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Top Tips on Preventing Colds & Flu

With the winter months upon us many struggle with colds and the flu. On average adults get two or three colds a year with some lasting from several days to weeks. 

Registered Nutritionist and Health Writer Daisy Ilchovska discusses how diet, supplements and lifestyle changes may help boost your health during flu season. 

Prevention, managing symptoms, and boosting the immune system each play an important role in the management of such infections. 

tips on avoiding flu

Lifestyle

Washing your hands

This is a rather obvious one and we have been doing a lot of it throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, but washing hands with soap, for at least 20 seconds is still one of the best ways to prevent respiratory infections such as influenza.

Covering your mouth and nose

This is another rather obvious one but covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing/ sneezing may help with infection spread. If your hands are not free or you don’t have a tissue you can cough or sneeze into your sleeve.

Sleep

Sleep has an important physiological function, which links to immunity, which in turn helps fight off viruses and infections. Aiming for at least 8 hours sleep (ideally between 10:00 pm – 7:00 am) at night may help your immune function. Eating an earlier dinner, avoiding alcohol and also avoiding blue light exposure from screens may help you get a more restful sleep. 

Exercise

Physical activity such as yoga, walking, stretching at least 2/3 times per week helps boost the function of your immune system by raising the levels of white blood cells, which fight infection. In addition, exercise can also help boost mood, detoxify and build muscle.

Managing Symptoms

Self-care

It is important when you are dealing with any kind of infection to give your body time to recover and get enough rest. It is also important to keep hydrated with hot drinks such as herbal teas and soups/broths. 

Practising self-care can be difficult if you are a carer, but it makes it even more important. Read our guide to care for the carer.

diet tips for avoiding flu this winter

Sore throat

Saltwater gargles can help loosen mucus and fend off infections. Lozenges with Echinacea and Manuka honey may also be really soothing too. 

Congestion

Steam inhalers, vaporisers or spending more time in a steamy room such as the shower may be able to help relieve congestion. 

Diet

In addition to keeping hydrated and consuming warm soups and broths it is really important to consume antioxidant rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. These are usually rich in Vitamin C, which has immune boosting properties. Sugary snacks such as biscuits and muffins and too many refined carbohydrates such as breads, pastas, pastries etc. have actually been found to supress the immune system for over five hours, which is not what you need when you are fighting a cold or the flu. 

Supplements

Vitamin C

Vitamin C may help to prevent infections caused by bacteria and viruses and also shorten the duration of colds. This vitamin is not very well absorbed though, the best absorbed form is Liposomal Vitamin C, but don’t forget that plenty of fruits and vegetables such as peppers, kiwi, oranges etc. also contain it, so make sure you eat plenty of these. 

Zinc

Zinc is an important mineral that boosts the immune system and it has been found to be especially effective if taken within 24 hours of the onset of the cold. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, also called the ‘sunshine vitamin’ as we produce it from bare skin exposure to the sun is especially important for the immune system, particularly in the winter months. The most bio available formulation (the form our bodies can use) is D3 and is best taken with another Vitamin called K2. Some people taking blood thinning medication such as Warfarin have to be careful when taking K2 though as it also has blood thining effects.

Garlic

Garlic also known as ‘nature’s antibiotic’ has also been found to be effective in upper respiratory tract infections. You can cook with it, add to broths and also buy it in a supplement form. 

Elderberry

The berries and flowers of elderberry plant are full of antioxidants and vitamins that may boost the immune system against the flu. You can take it as a supplement, lozenges, tea and there is also a particularly effective liquid extract called Sambucol which also contains elderberry. 

Echinacea

Echinacea is a pretty flowering plant from the daisy family and has been found to be particularly effective against the common cold. You can take it as tablets, tinctures or tea, but people with some autoimmune conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Multiple Sclerosis have to be careful as it may over-stimulate the immune system and cause a flare up in their symptoms if taken longer term.