It's that time of the year when everyone starts to pick up their first cold of winter. Stuffy noses are cropping up all around the workplace and before you know it, it'll be your turn.
Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way. The occasional common cold is inevitable, but we've got plenty of advice for helping out your immune system and preventing the onset of one lurgy after another.
First up: what exactly is a cold?
Colds and flu are spread by different viruses. There are more than 200 common cold viruses and just three strains of flu – influenza A, B and C (A and B affect humans). Influenza B usually causes milder symptoms and is the virus most likely to affect children. These viruses are spread through droplets (sneezing and coughing) and after contact with shared items, including work surfaces, door handles or keyboards.
There's no cure for a cold but there are all sorts of preventative measures for not getting one in the first place. Here are some tips on how to stay cold-free during the winter months.
How to prevent the common cold
The best way to increase your immunity is to make sure your diet is full of fresh fruit, vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods. Fruit and veggies that are high in vitamin C (which contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system) such as red and yellow bell peppers, kiwis and dark green leafy vegetables, are a great place to start.
Foods for immunity
Aim to eat a varied Mediterranean-style diet that supplies wholegrains, beans, 5-a-day fruit, vegetables, seafood, olive oil, onions and garlic. Lean meat is an important source of iron which is needed for immune cells to fight infections.
Bio yogurt provides probiotic bacteria that stimulate immunity in the gut, while foods fortified with vitamin D will support winter immunity when you are unable to make vitamin D in your skin (although a vitamin D supplement is needed too). Turmeric is emerging as important for immunity, as are both black and green teas.
These foods are all good sources of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals needed for good immune function such as vitamins A, B12, B6, C and D plus minerals copper, folate, iron, selenium and zinc.
As a result, some research suggests that older people who take a daily multivitamin have a better immune function, and a better response to influenza vaccination and significantly fewer colds and respiratory infections compared with those not taking multivitamin supplements, although this is not clear cut. Diet should always come first.
MultiVitality 70 Plus
Comprehensive multivitamin for those over 70
- B vitamins, iron and zinc contribute to cognitive health
- High levels of vitamin D3, vitamin K, magnesium and calcium help maintain normal bones
- Co-enzyme Q10 and vitamin B1 for normal heart function
Use a herbal remedy
If you're unlucky and despite taking precautions a nasty cold comes your way, try a herbal supplement like echinacea.
A study carried out at the Common Cold Research Centre at Cardiff University also shows that taking Echinacea for four months may reduce the risk of catching a cold and lessen its severity if you do catch one.
Any type of exercise - from a cycle ride to a yoga session or even a brisk walk - for at least half an hour on most days will give your immune system a boost. Be careful not to push your body too hard if you're already feeling under the weather, though.
We all know the annoyance of that stranger sitting next to you on the bus that fails to cough or sneeze into a tissue, leaving you open to the spread of their germs and destined to fall ill within the next few days.
Make sure to always cough into a tissue and then discard afterwards and encourage your kids to do the same, as they are constantly bringing home nasty bugs from the school cafeteria or playground.
Another good tip is to avoid sharing. It might be tempting but sharing cups and glasses, even with loved ones, means you'll dramatically increase your chances of catching a lurgy.