The Big Freeze – UK Flu cases continue to rise

A new flu warning hits the UK as Public Health England (PHE) reported 230 new cases of ‘respiratory illness’ including influenza in the third week of January compared to 216 in the second

The virus causing most of the problems this year, the H3NA virus aka ‘Aussie Flu’ is a particularly viscous and highly contagious strain which has already claimed 85 lives in the UK and over 300 deaths in Australia.

As we head into another cold spell, what can you do to protect yourself and your family from succumbing to the deadly virus?

  • Eat like a rainbow to help strengthen your immune system – A growing body of evidence suggest that what your diet can be an important ally if you want a kick-ass immune system. Key nutrients which help to boost immunity are Vitamin D, Zinc, Vitamin B6, folate, selenium and iron. The link between low levels of Vitamin D, which affects 1 in 5 people aged in the UK and increased susceptibility to a whole host of infections including colds and flu has been clearly demonstrated. Our stores of vitamins D start to plummet in the autumn and reach an all-time low in Feburary-March, which is one reason why we are so susceptible to colds and flu at this time of the year. Another key player is you want a strong immune system is your gut microflora – the number, type and the balance of bacteria you have living in your gut can have a profound effect on your immunity. The quickest way to ensure you have a good balance of the right bacteria in your gut is to eat foods rich in pro and prebiotics or to take a supplement like Healthspan Super Strength Omega-3 fats, found in oil rich fish like salmon and mackerel help to strengthen the immune system by improving signalling between immune cells and improving the ability of cells to destroy pathogens. Although it’s often claimed that high doses of vitamin C will help protect again colds and flu there is no evidence to support this although vitamin C is a key nutrient for a healthy immune system, also some studies show that if you take vitamin C in combination with zinc at the first sign of a sniffle you can reduce the severity and duration of a cold.
  • Wash your hands regularly – cold and flu viruses can be transferred on the hands and can live on surfaces like doors and phones for up to 3 days – so if a family member or someone in your office has a cold or flu be extra vigilant about washing your hands.
  • Keep hydrated – Avoid becoming dehydrated – a typical health adult needs around 1.5 litres of water each day. Drinking water flushes out your system and helps keep the immune system strong.
  • Manage stress – Stress is known to weaken the immune system, reducing resistance to infections such as colds and ‘flu. Although it can be hard to avoid stress finding techniques that will help you relax and cope better with stress can minimize the damaging effects. While exercise is a good way to combat stress a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that taking strenuous exercise first thing in the morning increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.
  • Exercise – studies show that regular moderate exercise encourages the body to produce macrophages, the cells that attack bacteria and viruses. If you find it hard to find time to go to the gym try to build some exercise into your daily routine – rather than catching the bus to walk why not walk? – not only will get some exercise but you’ll avoid all those people coughing and sneezing on the bus or the train!
  • Sleep tight – lack of sleep can weaken the immune system and can increase the risk of respiratory tract infections.
  • Try herbal medicines – The herbs Echinacea and Pelargonium have been used traditionally for many years to relieve the symptoms of colds and flu. There is evidence that both herbs boost the immune system helping the body to fight infection. Always buy herbal medicines that show the “THR” symbol on the carton or in-pack leaflet – this gives assurance about the safety and quality of the product that you are buying and if you are on any medication check with your GP and read the product information leaflet. Try Healthspan Pelargonium Cold Relief RRP 30 tablets £14.95 and A.Vogel Echinaforce hot drink that combines the fresh Echinacea root and herb extracts with Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) to produce a soothing and palatable hot drink RRP 100ml £9.99. If unsure of herbal medicines visit the British Herbal Medicine Association (www.bhma.info)
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