If you are fit and your immune system is in the peak of health, you can often fight off these infectious without developing sniffles, coughs, sneezes or sore throats. It is usually when you are stressed, lacking in nutrients or feeling tired and run down that symptoms tend to strike and never more so than during the colder winter months.
Even a minor lack of some nutrients can lower your immunity and lead to increased risk of disease, for example viral infections are also more likely in those lacking selenium or vitamin C.
Eating your 5-a-day fruit and vegetables helps to maximise your intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. While as many as possible should be eaten raw or lightly steamed, to preserve their nutrient content, winter warmers such as vegetable soups and stews are great for boosting immunity, too. The essential fatty acids found in oily fish are also important for immune function by regulating immune reactions to infection. Aim to eat at least two or three portions of oily fish per week (or take fish oil supplements). Add plenty of garlic and warming spices such as ginger and turmeric, all of which have natural antibacterial and anti-viral effects. If you are not sure if you are getting enough nutrients from your diet take a good quality Multivitamin and mineral supplement. Research involving 96 older people showed that those taking multivitamins for one year had better immune function, mounted a better response to influenza vaccination, and had half as many days ill with infections compared with those not taking multivitamin supplements.
Smoking can contribute significantly to vulnerability to infection. Respiratory illnesses are more common in smokers and those exposed to passive smoking. Avoid smoky atmospheres that damage the nasal lining so cold viruses are more likely to take hold. Cigarette smoking uses up a greater quantity of vitamin C, therefore if you do smoke increase your intake of vitamin c rich food such as fruit and veg or consider boosting your levels with a vitamin C supplements.
Reduce your stress.When you are stressed and run down, you are twice as likely to develop symptoms when exposed to a common cold virus. This is thought to be a result of high levels of stress hormones and depleted adrenal glands that interfere with immune function. If you are under a lot of stress you may benefit from a supplement such as Ginseng or Rhodiola to support your body’s ability to manage stress and increase resistance to infection.
Regular exercise can boost your immunity so get moving, however keep a balance as those who over-exercise, such as those running marathons, are more at risk of viral illnesses due to the physical stress they are under.
Sleep is a time of relaxation, regeneration and rejuvenation in which you secrete substances involved in healing and fighting disease. If you are not getting the quota that your body needs each night you could have an increased risk of getting ill. If you sleep badly one night, do your best to catch up with it the following night. If you are finding it difficult to sleep consider herbal remedies such as passion flower, rhodiola or valerian that can ease anxiety and naturally induce sleep.
Keep your guts friendly bacteria in good shape. Most of your immune defences are housed in the wall of your small intestines. Beneficial probiotic bacteria stimulate immunity here. They secrete natural antibiotics and protect against viral infections.
Monitor your alcohol intake. In small amounts, alcohol may protect against the common cold, but when you drink more than recommended amounts, your immune function is impaired.
Wrap up warm. The old wives’ tale about catching a cold if you get wet and shivery appears to have some basis in fact. When you feel cold, blood is directed away from your peripheries, including your nose, so respiratory infections meet less resistance to their attack.