Winter colds and flu seem like a fact of life when season change, but they needn't be. Natural remedies and the right diet can minimise your misery and even help you sidestep the sniffles entirely. Maintaining a strong immune system is the best way to stay healthy and nature's pharmacy has plenty on offer to help you.
These are my top ten tips for your battle with the bugs.
1. Drink plenty of fluids, especially pure water, preferably 2 litres a day. This is essential as your body can only overcome illness when it's well hydrated. Avoid sugary drinks and those containing stimulants, such as alcohol and caffeine.
2. Get a daily dose of fresh air and at least 20 minutes of daylight to boost your vitamin D levels (making sure you wrap up well of course).
3. Your body needs all its energy to aid your recovery, so get plenty of sleep and avoid 'challenging' foods such as refined sugar, wheat and dairy products, which take more energy to digest. If you have a mucus-related problem, such as a blocked nose or sinuses, reducing your dairy intake is especially important.
4. Choose fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C and flavonoids, the anti-inflammatory compounds that work alongside vitamin C. Among the best are citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes and parsley. As well as being anti-viral and anti-bacterial, vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means it mops up damaging free radicals. Since it's susceptible to heat, it's richest in raw produce - as always, the fresher the better.
5. Get plenty of the most important immune boosting mineral - zinc. Sadly, soil depletion and food processing have made zinc deficiency fairly common. Beef, lamb, crab, clams, pecan and brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, lentils and oats are all good sources. Best of all are oysters, which have ten times the level of other foods.
6. Garlic has wonderful anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. When fighting infection try to eat at least two finely chopped raw cloves per day. Otherwise one a day can keep the snuffles at bay. If you swallow it with water, rather than chewing, your breath will hardly suffer.
7. Liven up your diet with the following herbs: Sage has antiseptic and anti-mucosal properties, so helps clear catarrh, ease sore throats and fend off germs. Thyme contains high levels of thymol, a powerfully antiseptic oil, which can fight infections of the respiratory tract.
Rosemary helps the circulation and is rich in anti-microbial bioactive oils. Historically, sage and thyme have been used as throat gargles, both individually and in combination. Alternatively, you can make tea from all three by steeping one teaspoon of the chopped herb for 15 minutes in slightly cooled boiled water.
8. Onions, especially red and yellow varieties, are one of the richest sources of the flavonoid - quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. They also contain fructooligosaccharides, a type of fibre, which encourages helpful bacteria in the digestive tract (good digestion is vital for a strong immune system).
9. Ginger is another of nature's digestive aids. Its warming oils have potent expectorant and antiseptic properties too. And, since it also boosts the circulation and promotes perspiration, it's a great aid to detoxification during colds and flu.
10. Try one of our most abundant but least used tree fruits, elderberries. They're rich in vitamins A, B and C, and other micronutrients, including the pigment anthocyanin, which is a powerful antioxidant. As they're very sour, you may find them more palatable in a cordial (there are plenty of recipes online, but go easy on the sugar). Alternatively, elderberry extract is available from many health food stores.
A cold-busting tea recipe
If you're laid low during the dark months, this warming power-packed drink will help put you on the road to recovery.
- 2 litres of water
- 2 large onions, sliced
- A large piece of fresh ginger (2-3 inches), finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced per mug
- The juice of half a fresh lemon per mug
Boil the water, then add the onions and ginger, and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow it to cool a little, strain the tea into a mug, add some lemon juice and garlic, and sweeten with honey to taste (don't add these last three ingredients to boiling hot tea as heat reduces their healing properties). You'll have enough for a day's supply.
Read more features on food and health by Anja Liebe at Body in Balance.