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Keep colds and flu at bay

As the days get cooler and shorter and you spend more time indoors, you're more at risk of getting sick. It happens to us all. There you are innocently minding your own business, getting on with your life, when you notice that tell-tale little tickle at the back of your throat. But help is at hand.


Here are a few simple steps you can take to reduce the odds of getting sick.

Hand washing is the easiest natural cold remedy, not to mention that it's absolutely free! Washing your hands regularly and not touching your face are the best preventative measures you can take to avoid contracting colds and flu, according to Pretoria-based family physician Dr Bets Breedt. 'Flu viruses are often transmitted via hands touching infected surfaces, so if you wash regularly and don't touch your mucous membranes (your nose and eyes) you lower your risk of getting infected.' Keep a sanitising gel or alcohol-based hand wipes with you at all times so that you can reduce your exposure to germs in public places such as the supermarket and on trains or buses.

Allowing your body to rest and regenerate with at least eight hours of sleep a night means it will be healthy, refreshed, and ready to fight off germs. 'Sleep has an infl uence on the health of the white blood cells that protect us against infection,' says Dr Breedt. 'Lack of sleep causes a suppression in T-cells and CD4 cells, which fight viruses.'

It can be difficult to motivate yourself to venture outside in cold weather, but research shows a link between moderate, regular exercise and a strong immune system. Try to keep your usual exercise regime intact as the days grow shorter, or step it up if you have a fairly sedentary lifestyle.

Drinking enough water rids your body of toxins, keeps it hydrated and helps it to function more efficiently.


If your urine is almost colourless, you are getting enough fluids. If not, you need to drink more. 'It can be easy to forget to drink enough water during the cold season,' says Cape Town dietician Lauren Pietersen, of the Heart and Stoke Foundation South Africa. 'Luckily, a cup of rooibos tea (black, or with a little milk) with limited sugar or a sweetener counts as a cup of water.'

This will ensure you're getting the recommended daily amount of vitamin E and other antioxidants, including A, C and B-complex vitamins and minerals, which have properties that enhance immune response. 'In this day and age it is almost impossible to say every one of us follows a perfectly healthy, balanced diet at all times,' says Pietersen, ‘and therefore we may all benefit from taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement on a daily basis as a precautionary measure.’ Echinacea, taken in tincture form, will also help to boost your immune system. It is thought to encourage the production of a substance called interferon, a key part of the body's response to viral infections.

Research shows that smokers are not only more likely to pick up colds and flu, but their symptoms last longer and they are more apt to turn into serious illnesses such as pneumonia. Even if you are not a smoker, try to stay out of the way of cigarette smoke to minimise your risk of illness.





'Stress has a negative effect on the immune system, as well as on sugar metabolism and the heart, due to an increase in stress hormones,' says Dr Breedt. Pietersen adds that, apart from the damaging eff ects of these hormones, 'some people may react to stress in such a way that they practise poor eating habits, or even abuse alcohol, amongst other factors, which will also have an eff ect on the body's immune response'. So make time to kick back with family and friends, or just curl up with a good book - whatever helps you unwind – on a regular basis.

Dark green, red and yellow fruits and vegetables are best as they contain phytochemicals, powerful antioxidants that can increase our resistance to disease and boost immunity. Yoghurt can also help to reduce your chances of getting sick, as it contains bacteria that is beneficial to your immune system.

'Flu viruses are transmitted by air (droplets) so keep away from people who are sneezing and coughing without covering their mouth or nose,' says Dr Breedt. If you need to sneeze, always sneeze into a tissue and discard the tissue immediately. If you don't have one, sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not into your hands. It may sound strange, but since your hands are a common source of germs, keeping your hands clean will prevent the germs from spreading further.

Getting the flu vaccine can serve as an added precaution against colds and flu. It is especially advisable for pregnant women, those younger than six or older than 65, people with certain chronic medical conditions, especially heart and/or lung disease and diabetes, and people with suppressed immune systems, like those who are HIV positive

Common cold and flu myths

  MYTH: Going outside with wet hair, or ‘catching a chill’, will make you sick.
FACT: Colds and flu are caused by viruses. They do circulate during coldweather seasons, but you’re more likely to pick them up inside than out.

MYTH: Feed a cold, starve a fever.
FACT: If you have the flu (or a cold) and a fever, you need more fluids.
There's little reason to increase or decrease how much you eat. Though you may have no appetite, ‘starving’ yourself will accomplish little. And poor nutrition will not help you get better.

MYTH: Exercise will ‘sweat out’ a cold.
FACT: A run, a gym workout or any other form of strenuous exercise is more likely to prolong or worsen a cold than to cure it. Rest is vital. In fact, exercising while you have flu can be dangerous if you have heart muscle inflammation due to the virus.

MYTH: Whisky or brandy is a good treatment for a cold and makes you feel warmer.
FACT: Alcohol can make you feel warmer, but it actually lowers your core body temperature. Not only is alcohol ineffective in warding off illness, but, in cold environments, may hasten hypothermia.



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