With over 2,000 cold viruses doing the rounds, it’s no wonder approximately 9 million people will find themselves coughing and sneezing during the festive season*.
“Extra stress at this time of year, coupled with less sleep, stuffy central heating and more boozing can take its toll on your immune system,” explains dietician Hala El-Shafie from Nutrition Rocks.
Yet with umpteen presents to buy, a diary full of Christmas parties to attend and multiple batches of mince pies to bake, there’s just not enough time to be feeling under the weather. Thankfully, with a few simple lifestyle changes and some expert rescue remedies, you can beat the winter bugs.
“What you eat can keep you in fine form to the big day and beyond,” promises Hala. Here are her top tips:
EAT A BIG BREKKIE It really is the most important meal of the day – research from the Netherlands has found that a hearty breakfast can help quash the cold virus. This is because eating big in the morning causes a 450 per cent rise in our levels of gamma interferon – an antiviral protein that interferes with a virus’ ability to replicate, while allowing good cells to activate the body’s defences.
Hala also suggests eating 60g of almonds as a mid-morning snack. She explains: “They’re rich in vitamin E, which is essential for a healthy immune system.”
GET GARGLING A recent survey found that people who gargled with lukewarm water every day were over a third less likely to catch a cold than those who didn’t**. Plus, if you gargle with salty water (one teaspoon of salt per glass), it’ll also help to ease inflammation in your throat. “Germs and bacteria can colonise at the back of the throat, which is why you get a sore and itchy sensation there when you’re unwell,” explains Hala. “Rinsing this area out helps flush away the bugs.”
HAVE A BREW It’s true – a cup of tea solves everything. Scientists at Harvard University say that drinking five cups of black tea a day can increase the body’s natural resistance to infection four fold. It’s all down to theanine, an amino acid with antioxidant properties.
There’s also good news for green tea fans – another study found its high levels of the compound EGCG stop the bugs responsible for colds from breeding†. Plus, Hala adds: “Inhaling steam while sipping on tea willalso strip off the biofilm (bacteria build-up in your nose and throat), helping you fight off infection efficiently.”
JOIN THE Z-LIST If you do end up with a case of the sniffles over Christmas, upping your intake of zinc could help. Experts from Ohio State University in the US found that this super mineral reduces inflammation, easing a swollen, runny nose and sore throat. What’s more, starting to take supplements within a day of coming down with a cold means you’re twice as likely to shake it off within a week.
“Zinc is crucial to the function of immune cells,” says Hala. “It’s found naturally in foods such as oysters and red meat – or vegetarians can find it in spinach, pumpkin seeds and cashews.” Alternatively, try supplements such as Holland & Barrett High Strength Zinc Tablets, £5.05 for 100.
Personal trainer Anna Reich reveals the exercises that can help you kick those bugs into touch:
HIT THE ROAD Get running outdoors, even in winter. “Cold air sends signals to your brain to start producing antibodies – proteins in the blood that fight infections,” explains Anna. “Cardiovascular exercise also causes blood to pump around your body quicker, meaning the antibodies are circulated more efficiently.”
COOL IT Avoid doing too much hot yoga, such as Bikram, if you’re feeling run-down. Badly ventilated studios allow germs and bacteria to circulate, and the warmth makes them thrive, which means you could end up picking up even more germs than you went in with. Eww.
AND RELAX... Do a calming session of t’ai chi or Pilates once a week. “When we’re stressed, we produce higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which eats away at our antibodies – leaving us more susceptible to getting ill,” says Anna. “Relaxing workouts like this also encourage better sleep, as they help reduce tension in the body and teach us to practise deep breathing. Getting enough sleep is key in the battle against bugs, because sleep deprivation has been shown to interfere with the way genes relating to your immune system work – allowing the cells that are responsible for inflammation to increase in number.”
More super cold saviours
Boots Epsom Salts, £1.49
Add these to your bath and your body will absorb magnesium sulphate, which fends off flu by regulating your temperature, helping you sleep and relaxing muscles. Plus, the salts draw out cold-causing toxins – double bonus!
Melvita Echinacea Natural Defences, £17 for 200ml
These phials have antiviral properties that boost your immune system by increasing white blood cells. Research has found that taking echinacea regularly not only decreases the number of colds we get, but cuts down the duration of sick time by 26 per cent††.
No more blowouts
Nose streaming? Before you reach for the tissues, wait! Blowing your nose can clog your sinuses with germ-laden mucus. Experts at the University of Virginia say you’ll feel better, faster, if you let your body flush out the virus naturally instead. “Blowing can actually shoot viruses or bacteria back into the sinus, and cause further infection, so let your nose run and use your tissues to gently wipe dry,” says Boots pharmacist Angela Charmers.
Photography: Trunk Archive, Getty Images Source: *Covonia **Kyoto University †University of Sherbrooke, Quebec ††Cardiff University Common Cold Centre
Stockists: Boots (Boots.com), Holland & Barrett (Hollandandbarrett.com), Melvita (Ukmelvita.co.uk) For information on Anna Reich, visit A-pt.co.uk