GP Dr Rosemary Leonards comes into contact with a waiting room full of coughing, sneezing patients every day. So how does she keep colds and flu at bay? Read on as she reveals her tips on staying well during the winter months.
Keep stress levels down
I know, easier said than done, especially around Christmas, when, like everyone else, I’m trying to juggle festive preparations with a full-on job. According to research at the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff, when healthy volunteers came into contact with a cold, those who had a recent history of stress were more likely to develop cold symptoms. Stress appears to affect the immune system, and lower resistance to infection, probably by increasing the output of steroids from the adrenal glands. I’ve learned not to try to be superwoman, and you won’t find me rolling out pastry at midnight – I buy mince pies ready-made.
Flu viruses can survive on dry surfaces for several hours, with the worst culprits for harbouring germs being remote controls and doorknobs. So I frequently apply antiviral gel, not just after seeing patients, but after opening my surgery door.
Forget about taking whopping doses of vitamin C – it’s vitamin D that we all need to help prevent colds and flu, especially in winter, when levels of sunlight are low. The Department of Health recommend taking a supplement of 10 micrograms a day, so that’s what I do to keep the sniffles at bay.
Exercise boosts circulation, allowing the white blood cells of the immune system to get where they are needed and do their job efficiently. According to a survey by the American College of Sports Medicine, 61% of runners reported fewer colds since taking up exercising. Increasing your breathing rate helps clear bugs from the nose and lungs, and the brief rise in body temperature that occurs during and after exercise can help prevent viruses and bacteria from multiplying inside the body. I cycle to the surgery and at weekends I try and go on a long walk. Even if it’s really cold, I always feel better for it afterwards.
Garlic has been shown to have antiviral and antioxidant properties that may prevent cold and flu symptoms. These beneficial properties are associated with allicin, a chemical that’s released when raw garlic is crushed or chopped. I cook with it wherever possible. Garlic can interact with some medications, so talk to your doctor before taking a regular supplement, especially if you are on blood thinning or antiviral drugs.
Chicken soup has been scientifically shown to help relieve cold and flu symptoms, but it may be the hot steam that helps to reduce congestion and clear mucus. My favourite is sipping a steaming cup of hot water with honey and lemon – with maybe a tot of whisky in the evening!
Not necessarily. According to the Common Cold Centre, common cold viruses are not spread by very close contact such as kissing. Rather it’s coughs and sneezes and contaminated fingers that pass the virus to the nose and eyes, from where they infect the body. But kissing can be a good way of spreading other bugs, such as those that cause sore throats. So I must confess I avoid big smackers on the lips, and opt for a peck on the cheek instead!