GP Dr Rosemary Leonard shares her secrets for beating winter bugs.
“My work as a GP means I come into contact with loads of germs every day, as the waiting room is full of people coughing and sneezing. Here are my tips on how I beat the bugs and stay well during the winter months.”
Keep stress levels down
I know, it’s easier said than done, especially when, like everyone else, I’m trying to juggle family responsibilities with a full-time job. Experimental studies by Cardiff University showed that 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 as a result of the increased output of steroids from the adrenal glands. I have simply learnt not to try to be superwoman.
Make hand sanitiser a staple
Flu viruses can survive on dry surfaces for several hours, with the worst culprits for harbouring germs being remote controls and doorknobs. That’s why I frequently apply antimicrobial hand sanitiser, not just after seeing patients, but after opening my office door, too.
Take a vitamin D supplement
Forget about taking whopping doses of vitamin C – it’s vitamin D that we need to help prevent colds and flu, especially in winter when we’re not spending as much time outdoors. The Nutrition Society of South Africa advises taking a 400IU supplement every day, so that’s what I do to keep the sniffles at bay.
Exercise boosts your circulation, allowing the white blood cells of the immune system to get to where they are needed and do their job efficiently. In a survey conducted by US-based magazine Runner’s World, 61% of their 700 participants reported suffering fewer colds after taking up running. 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 to prevent viruses and bacteria from multiplying inside your body. I’m lucky I can cycle to work and, on weekends, I try to go on a long walk. Even if it’s cold, I always feel better for it afterwards.
Garlic has been shown to have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that may help prevent colds and flu. These beneficial properties are associated with allicin, a chemical that’s released when raw garlic is crushed or chopped. But 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 on steaming-hot water with honey and lemon – with maybe a tot of whisky in the evening!