With dark nights and cold temperatures, winter is a time when we should be giving ourselves some extra TLC. Colds and flu are prevalent during this season, not usually because there are more viruses about, but because we spend more time indoors in close contact with other people. Think of all the hugging and kissing that goes on at this time of year! We don't want you to stop being affectionate, but there are some measures you can take to help reduce all the sneezing and wheezing that we associate with winter.
The common cold is caused by a variety of viruses, most often one of the many strains of rhinovirus, which are capable of infecting the upper respiratory tract (throat, nasal passages, and sinuses). We are all familiar with the common symptoms of a hoarse throat, headaches, fever, mucus production and a feeling of general malaise. Such uncomfortable symptoms are not the direct result of infection, but are the result of our bodies trying to stave off the infection.
Although often confused with the common cold, influenza strains typically cause harsher symptoms, with many people confined to their beds for a couple of days or more. If a person's immune system is already compromised, flu can lead to more severe illnesses such as pneumonia. Once you've had the flu, you develop antibody protection to the viral strain that caused it. However, each flu season is unique and antibodies against one type of influenza strain will not safeguard you against any new, mutated or different strains.
Many herbs are traditionally used to
help boost immunity
) being the most well known. Anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-fungal, it's a popular choice for many in the winter months. Other herbs traditionally used to benefit the immune system include South America's Pau D'Arco (
), Cat's Claw (
), and Astragalus (
Herbs which can
ease the symptoms of colds and flu
include Catnip (
) which aids rest and perspiration, and Marshmallow (A
) which has been used since Egyptian antiquity to soothe sore throats. Used for many respiratory complaints, Mullein (
) is an expectorant, as is Thyme (
), the antispasmodic properties of which calm a persistent cough. According to a placebo-controlled Norwegian study,
extract of Elderberry
) may reduce the duration of symptoms once flu has been contracted. Used for centuries to treat colds, flu and sinusitis, Elderberries are also high in anti-oxidants. They should not be taken as a substitute for a flu vaccination, however.
A popular herb mix used for centuries to help sweat out a cold or flu is EPY Tea, a pleasant-tasting blend of Elderflower, Peppermint and Yarrow. You can make your own using equal parts of each of the herbs, or Woodland Herbs do a
. Simply add a couple of teaspoons per cup of hot water, infuse for ten minutes, strain and drink hot, while keeping cosy under a duvet.
The traditional remedy of putting your head over a steaming bowl of water really can help cold and flu symptoms by soothing the irritated airways. Try adding a couple of drops of
Eucalyptus essential oil
, a strong Peppermint tea or Olbas oil, which all have a cooling effect on the nerves in the nose, helping to make it feel clear.
Diet and Lifestyle
When you have a cold or the flu' levels of immune-system boosting
, which is essential to white blood cell function and antibody production, are significantly depleted. You may wish to consider upping C-rich foods in your diet, and/or using supplements. Some writers claim that high doses of the vitamin (1 to 6g per day) can reduce the symptoms of the common cold and decrease the length of the episode.
Many advise decreasing dairy products during a bout of cold or flu', as they are associated with mucus-formation, and limiting excessive sugar, which can inhibit the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria. Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables, with typical winter vegetables such as carrots and turnips and Brassicas such as broccoli and Brussel sprouts being high in vitamin C and other beneficial nutrients.
Don't forget the humble, but mineral-rich spud either. Though best known for its carbohydrate content, a medium potato in its skin provides 27mg of vitamin C. Onions, another winter favourite, have many anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Increase your intake of vitamin D3-containing foods such as fish, eggs and or even
to help compensate for the lack of sunlight in winter. Drink plenty of liquids and make nutritious, easy-to-digest soups and stews. Generations of people around the world have sworn by the restorative powers of a hearty, home-made chicken soup, which many say contains anti-inflammatory and mucus-inhibiting properties.
Remember the government's Catch It, Bin It, Kill It campaign? The most important rule in inhibiting the spread of viruses is
good standards of simple, general hygiene
. Turn away and cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and regularly wash your hands, which helps prevent hand to nose infection. Carry fresh tissues and dispose of them once used.
Many of us feel tired during the winter months. That's little surprise with all the work that our bodies are doing to keep us warm and fight off infections. Help your body do it's vital restorative work by
going to bed earlier
(your immune system does its best work while you are asleep and your body is at rest!), substitute coffee and stressful TV with bed socks and warming wheat bags. If you find that racing thoughts keep you awake, reflect on the day by writing in a journal or diary, and make a to do list for the next day that you can forget about until morning.
The harsh weather may make you feel like curling into a ball and hibernating until April, but try to keep moving, even if it's simply walking to the shops or taking the stairs instead of the lift. Inaction leads to bad circulation, which doesn't just make you colder; it makes your immune system sluggish too. If your mood is low, put a favourite upbeat track on the stereo and have a dance; it's a great way to get warm and raise a smile, though you might want to draw the curtains first!
Did you know?
Lozenges with a strong taste for example, ones containing menthol help provide relief for raspy throats by promoting salivation. Spicy food and bitter drinks help for a similar reason.
Cautions and Contraindications.
If a cold or flu is persistent please seek advice. For young children and infants, the elderly or if you are on other medication, pregnant or breastfeeding please consult your doctor, herbalist or other medical professional before treating yourself with herbs and supplements..
Zinc is an essential component of hundreds of enzymes, which are in turn responsible for countless functions from metabolism to detoxification.
Zinc deficiency is implicated in a number of conditions, from reproductive conditions in both men and women, skin problems such as acne, and mental and behavioural problems such as hyperactivity. A deficiency in any essential nutrient can lower immunity, but some writers consider zinc to be of primary importance, as its involved in almost every aspect of immune function. As well as aiding healing after an injury, zinc also has anti-viral properties which could be helpful in treating symptoms of colds and flu.
The EU Recommended Daily Amount (RDA, defined as the minimum daily amount of nutrient required to avoid a deficiency) for zinc is 15mg, though some authors suggest supplementing with an extra 15 to 50mg per day during infection, with
being recommended when used for colds. Foods rich in the nutrient include watermelon, pumpkin and sesame seeds, oysters, wheat germ, liver, roast beef, lamb and peanuts.
If you have a chronic health condition or are on medication, only supplement with zinc on the advice of your GP or Medical Herbalist.
Herb of the Month - Olive Leaf
Olive oil, taken from the fruit of the olive tree (
), is widely known for its pungent flavour and benefits to health through its high content of 'good' (monounsaturated) fat. Perhaps less well known, at least in the UK is the olive leaf, extracts from which are often used in soaps and skin creams. Sometimes drunk as a
or more often taken as a
, olive leaf contains oleuropein, an active compound with antifungal, antiviral and anti-bacterial properties. A study in 2005 from Australia's Southern Cross University found Olive Leaf to be richer in antioxidants than green tea extract and vitamin C. Vauqueline, another active compound in Olive Leaf, helps to lower fever, something which the olive tree has been used for since the mid 1800s.
Olive leaf is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Oleuropein has also been shown to decrease blood pressure and lower blood sugar. It should only be used on the advice of a health professional in cases of abnormal blood pressure or diabetes.
A simple kitchen cough remedy?
A simple home remedy to ease a cough is to mix the juice from half a lemon and one tablespoon of honey. The lemon provides vitamin C and the honey is a source of a number of vitamins and minerals, together they help to soothe the throat. Stir into a mug of hot water and sip as required. Ahh, thats better.