When the mercury plummets it’s normally accompanied by the sound of coughs around the office, not to mention that one colleague who insists on snorting snot down the back of their neck at full volume. But while they have no excuse, your immune system does. You see, the cold weather is not only when the rhinoviruses that cause colds are at their most virulent, but the phagocytes in our body designed to see off infection are also at their most sluggish.
And so, while there are things that you do that can hamper your immune system – chiefly, stressing about work and drinking too much – choosing the right foods is a simple way to bolster your defenses. And now more than ever is the time to afford your immune system a little TLC. Let me explain how:
WATER AND TEA
Our mucous membranes are a barrier, helping to keep viruses out, but they (and therefore we) need to stay well hydrated to make sure they can do their job. Moreover, fluids help the lymphatic system to flush out waste. For best results, choose water and herbal teas, for example, made from fresh ginger and lemon. Also, you could try rockrose tea, also known as cistus tea. Thanks to the polyphenols it contains, the plant inhibits the multiplication of viruses, stopping a cold or flu in its tracks. Cistus works in synergy with your vitamin C supplements, enhancing its action, too.
Ginger makes it harder for viruses to attach to our mucous membranes, but should they manage that, the herb also impairs their capacity to get into our bloodstream. It doesn’t stop there: ginger encourages our own body’s cells to secrete an antiviral chemical, which creates another line of defence. Add a knob to homemade juices, and be liberal when you’re cooking your next Thai curry.
Like ginger, garlic has long been known to protect from cold and flu. Crushing, chopping or grating raw garlic releases an enzyme that turns alliin into allicin, garlic’s magic weapon. Raw garlic has more of it than cooked, but a little trick can help you get the most allicin out of cooked garlic, if that’s how you prefer to consume yours: leave your chopped, crushed or grated garlic alone for 10 minutes before adding it to your stir-fry. This gives the enzyme more time to work and once formed, allicin is relatively heat-stable.
A recent research paper found that vitamin D was particularly efficient in preventing throat and chest infections. Vitamin D is the only vitamin the human body can produce. It is made in the skin under the influence of sunlight; unfortunately, the sun does not shine enough in the northern hemisphere, especially during the winter. For that reason, many of us are severely deficient in vitamin D and natural food sources are few and far between. However, oily fish is one of the best – as a fat-soluble vitamin, it accumulates in the fatty tissue of fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines or herring. It’s also found in egg yolk, which sounds like an ideal breakfast pairing to me…
NUTS AND SEEDS
Recent research found that if you have a cold, 20mg of zinc per day can reduce the duration of the common cold by a third. Nuts, seeds and pulses are valuable sources of zinc, but you need a lot to increase your levels. Get into the habit of sprinkling seeds and chopped nuts over your yoghurts, soups and salads, and snack on nuts instead of chocolate. During a cold, top it up with a supplement or, if you’re feeling fancy, just two oysters would more than cover 20mg.