With winter now behind us, we’d be forgiven for believing we were out of the woods when it comes to seasonal viruses. However, spring is in fact the second yearly peak for rhinoviruses responsible for common cold and with Covid still doing the rounds, it’s important to know how to protect ourselves from infection.
Immunity expert and founder of Leapfrog Remedies, Stephanie Drax, says: “We go about our daily business alongside 200 different viruses that cause the common cold, four strains of flu virus, countless disease-causing bacteria, and we’re still learning to live with Covid-19 variants, too.
“Yes, it’s crowded, but the good news is that our bodies are brilliant at fighting off infection, and especially so if we give them what they need – good nutrition, regular exercise, quality sleep and minimal stress. But there are also a number of simple rituals that we can easily slip into our daily routines that can strengthen our immunity further.”
From cold showers or nose breathing to dry body brushing and even hugging, read on for Stephanie’s tips to keep you fighting fit – or to help get you well if infection does strike – this spring…
“An immunity powerhouse with anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory effects, Vitamin D can enhance the function of important immune cells called T cells and Natural Killer cells. It also helps us produce antimicrobial substances in the skin, lungs and gut, which can help defend the body against infection.
“We need 10-15 minutes per day of direct sunlight. The sun’s ultraviolet (UVB) rays interact with cholesterol in our skin and convert it into Vitamin D.”
Get lots of shuteye
“Immunity and quality sleep have always been bedfellows. Studies have shown that sleeping less than seven hours per night means you are nearly three times more likely to develop a cold. Melatonin – a hormone produced as darkness falls to help us transition into sleep – has anti-inflammatory properties and is a great defence to have in the body when fighting infection.”
“We are between 74-90 percent more likely to catch a cold when stressed. Research suggests a 20-second hug can significantly reduce the stress hormone norepinephrine, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and improve mood, all thanks to an increase in oxytocin – the social bonding hormone.
“Go in for a tight hug as often as possible, holding and breathing until you feel a chemistry shift.”
“Flu spikes in winter because we congregate indoors for warmth and create an invisible ‘viral soup’. Simply opening a window to increase air flow indoors will dilute the virus concentration that is shed from those who are infected, and a lower dose of initial infection can ultimately mean a milder version of the disease.
“Short bursts of 10 to 15 minutes throughout the day spent out in the fresh air, or just leaving the window ajar all day, can reduce the risk of infection by over 70 percent.”
“Humans are designed to be outside – for the vitamin D, the fresh air, and the physical and mental benefits of being immersed in nature. It’s scientifically proven that our overall health and lifespan is improved with the more green we see. Exposure to nature effectively reduces stress and rebalances our autonomic nervous system, known as the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems; the former triggers our fight or flight response when there is a perceived threat, the latter restores a state of calm.
“Regular woodland walks can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase the number and performance of our main virus-fighting Natural Killer cells. What’s more, the immune-enhancing effects of just one trip to a forested park can last for over 7 days.”
“As little as a 30-90 second burst of cold water during a daily shower can result in fewer sick days from work. Cold water – anything below 21 degrees C – helps to boost your bug-busting white blood cell count because the body is forced to react to the changing conditions. Cold showers also cause the release of adrenaline, which helps our bodies in resisting infection.”
“Fact: Brushing your teeth only cleans 60 percent of each tooth. That means the six million hungry bacteria that live in your mouth have a veritable feast between your teeth to thrive on. If your body is hard at work trying to fight an ongoing or recurrent bacterial infection in your mouth – think gum disease – then your immune system, and thus the ability to fight against other infections in the body, is compromised.
“Consistent flossing and brushing (in that order) create a food and housing shortage for bacteria in your mouth, so your immune system is primed and ready to fight other battles.”
“Those who engage in 2.5 hours per week of moderate exercise (no need to crush it in the gym – just walking is enough) are 27 percent less likely to get a cold than those who don’t exercise at all. They’ll also recover more quickly if they do get ill. Physical activity increases the flow of blood and lymph fluid – the circulatory system of our immunity – that both work to transport our immune cells. Exercise forces blood and lymph fluid into more movement, helping the body to better detect and conquer viruses and bacteria.”
Get in Nutrients
“The good bacteria in our bodies helps keep us healthy in many different ways – including training our immune system and deactivating toxins – so nourishing these microbes is vital. To cater to the needs of the 40 trillion bacteria in our gut and improve the health of our gut microbiome we should be aiming to eat and drink 30 different plant foods each week. It may sound unachievable but with a choice of legumes (beans, peas and pulses), wholegrains, seeds, nuts, fruit and vegetables, it shouldn’t be a too difficult to incorporate 4-5 of these food sources a day.”
Dry Body Brushing
“You may be able to give your immune system a helping hand. Upward strokes from a natural bristle brush will remove dead skin, unclog pores and improve circulation and lymph flow.
“The lymphatic system removes the toxins and waste in the body by filtering it through lymph nodes, where white blood cells work to attack and break down bacteria, viruses, and damaged cells. Lymph fluid then carries the debris into the bloodstream before the liver and kidneys show it the exit. According to Ayuverdic medicine, brushing toward the heart – the direction that lymph fluid naturally flows – may aid that detoxification process.”
“It sounds like a simple practice, but many of us are guilty of unconscious mouth breathing. Breathing through your nose instantly reduces the risk of catching a cold as the hairs and mucus filter the air and can destroy pathogens trying to enter. Nose breathing also encourages the sinuses to produce nitric oxide, which helps to improve oxygen circulation and has been shown to inactivate viruses and stop them replicating.”
“Pharmaceutical scientist at the University of Huddersfield, Dr Hamid Merchant, suggests steam inhalation at the very first sign of a cold, flu or Covid symptoms: “The higher temperature combined with the moisture minimises the viral load and weakens the virus by disrupting the viral capsid – the protein shell of a virus that encloses its genetic material.”
“Cover your head with a towel and breathe in the steam of hot – not boiling – water infused with essential oils known for their antimicrobial properties. Vicks or Olbas Oil are both safe and effective concoctions to use.”
“Lactoferrin is an anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory protein that our bodies make daily to provide protection against germs. But when we’re stressed, tired, run-down, not eating properly or simply getting older, our lactoferrin can be depleted faster than it’s restored, leaving us more vulnerable to infection.
“Lactoferrin is a key component of mother’s milk that gives a baby its all-important immunity and the same protein extracted from cow’s milk is biologically similar. Lactoferrin supplements allow you to top up your levels of lactoferrin when you need it most, working in synch with the immune system to quash infection as soon as it appears.
“Top nutritionist, Emma Davies from NatureDoc, says: “Lactoferrin is one of my favourite immune boosters. This underused protein is a game changer in gut healing, microbial balance and immune modulation.””