How to fight off colds and flu this winterIt’s that time of year again – half of the office is coughing and sneezing and you’re either one of them or convinced you’re about to be struck down with the dreaded lurgy!

So, what can you do to prevent or fight off a cold?

The key to your battle defence is boosting the immune system. If you are one of the lucky ones to not have a cold the best thing to do is be aware of how you can strengthen the immune system now to give yourself a much better chance of avoiding one.

1. Vitamin D
Known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is effective at killing off undesirable bacteria and viruses. Its major source is direct sunlight. Due to there being less daylight hours in winter along as well as other health and mobility issues for some, not everyone is able to absorb enough from the sun.

Quantities available from the diet are low but can be found in foods such as the skin of oily fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel along with smaller amounts from beef, liver, cheese and egg yolks. You might also notice that the vitamin is added to some foods such as breakfast cereals.

If you are not getting much sunlight during the day it’s worth looking at supplementation to boost you levels of Vitamin D. Apart from the regular Vitamin D supplements, cod liver oil is a very good source.  Look to take in a minimum of 2,000IU and anything around 4,000IU has been shown to be optimal.

2. Vitamin C
Probably the one you were expecting, right? For good reason, Vitamin C has gained a reputation as an antioxidant and immune system booster. A cold virus needs to get into the body’s cells and alter their structure to take a hold and spread the virus to other cells. If the tissues (collections of cells) are already high in Vitamin C it makes it much harder for a virus to either take hold or survive.

Intake can only be obtained from the diet and is needed throughout the day, as the the vitamin is secreted in urine 2-3 hours after consumption. For general immune system maintenance you need around 200mg per day (well above the RDA). Look to include plenty from the diet ideally. Some of the best foods are fruits such as papaya, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, lemons, limes, strawberries, raspberries, kiwi and melon. Green vegetables are often a useful source of vitamin C and these include greens (all varieties) broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale. Other good sources are bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, thyme, parsley and fennel.

As a therapeutic dose around 1,000mg per day is optimal – preferably in a slow release supplement formula.

3. Cut down on sugar
Sugar literally feeds the types of bacteria and yeasts that can damage your body, leaving your immune system wide open for viruses to attack or intensify. Highly processed foods such as ready meals, sweets, cakes, cans of pop, biscuits and alcohol are the main culprits.

4. Omega-3
Omega-3 increases the activity of phagocytes in cells to help fight bacteria. They are also known to increase effectiveness of the lungs, protecting them from colds and respiratory infections.

My most recommended sources from the diet are oily fish, seeds (especially flaxseed, hemp seed, pumpkin seeds), walnuts and eggs. It’s generally recommended to eat a portion of oily fish 2-3 times per week.

Supplements are very popular and are worth considering if you struggle to eat a variety of the foods above. Look for a supplement that contains noticeably more omega-3 than omega-6 and lists both EPA and DHA in the ingredients. As a daily dosage, look for 1.6g (1600mg) or more but do not exceed 3g (3000mg).

5. Be kind to yourself!
Many lifestyle factors can be major causes of a weakened immune system. If you have any combination of being regularly stressed, having poor quality sleep or not getting enough exercise then you should make it a priority to address them wherever possible. If these issues are left to continue, your body will face an uphill battle to fight off viruses, regardless of the quality of food or supplements you are taking.