The nights are getting colder, the mornings are getting crisper and everyone is carrying an emergency Kleenex packet in their coat pockets, which means one thing – sniffle season is well and truly here.
While you might think you don’t have to worry about colds until you actually catch one, what you probably don’t know is the symptoms (including a tickly throat and a runny nose) usually rear their heads between one and four days after you’re exposed to the virus. That means, by the time you start sneezing onto your keyboard, it’s already too late.
If you really want to avoid walking around looking and feeling like a zombie, you’ll need to get ahead of the game by taking a few preventative measures to safeguard your health – and with the NHS urging hospitals to brace themselves for a heavy flu outbreak in the UK this winter, there’s never been a better time to up your immunity.
Here are a handful of easy and natural ways to minimise your risk of getting sick this season.
Chomp on a clove of garlic
Not just delicious stirred into a big bowl of Italian pasta, raw garlic contains compounds that help the immune system to fight common cold germs. When crushed or chopped, this potent plant causes a chemical reaction that releases allicin – a powerful antibacterial that’s responsible for garlic’s familiar smell.
In an ideal world, eating a few slices of garlic bread would be enough to keep us in tip-top shape. Sadly, to get the most of its flu-busting effects, you’ll have to hold your breath and swallow it raw – as the compound is only present shortly after garlic is crushed and before it’s cooked.
The brave approach is to peel a clove and pop it straight in your mouth, steeling yourself against the strong flavour. Alternatively, you can make it easier to gulp down by mincing one to two cloves and floating them in a small glass of water. Bottoms up.
Swill some echinacea
While the research into echinacea’s cold-preventing effects is still ongoing, there’s some evidence to suggest this flowering plant can increase the number of white blood cells in the body – which play an important role in fighting infection.
Originating in Native America, echinacea has been used as a traditional herbal remedy for more than 400 years for a variety of ailments, including scarlet fever and syphilis. As well as cleansing the blood of dead cells and debris, it’s also thought to increase the levels of properdin in the body – a chemical that stimulates some of the protective mechanisms in the immune system.
To load up, you can either take it daily in tablet form during the winter months, or buy it in a tincture – adding a couple of drops to your morning cuppa.
Set a healthy bedtime
It sounds obvious, but getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do to boost your immune function and stay well this winter.
Just a few late nights can disrupt the protective nature of your immune system, making you vulnerable to picking up a nasty virus. That’s why it’s a good idea to get into bed earlier and set your alarm a little bit later during the colder months.
As a general rule, most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep to function properly – so make sure you’re clocking enough time under the duvet.
Get a dose of ginseng
This naturally-derived supplement has long been taken in Chinese culture to boost immune system function and encourage overall good health.
According to a study by the Centre for Immunotherapy of Cancer and Infectious Diseases at the University of Connecticut, people who took two daily capsules containing ginseng caught half as many colds as a group taking a placebo. And when they did get sick? Their symptoms lasted less than half as long.
In herbalism, Siberian ginseng is thought to be particularly good for increasing white blood cells and interleukins – proteins the immune system relies on heavily. The easiest way to get a daily dose is to swallow it down in capsule form.
Wash your hands regularly
While it’s easy to think washing your hands after visiting the bathroom is enough to keep your hand hygiene in check, the grim reality is cold germs can live on inanimate objects like door handles and light switches for hours. That means simply going about your daily routine and then touching your mouth area can expose you to a bout of cold and flu. To combat, keep washing your hands throughout the day with antibacterial soap. If you’re travelling, it’s wise to pack a small tube of antibacterial gel in your bag so you can protect yourself while on-the-go.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely protect yourself from being brought down by a bug this winter, but with cold and flu on the rise in offices and homes around the country, these handy tips will put you in a much stronger position to win the war against germs.