Learn how to win the cold war

If you managed to escape a cold this winter, then count yourself lucky. You are one of the few who is still standing while the rest of us are knocked sideways with headcolds, chest infections, nagging coughs, and flus.

Unfortunately for some, they fell victim to the sniffles in the run up to Christmas and spent most of the festive season sneezing and wheezing and generally unable to enjoy the turkey and plum pud.

Others managed to fight off the bugs until January but were then laid low and are now nursing themselves back to good health.

Colds are one of the most common ailments of the winter months. They are often underestimated but should not be neglected. They can lead to inflammation and infection in the upper respiratory tract and are often accompanied by nasal congestion.

Almost 90 per cent of adults who took part in a recent study reported suffering from a cold or flu at least once or twice a year. However the prevalence and duration of these depends on a number of factors, such as lifestyle, alcohol consumption, sugar intake (interestingly, a high sugar diet blocks vitamin C intake into the cells, say experts ), smoking habits, and general immunity levels.

So, what can we do to make sure we dodge these viruses which are eager to ambush us when we least expect them and how can we build ourselves up sufficiently to be able to fight off these enemies of our health?

Here are some ways to help you beat the cold war:

1. Wrap up. If the weather is very cold outside it makes sense to adapt your clothing to suit the climate. Choose woollen or cotton garments. Natural materials are always preferable to artificial fibres. When the body becomes chilled have a hot bath to get the circulation going again and therefore raise the body temperature.

2. Avoid people who are coughing or sneezing because cold viruses are quickly transmitted in this way.

3. If you sneeze or cough do so into a tissue and then dispose of it.

4. Try not to touch your nose, eyes or mouth. Germs can enter your body easily by these paths.

5. People tend to catch colds in crowded, humid, places such as buses, schools, and churches.

6. Wash your hands often. You can pick up cold germs easily even when shaking hands or touching doornobs or handrails.

7. Eat plenty of garlic. It is a natural antibiotic and will scare away any bugs doing the rounds.

8. Exercise. Most experts now agree that people who exercise regularly have raised levels of infection-fighting cells in their blood. A regular exercise routine, even a walk around town, may get you through the season without a sneeze.

9. Give up smoking. If that sounds too difficult then at least reduce the number of cigarettes that pass your lips. Smokers reportedly have weaker immune systems than non-smokers.

10. Eat a balanced diet and proper meals, if possible. Choose fresh, wholesome, and organic foods and ensure you have variety. Rotate foods and experiment with new ones. This means more nutrients for the body and may help prevent food allergies or intolerances developing. Cut out fried foods, white bread and alcohol and increase your intake of wholemeal bread, fruit, vegetables, and white meat. Cut down, if not out, sweets and biscuits and avoid snacks before meals.

11. Drink six to eight glasses of water daily. This will replace fluids lost and help flush out impurities. It is best taken between meals or half an hour before meals and one hour after.

12. Wrap up but open windows a little because the cold virus breeds in unventilated environments.

13. Try to reduce or manage stress. It has an adverse effect on the immune system. Traumatic experiences, such as a death in the family, moving house, or being made redundant can often be a factor in illness. More minor stressors can impact on your immune system, too. The likelihood of catching a cold is nearly double for a person who is suffering high stress levels. Stress reduces the efficiency with which your digestive system works too. Research shows that when your body/mind is in a state of stress, work or anxiety, blood diverts away from the gut and in doing so reduces the amount of nutrients that are absorbed from the food you are eating.

14. Learn to unwind. You can do this in a number of ways from going for a long walk to stroking a pet, visiting a friend, or practicing mindfulness. Research carried out at the University of Wisconsin discovered that the this practice reduces the incidence, duration and severity of a cold by up to 60 per cent.

15. Catch up on some shut-eye. Sleep boosts immune function so if you want to stay healthy it is well worth getting adequate sleep. It recharges your batteries and gives your body a chance to repair itself. Getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep a night is associated with numerous health problems, including obesity, heart disease, immune suppression, diabetes, depression and cancer, according to Dr Mark Atkinson, a pioneer in the field of integrated medicine in the UK who has lectured here.

His sleep promoting tips include avoiding eating heavy meals at least two hours before sleep and following a routine to help you relax and wind down before sleep, such as taking a warm bath, having a hot drink, reading a book or listening to music. If you have things on your mind, try off-loading them into a journal or talking about them.

16. Take it easy. While regular exercise is good for your health it is important to slow down when you catch a cold. You need to listen to your body and rest.

17. Take vitamin D. Dr Atkinson says our sunshine vitamin stores get depleted because of our poor summers. He says this vitamin exerts therapeutic effects in cases of poor immunity. He also recommends taking a multivitamin and mineral complex to help prevent colds and flus.

"The immune system is complex and diverse consisting of many different fighting cells which in turn require a range of nutritional molecules to support immune function and integrity. Multivitamins have been shown to enhance many aspects of immune response."

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