Monday 24 October 2016

Top tips to protect you from flu this autumn

With more than 200 varieties of cold virus in the air, it makes sense do what you can to boost your immunity, says Meadhbh McGrath

Healthy girl
Healthy girl

Autumn has only really just begun in earnest but germs will already be spreading.

If you haven't caught a cold already you'll more than likely find yourself coughing and spluttering your way through one in the months to come.

With as many as 200 types of cold viruses hovering in the air, most of us find ourselves battling an average of three colds a year, each lasting a week or two.

Your first instinct may be to hightail it to the pharmacy and load up on sprays, pills and cough bottles. But there are a number of simple at-home remedies that can work just as well to win the war against germs this winter.



Get ahead of the cold and flu season by making sure you get at least seven hours sleep a night. If you're not a great sleeper, try to exercise regularly and cut down on alcohol and caffeine (especially in the afternoon) to give yourself a better night's rest.

Why does it work?

Everyone knows that when you're run-down, you're more prone to illness. A study conducted earlier this year found that people who got less than seven hours sleep were three times more likely to catch a cold.

When you're sick, you need extra shut-eye to combat infection. Add another pillow so your head is higher than normal - it can ease sinus pressure and make it easier to breathe.



It sounds obvious, but you should be drinking at least three litres (women) or four litres (men) a day when you're tackling a cold or flu.

Why does it work?

Replacing fluids lost due to fever and infection is essential. If you're blowing your nose every 30 seconds, you're at risk of becoming dehydrated, which can make congestion worse. Hot tea with honey can help to reduce coughing and soothe inflamed membranes lining the nose and throat.

Wash your hands


Cleaning your hands frequently is key to reducing your chances of infection. Wash your hands as often as possible, and don't assume a quick rinse will cut it. Lather both sides with soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Ensure you dry them thoroughly - germs cling more easily to skin when it's wet.

Why does it work?

Cold viruses can live on surfaces for hours. Every time you shake hands with someone, pop into the break room at work or touch anything, you're picking up germs. Frequent hand-washing is the best strategy to stop yourself from becoming infected, and to keep you from spreading your germs.



Most of us get enough zinc from a balanced diet, but zinc lozenges have the added bonus of killing viruses in your throat or nose.

Why does it work?

Zinc plays a crucial part in keeping the immune system strong. It also protects the body from infections by interfering with cold viruses binding to the lining of your nose, and can help to shorten a cold.

Try: Solgar Flavo-Zinc Lozenges, €6.45 for 50 @ Nourish

Vitamin C


It's best to stock up on foods rich in vitamin C, including citrus fruits (pictured below), strawberries, kiwis, tomatoes, bell peppers and leafy green vegetables, but if you're not getting enough in your diet, take it in supplement form.

Why does it work?

While clinical research has shown large doses of vitamin C can't reduce the severity or duration of a cold, making sure you regularly consume lots of vitamin C in your diet helps to prevent infection. The vitamin increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies, which work to fight colds and flu.

Try: Boots Vitamin C 1000mg, €7.99 for 60

Eucalyptus Oil


Add a few drops of this refreshing oil to a basin of hot water or warm bath.

Why does it work?

One of the most irritating symptoms of a cold or flu is the 'bunged-up' feeling of a blocked nose.

"Eucalyptus essential oil is great to relieve congestion. If you have a cold or flu, it can immediately cleanse the respiratory tract and help you to breathe easier," says Agnieszka Gawrylczyk, health consultant with Nourish.

Try: Atlantic Aromatics Eucalyptus Oil, €5.50 for 10ml, Nourish



Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium. Other sources include sunflower seeds, eggs, turkey, mushrooms and tuna.

Why does it work?

Selenium helps to balance the immune system by protecting the body from harmful bacteria that can lead to colds and flu.



A traditional herbal remedy, echinacea is widely used to fight infections, especially the common cold. It comes in many forms, including tablets, teas or throat sprays.

Why does it work?

"Echinacea works to boost your immune system by fighting bad bacteria, as well as cold and flu viruses. It works best at the beginning of a cold, so once you start to feel sick, that's the time to take it," says Gawrylczyk.

Try: Vogel Echinacea Cold & Flu, €12.35 for 40 tablets

Be Gut Kind


Did you know that 70pc of your immune system is located in your gut? According to scientist and author Giulia Enders, the presence of gut bacteria has a significant impact on our overall wellbeing and our susceptibility to infection. While she was working on her PhD in gastroenterology in 2012, a YouTube clip of Enders' presentation on the gut went viral, resulting in a bestselling book, Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ.

Since our guts play an important role in our health, it's important to take care of them. Enders recommends eating prebiotic foods such as bananas, asparagus, onions, garlic and cabbage, which nourish beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Why does it work?

The gut contains both "good" bacteria that keep us healthy and "bad" bacteria that can lead to increased risk of infection. A healthy gut is the basis of a healthy immune system, and ensuring a careful balance of good and bad bacteria with plenty of prebiotic foods can help you fend off colds and flu this season.

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