Fighter campaign is an important initiative designed to protect front line NHS staff who are at and come into contact with high risk groups of patients. If you would like information on the flu jab – click here. Or please contact your employer for further details.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (2018) Preventing the Flu. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits/index.htm
Obasi C N, et al (2012) Advantage of meditation over exercise in reducing cold and flu illness is related to improved function and quality of life. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3582749/
Sanchez A., et al. Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 26(11). 1180-1184. Web: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/26/11/1180.abstract
Woods J A, et al (2009) Exercise, Inflammation and Innate Immunity. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/24355072_Exercise_Inflammation_and_Innate_Immunity