Respiratory infections such as the ‘common’ cold and influenza can occur at any time of the year but are most common during the winter months. It is estimated that approximately 4.5 million Australians experience a cold at least once a year. No wonder it is called ‘common’! Kids average six to eight colds a year and adults between two and four.
Colds and flus are not the same.
Influenza is much more serious and in some circumstances can be life threatening. Those most at risk of very serious illness are the elderly, the very young and those with severely compromised immunity. Most people who are relatively healthy will recover from a bout of influenza within a few days. However if you don’t look after your immune system you will be susceptible to a relapse or to ‘catching’ the next infection circulating in your environment.
How can I prevent colds and flus?
There are many things you can do, including natural remedies, to improve and maintain a healthy immune system which will reduce the likelihood of succumbing to any infection.
Colds and flus are very contagious and spread from person to person via droplets in the air from sneezing or coughing. You can become infected by touching a contaminated surface or by shaking hands and then transferring the virus to your mouth, eyes or nose.
- Wash your hands frequently, particularly if people around you have symptoms of cold or flu
- Try to avoid crowded places as much as possible during ‘flu season’
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, and whole grains. This ensures that you get vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are essential for a healthy immune system
- Eat adequate protein. This can be obtained from animal sources such as lean meat, chicken, fish and eggs or from plant sources such as legumes, beans, nuts and seeds
- Have lots of onion and garlic for their antimicrobial activity. Ginger and chili are very warming foods and can be beneficial, particularly in the colder months
- Get plenty of sleep and make time for relaxation and enjoyable activities
- Engage in moderate exercise at least four times per week to improve immunity and aid the elimination of wastes through the circulatory and lymphatic systems
- Avoid processed and sugary foods – these are often lacking in essential nutrients
I have a cold or flu, what do I do now?
If you have a cold or flu infection you need to take precautions that will prevent its spread and reduce its severity and duration.
- Follow the same hygiene principles mentioned above.
- Take time off work or school, rest and stay warm. Give the immune system a good chance to deal with the infection quickly and efficiently
- Eat nutritious foods and have plenty of fluids. Home-made soups with vegetables, add lots of ginger and garlic. Soups are very nutritious and boost the immune system but do not take lots of energy to digest, leaving more energy for the immune system to do its job
- Avoid cold drinks and foods, fatty foods and foods containing sugar and artificial additives
- Keep in mind that excessive dairy foods may increase mucus production, so limit your intake of these foods
- If you feel feverish make a cup of Immune Zinger drink (recipe below), rug up, go to bed and sweat it out. You can repeat this as often as needed until the feverish symptoms have passed.
- A hot bath can also help to induce sweating
- Great herbs that can support the immune system and help to reduce to severity and duration of your infection include Echinacea, Andrographis, Elderberry and Olive Leaf Extract. Visit your local Naturopath or Herbalist to get the best natural remedies for you and to check the correct doses
- Vitamin C, Zinc and Vitamin A supplements can also help when you have a cold or flu as these nutrients support the immune system.
- Don’t take pain relievers to reduce your fever. A fever is the body’s way of fighting the virus and helping you to recover quicker. Pain relievers don’t allow the immune system to do their job properly.
Immune Zinger Drink
Place the following ingredients into a mug:
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon of finely chopped or grated fresh ginger or 1⁄4 teaspoon dried ginger
- A pinch of chili powder or a little chopped fresh chili
- 1-2 cloves of garlic crushed or finely chopped
- 1-2 teaspoons honey
Add boiling water and cover for about 10 minutes. Rug up, stay warm and enjoy this delicious brew. It will encourage a mild fever and induce sweating. Fever is one of the body’s first defences against infection and may help to relieve the symptoms.