It seems to have been a particularly bad year for winter colds. Did you manage to avoid the lurgies doing the rounds? I rarely get ill now, but this week I was beaten! Even so, it only stuck around for a few days. Here I share my personal tips and tricks.
In summary, for those short of time, I’d say:
Eat right, hydrate well, sleep
Not a bad mantra for life in general. But if you want to really try and fight off colds for good, here are some pretty easy steps you can take to set your defence shields to maximum and, in doing so, really improve your overall health and vitality.
My dad has a hatred of being around people with colds. If I turn up at his house with a runny nose I’m kept at a very long distance. He prefers to work from home to avoid people in the office or on trains who may be infectious, and can spot a sneeze a mile off! Whether it is this extreme aversion that is to thank or not, my dad very rarely gets ill. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the garlic supplements he has taken every day for most of his life that go some way to help as well.
Getting colds is something that a lot of us just accept and expect, but is it really unavoidable? From personal experience, I used to work a stressful job and not take too much time looking after myself. I would get a cold approximately every 6-8 weeks that I’d not be able to shift for a week or 2 at least. I didn’t think much of this, assuming it was normal really. It was not!
How often do you get ill? And when you get ill, how long does it last? Obviously there is huge natural variation in the frequency of illness and it depends on a vast array of factors, but it can be a really important sign of your overall health.
Since tweaking my lifestyle and changing what I eat, I am very proud that I have gone from being ill 10 times a year to only once or twice, if that, and can usually spot the triggers that set me off.
Like my dad, many of us assume that we get a cold because we’ve come into contact with a contagious person and that is that. Obviously a cold virus has to enter your body in order for you to suffer the symptoms, but it is nearly impossible to avoid this, unless you plan to live in quarantine – not recommended!
So if we are all exposed to these viruses in our everyday lives, how can we avoid getting ill? Please welcome your new best friend…your immune system.
Your immune system describes all the tools in your body that seek out and destroy foreign microorganisms in your body.
As mentioned above, there is a lot of natural variation in this, but there is a lot that you can do to boost your immune system. What you eat is what fuels you. Yes, your body can do an awful lot on its own, but it needs you to fill it with all the right vitamins and minerals.
Don’t accept cold season as an inevitability, put your fists up and fight if off with these easy to follow tips and tricks:
Prevention is better than cure
We have gotten far too deep into a culture where we just treat ourselves to dull the symptoms of conditions that we end up with. Why not do something to prevent disease in the first place?!
- Sleep! When I don’t get enough sleep I can feel my body suffering, and anytime I feel a bit under the weather, it is most often because I had a couple of late nights. Everyone is different but the common recommendation is 8 hours and this is a good amount to aim for in an ideal world. Do what you can but try to prioritise some shut-eye.
- Hydrate. Make sure to drink plenty of water. Aim for 1.5-2 litres a day. Make it interesting by adding whole pieces of fruit or even cucumber, or drink herbal teas instead. Just keep sipping throughout the day.
- Eat right. This is hard to summarise in short but, in general, avoid processed foods, always, eat lots of vegetables and eat variety – this way you’re most likely to provide your body with all of the essential vitamins and minerals required.
- Take a probiotic supplement. The ‘friendly’ bacteria in your gut have a huge impact on your immune system; a link that many people don’t consider. But if you have a healthy gut flora, they help to outcompete the foreign invaders and support your immune system. There are other ways to take probiotics, eg in yoghurt, but beware that this sometimes means having to eat a lot of sugar along with the probiotics in order to get the required dose, let alone being more expensive and difficult to get your daily dose compared with just taking a pill. Ask at your health food store about a high quality probiotic to make sure you don’t waste your money.
- Balance blood sugar. Did you know that glucose competes with vitamin C to get into your cells? If you eat too much sugar, it’s harder for the vitamin C to enter your cells where it is needed to aid your immune system. Excess sugar also feeds the bad bugs in your body and gives them more chance to thrive, so avoid the sweet stuff and, if you must, eat it as part of a balanced meal with a quality source of fat or fibre to slow down the absorption into your blood.
