Winterproof your body

by Gabrielle Fagan, 10 Oct 2006

Don't be fooled by late sunshine. Winter's on its way, and now's the time to boost your immune system. Avoid succumbing to colds and flu in a few months by using our immune-boosting tips.

DOCTORS' surgeries will soon start filling up with cold and flu sufferers and the worst months - January and February - usually see them overflowing with sneezing, shivering victims.

In Britain, the national average for each of us is about 2.5 colds a year. That means the average person spends around 20 days each year coughing, and blowing through reddened nostrils, and around 15% of us will have fallen victim to flu by February.

Most of us would love to have some convenient, effective way to avoid all that wretchedness,and luckily there's still time to become 'winter fit' and improve your chances of avoiding infections.

Bear in mind that for every person who has a cold, there are two or three others who are infected but don't succumb.

So a healthy immune system, and taking other common sense precautions,can boost our chances of warding off infections and ensure that we're in the 'healthy gang' when cold weather and bugs strike.

Nutrition expert Patrick Holford, co-author of a new book, Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs,believes the right combination of foods, supplements and general lifestyle changes can significantly benefit our health and help us ward off those germs.

He highlights his strategy for boosting the immune system. "Don't smoke,have no more than one unit of alcohol a day, preferably not every day, and get enough sleep - between six to eight hours a day is ideal."

Included in his prescription is regular exercise and eating something blue or red every day as well as one carrot either raw or in juice.

He advises targeting those threatening cold germs by taking a supplement of 2-4g of vitamin C daily, making sure half your food is eaten raw, and avoiding fried foods.

Follow our guide to winterproofing your body.

* Hygiene: wash your hands frequently. The cold virus can spread from hand to hand via door handles, phones, taps or communal tea and coffee mugs in offices, or by shaking hands with someone with a streaming cold.

Germs transfer into your body when you touch your mouth afterwards or rub your eye.

* Eat meat: an average adult needs 40g to 60g (1 1/2 to 2oz) of protein daily. Only 1oz (35g) provides around 7g of protein, and the same amount is provided by an egg, an ounce of cheese or a glass of milk.

Meat is rich in selenium and zinc - two key minerals essential for a healthy immune system. Zinc is found in most red meat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, milk, cheese and wholegrain cereals.

* Exercise: there's plenty of evidence that keeping fit by exercising boosts natural immunity and general health. Thirty minutes a day, five times a week, will improve circulation and help keep your body's defences on top form.

* Sleep: getting enough sleep is vital and is your body's way of repairing its defences so you're ready to fight infections.

If you struggle with sleep, try and improve bedtime preparations to help you relax and destress before you lie down. Try a warm lavender scented bath, a milky drink, or listen to relaxing music to help you drift off.

* Don't smoke: smoking damages your immune system and puts you at much higher risk of a range of common infections including sore throats and tonsillitis, but the chest is the most vulnerable area.

* Garlic: garlic supplements rich in allicin do seem to offer some protection against the common cold, and can shorten the duration of symptoms in people who do catch a cold.

Another natural supplement which might help is Siberian Ginseng. Two trials showed it protected certain groups against flu and reduced the severity of cold sores.

* Tea: drinking tea has been found to aid the immune system. American research showed that the immune cells of volunteers who drank five small cups of black tea daily were better able to fight off disease than those who drank five cups of coffee daily.

Scientists have found that a chemical in tea, alkylamine antigen, is also present in some bacteria cells. Exposure to the chemical helps the body build up defences against bacteria.

*Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs, by Patrick Holford and Jerome Burne is published by Piatkus Books, priced £16.99.