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imgDecember: such a busy time of year. And unfortunately it clashes with cold & flu season. With over 200 known viruses that cause colds, it’s pretty much impossible to prevent catching colds altogether. But there are lots of ways to reduce your chances of falling ill and to recover faster. Here’s our advice on boosting your immune system this winter:

Some studies suggest that zinc may have antiviral properties. The NHS advises that taking zinc syrup, tablets or lozenges may be an effective treatment for the common cold. Take zinc supplements within a day of cold symptoms starting to help speed up your recovery. If taking supplements isn’t your thing, foods rich in zinc which can boost your immune system include meat, oysters, spinach, cashew nuts and dairy foods.

Studies have found a link between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of catching colds and flu. Boost your vitamin D intake by eating plenty of oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel, hard boiled eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, yoghurts and milk – or fortified dairy alternatives. Taking cod liver oil capsules daily is another way of increasing your vitamin D intake.

Contrary to common belief, vitamin C isn’t a miracle supplement for warding off colds. Rather it can help to shorten the duration of your cold a little. Take in tablet form or eat plenty of peppers and chillis, kale, broccoli, cauliflowers, sprouts, kiwi fruit, strawberries, mango and of course oranges.

Although more research is needed to discover the specific effects plant extract echinacea has on our bodies, many people who take it say they feel the benefits where the common cold is concerned. Echinacea is believed to stimulate the immune system and help fight infection. A 2007 study by the University of Connecticut concluded that Echinacea can cut the chances of catching a gold by more than half, and shorten the duration of a cold by an average of 1.4 days. Take in capsule form or drink as a tea.

Boosting the immune system is a good idea all year round, and there are plenty of foods that can help. Try to eat a varied diet with some of these super-foods:

With several antioxidants, garlic can give your immune system a real boost and help ward off bacteria and viruses. When chopping garlic, try to leave it for 15-20 minutes before cooking to activate immune boosting enzymes.

A great source of the antioxidant glutathione which helps maintain a healthy immune system, cabbage is easy to add to winter stews and soups to boost a meal’s nutritional value.

As well as being hydrating and refreshing, ripe watermelon is also rich in glutathione and can help strengthen the immune system.

High in selenium, a mineral linked to an increased risk of developing more severe flu, mushrooms are thought to have antiviral and antibacterial properties. B vitamins in mushrooms can also help maintain a healthy immune system.

All types of tea – green or black – are loaded with polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants are believed to seek out cell-damaging free radicals and destroy them. Decaffeinated tea works just as well as caffeinated.

A handful of almonds carries nearly 50% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E, which helps look after the immune system.

But if you do find you’re struck down by a cold, here are our three tips for getting better faster:

  1. It’s important to rest. Although it’s hard for many of us to find the time to spend a day or two under the covers, lying down and getting plenty of rest brings about a change in the pH levels within the nose. This helps the body to fight irritants and recover from a cold more quickly.
  2. A good old-fashioned steaming helps keep the nasal passages moist and can work wonders. Inhale over a basinful of hot water with a towel over your head, or take a hot shower.
  3. Take less exercise while you get over a cold. Continuing with a fitness regime as normal can compromise your immunity, meaning your cold will be prolonged.

And remember to use good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of germs – lots of handwashing after going to the toilet, during food preparation and before eating.