- Watch your alcohol consumption. Partly for the reason above and partly for the reason below. You don’t want to overload on the high levels of sugar often found in alcoholic drinks and you don’t want to overwork your liver when dealing with the toxins you expose it to with excessive alcohol consumption.
- Avoid environmental toxins. Your body, mostly your liver, is very capable of detoxing. It is doing this all day every day. This is why the idea of a ‘detox’ rustles some peoples feathers. Nothing you eat or drink will detox you directly, but it can help to support your body’s natural detoxification mechanisms. You are being exposed to toxins everywhere, even in your own home. Much is unavoidable, but this is all the more reason why it can be of great benefit to try and reduce your ‘toxic load’. If your body is working too hard detoxifying, it may be less able to fight an infection quickly enough to prevent illness. Cue the runny nose and sore throat! So avoid cosmetics with excess, unnecessary chemicals, such as deodorants, toothpaste and shower products (common culprits that we use so regularly) and swap them for eco-friendly alternatives. Avoid toxic cleaning products and go for eco versions or homemade options like lemon, vinegar and baking soda. Avoid air conditioning for long periods of time if possible. Filter your water the best you can and don’t drink or eat from plastic containers.
- Get plenty of fresh air. People sometimes think that it is the cold that makes us ill more in winter but we often spend too much time indoors at this time of year in cramped, overheated areas with insufficient air flow where bugs love to breed. Keep the heating off the maximum setting and benefit from being a little cooler, or open the window once in a while!
If you feel it coming
Ensure you are already doing all of the above, plus, for some extra defences:
- Up your vegetable intake. An easy way to do this is by making your own juices. Go for juices made with a vast majority of vegetables and not too much fruit, as juiced fruit, without the fibre that comes with the whole fruit, can be very high in sugar.
- Take a good multivitamin. The kind that costs a bit more and requires you to take 2-3 tablets a day, as these are basic clues that the nutrients will be in a form that your body can actually utilise, unlike some of the cheaper varieties on the market.
- Garlic and honey. This one is not for the faint hearted but it’s powerful stuff so try to be brave! Very finely chop up a garlic clove and mix well with a teaspoon of raw (unheated) honey. Hold your nose, put it in your mouth and swallow; chewing is not recommended! Garlic and honey both have strong healing properties that will support your immunity and give you the boost you need.
- Echinacea. I find this is best saved for moments you need it but a few drops in a little water 3 times a day if you feel a tiny bit under the weather may help to stave off a cold.
- Warm drinks. Keep hydrated as always but you may find it soothing to keep the herbal teas flowing. A favourite of mine is a warm mug of water steeped with fresh ginger root, turmeric root and lemon; add a little honey too if you wish. This is so warming, comforting and also powerfully healing.
If it hits
Continue with all of the above…and follow these extra little tips to get you feeling better quicker.
- Avoid drugs that mask symptoms. Sometimes you just have to get through the day and the pain/discomfort is just too much and you may need to reach for the pharmaceuticals, but try to avoid it if you can. You are much better off if you can rest up and listen to the symptoms of your body – they are there for a reason afterall! A fever, for example, is your body’s way of trying to kill off the bad bugs, so taking drugs to ease a fever may prevent your body from achieving this and may keep you feeling unwell for longer.
- Rest. Listen to your body and do what feels right for you. But this isn’t a time to push yourself to the max.
- Don’t automatically ask for antibiotics! Isn’t it frustrating when you feel rotten, go to your doctor and they say there’s nothing they can do ‘it’s a virus’? But they are likely correct. Antibiotics are unable to kill a virus and, even worse, will disrupt your friendly gut flora (read above) which may weaken your own natural immune responses. Sometimes they may be the right thing for you if you have a more serious bacterial infection, but bear this information in mind and don’t rely upon antibiotics because they may do some harm as well as good. (Not to mention the scary problem of the antibiotic resistance increasing worldwide, in part due to their overuse.)
As a final note, obviously some of these tips are great in theory but difficult to maintain in practice – I am living proof of that after getting a sniffle myself this week – but do your best as much as you can and you will definitely feel like it’s worth it when you can go without a cold for months at a time!
Q: Do you have any of your own cold-busting methods?
Q: Will you try any of those above?
Let me know by commenting below.