As winter starts to bite with many feeling the effects of the inclement weather, our nutrition expert Louise Sutton from the Carnegie Research Institute suggests the most effective way to fight off the ‘flu, while Miranda Thew from Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy gives advice on reducing festive stress. Finally, Chris Domeracki and the Public Health Safety and Environment Team from the Faculty of Business & Law provide some tips on driving in bad weather and putting up your Christmas lights safely!
Combating colds and ‘flu
The common cold and ‘flu are illnesses that few of us manage to avoid; not surprising as there are over 200 different viruses causing the associated symptoms, with most adults suffering between one and six colds per year. So what can we do to boost our immune system and reduce our susceptibility this winter?
When it comes to nutrition there are lots of old wives’ tales about cure-all remedies, but your great-grandmother may not have been able to offer you much more than a hot honey and lemon or chicken soup. As these folk remedies, along with pharmaceutical preparations, fail to prevent or cure the common cold, many of us now turn to dietary supplements to help ward off the symptoms. But do these help or hinder our chances?
Certain nutrient deficiencies such as protein, vitamin B6 and zinc have been shown to hamper immune function, with important roles also identified for other nutrients such as iron, copper and selenium and vitamins A, C and E. All of these nutrients can be easily be supplied in the diet by eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Vitamin C rich foods include citrus and berry fruits and fruit juices, green vegetables, tomatoes, peppers and cantaloupe melon.
The best way to maintain an efficient immune system is to eat a wide range of foods in a balanced diet, avoid stress, take regular, moderate exercise, get plenty of sleep and maintain a healthy body weight. When it comes to diet, base meals and snacks around starchy carbohydrate food such as whole grain cereals, bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. Eat adequate but not excessive amounts of protein. Protein is a key component in the cells used by the immune system, but eating more protein than necessary won’t supercharge your immune defences. Good quality protein sources include lean red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and low fat dairy products, with the careful use of nuts, seeds and pulses for vegetarians. Adequate vitamin intakes are assured by consuming at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Essential fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic acid, are also important for maintaining a healthy immune system, so don’t be too keen to over-restrict fat and protein intakes. These essential fatty acids can be found in sunflower, safflower, peanut and corn oils along with oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout.
Drink lots of water. One of the body’s best natural defences to cold viruses is the mucus membranes that line the nasal passage. These are quite simply able do a better job of trapping and disposing of viral invaders when they are kept moist.
Are supplements useful?
High vitamin C intakes are a common self-help prescription to ward off colds and ‘flu; however, the scientific evidence has not conclusively shown that mega doses of vitamin C reliably fight off colds, but suggests that people who consume vitamin C rich foods when a cold starts get rid of the symptoms sooner.
Consuming mega doses of supplements will not boost your immune system to a higher level. Although appropriate nutrition is essential to maintaining an effective immune system, nutrient excesses can also jeopardise it. Zinc is the new kid on the block in relation to fighting colds and ‘flu, but too much zinc can actually suppress the immune system.
So to stay fighting fit this winter the message is that eating a healthy, balanced and varied diet and ensuring adequate fluid intake are the key components in your defence against the common cold.
But what to do if you do succumb? Get plenty of rest. Drink lots of water, at least ten glasses per day, and boost your vitamin C intake.
A peaceful and stress-free Christmas
Miranda Thew offers some advice on how to survive Christmas.
First, the bad news … Christmas is notoriously one of the most stressful times of the year; indeed, many mental health problems are exacerbated at this time of year. Here are a few practical points that can make a difference:
The Institute of Advanced Motorists offers useful advice on preparing your car for winter and driving in various weather conditions, including a free downloadable winter driving guide. A shovel and blanket in the boot are always useful. And the most important tip of all is: if the weather’s bad, ask yourself if you really need to make the journey.
A few hints from Chris Domeracki and the PHSE team:
And finally – give your turkey a good roasting!