Cold season is coming. Your family might even have had a taste of the first few viruses already. Our immune system is a complex web of activity that keeps us safe 24/7. Getting a few colds a year isn’t a sign that you have a weakened immune system, it’s probably working just fine. But having a cold is certainly unpleasant and fortunately there are a few things we can do to help prevent a cold.
While there’s no wonder pill to super charge your immune system against the common cold, you can look after yourself to give your body a head start at fighting the viruses that cause the common cold. But you need to start now to get ready for cold season! So put down (throw out) the supermarket Echinacea tablets, they don’t work. If you read my post on multivitamins, you’ll know I’m not a fan of general use supplements – so try these real strategies instead. The bonus is they’re going to do wonders for your health year round.
How to beat cold season
1. Wash your hands
A cold is a virus, that we transfer to each other in droplets from sneezing, coughing and blowing our noses. Some viruses can survive on surfaces for hours. So washing your hands regularly can stop you passing those viruses that you’ve picked up by touching communal objects, to your nose and mouth. Keeping good hygiene especially in public places and when others in your household or workplace are sick can be the difference between staying healthy or coming down with a cold.
2. Eat more unprocessed plant foods
Everyone needs to eat more unprocessed plant foods, fruits, vegetables and wholegrains – especially more vegetables. These foods are high in fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. A diet high in unprocessed plant foods is associated with better gut health, better weight management and lower rates of disease. Getting our 2 fruit and 5 vegetables every day can also prevent nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to a weakened immune system.
3. Make sleep a priority
7+ hours a night is not optional luxury, it’s a necessary minimum for your long-term health. Sufficient sleep is associated with improved weight loss, chronic disease prevention, better mental health and fewer colds. Put some effort into managing your time so you spend more time in bed, reduce your screen time before sleep and try to get 8 hours a night.
4. Reduces stress
Easier said than done, I know. But reducing your stress levels is important for improving your gut health, mental wellbeing and also your immunity. Have you noticed that it’s when you have a hectic schedule and you feel run down that you get sick? While it’s often not possible to remove all our stress, we can exercise more and try basic meditation or stillness to help us cope and find moments of calm. If you find this challenging, try to implement a small ritual every day where you can be present, calm and in the moment. Like a few yoga movements, a cup of tea in your favourite chair, guided mediation, or even 5 slow, deep breaths to center yourself every time you wash your hands.
5. Keep active
Regular exercise improves your overall fitness which helps your immune system. Studies have shown that regular bouts of moderate intensity exercise (where you huff and puff) throughout the week can reduce the number of colds you get in a year. It can be hard to stay motivated and stick to your exercise routine during the cooler months so find something that you enjoy and do it often.
6. Look after your gut
Take a probiotic supplement or try to eat a fermented food (like yoghurt with live cultures, kimchi, sauerkraut, or tempeh) everyday. The area of gut health is still young, so we don’t have a lot of research on which probiotic supplements helping with the common cold, but those we do have show some promising results. If you want to try a supplement chose a good quality brand with the most populations and most varieties. Unfortunately, you do get what you pay for with supplements. Chat to your pharmacist, nutritionist or dietitian first as some probiotics can aggravate gut issues (such as IBS) in some people.
Make sure that you eat foods rich in prebiotics (see point 2) to feed the good bacteria.
7. Take a zinc supplement
When you first notice those around you present with symptoms or within 24 hours of your own symptoms appearing, get yourself a zinc supplement. It might not stop you getting your cold but studies have shown it to reduce duration of a cold by half, to around 4 days. We don’t have enough research yet to tell us which source is best or how much, but I find a moderate dose of 15mg twice a day, for up to 5-6 days, works well*.
While you might not be able to supercharge your immune system and live free from all colds and flu this winter, you can get yourself in your best health to reduce the chance of getting a cold and reducing the duration if you do get one.
*Limit intake of zinc from all sources (food + supplements) to 40mg a day for adults and less for kids. More than this can result in some nasty side effects including copper deficiency. Zinc is safe to take within these limits for pregnant or breastfeeding women too. Chat to your pharmacist or GP before taking a zinc supplement and mention any medications you are taking as they may have an interaction.
Improving your diet by switching from processed grains to wholefoods and more vegetables can be easier said than done, as is getting enough vegetables every single day (did you know 5 serves is the minimum?!). That’s why I offer meal plans with recipes I develop myself and practical, solution based consults for my private practice clients. Hit me up if you want a hand getting healthy and prepped for winter.