Surviving the sneeze season

I’d love to hole up at home for the darkest months, but since that's not possible, I've got a few strategies for avoiding colds and flu. I’m feeling the first touch of a cold virus since coming into contact with a lot of snotty people this week, so I’m militantly washing my hands, getting to bed early, keeping warm, and loading up on anti-viral supplements. (Interesting side note - I’ve never had ‘flu, unless I’m so tough I just didn’t notice. Unlikely since my own mother recently said of me ”she’s always been a weakling”).

Symptom suppression with over-the-counter painkillers and decongestants may help you through the day at work but won’t help your immune system speed up your recovery. So here are a few ideas to reduce how often you catch colds and to reduce their severity when you do fall ill.

Wash your hands A LOT

I’m not patronising you: yesterday, an NHS worker told me they look at their hands under UV, during their infection-control training. Apparently, it’s shocking what visibly remains even after careful washing. So really go for it, regularly, especially if you’re subject to the misfortune of public transport, and avoid touching your face.

Elderberry for prevention and quicker recovery

If I were amazing and organised, I would have harvested the purply-black berries on the heavily laden Elder I saw a couple of months ago when walking in the countryside, and made traditional Elderberry syrup. But I’m not, and I didn’t, so I’m taking capsules instead. Anyway, the point is that Elderberry is a natural anti-viral that people have been effectively using forever, and studies have shown it can reduce the number of days you suffer from viral symptoms.

Breathe easier

I use Breatheasy essential oil blend from Absolute Aromas at the first sign of a cold. It helps me to sleep better when suffering a bunged up nose - I dilute a few drops in a little olive oil and apply to my upper chest and back before bed. Also good in a warm bath.

Nutrients that help your immune system work at its best

  • Zinc supports immune function and anti-viral activity, and oysters are an excellent source if you’re feeling fancy. When fighting a cold I like to supplement a low dose (4mg) regularly throughout the day, every time I’ve eaten. On an empty stomach, Zinc makes me feel nauseous.

  • Vitamin C is involved in many immune system functions. Due to greater demand in infection, it can be depleted, so increase your intake through fresh food and supplementation. Again I take small amounts (240mg) regularly throughout the day as it’s water-soluble and more than you can immediately use gets peed out.

  • Vitamin A increases resistance to infection. It’s found in animal products such as butter, eggs and liver. You can get beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A, from orange/yellow/red fruit and veg, and I usually take a natural beta-carotene in my multi, but when immune health needs a boost I take Vitamin A too.


To put it simply, Beta-Glucans can be found in medicinal mushrooms which have been long renowned for their immune healing properties. In case you don’t eat lots of Reishi and Maitaki mushrooms (the most exotic mushroom in supermarkets here is Chestnut), it’s lucky that these active substances have been identified so we can take them easily as a supplement.

Lozenges and soothers

Last year I had a frightful sore throat and resorted to a pharmacy lozenge that’s supposed to anaesthetise - I found it of no effect. I prefer Propolis lozenges (found at health food stores) - Propolis is what bees use to keep their hive safe from infection so it could speed recovery. Also, look out for Peppersmith Extra Strong Dental Mints; they contain eucalyptus and methol, helping unblock the nose while looking after your teeth with xylitol.

A nice herbal tea is a great soother: try Pukka’s Ginger, Manuka and Lemon. For something more potent grate fresh ginger and leave to steep in a flask. Add lemon slices and honey if you like! What an adventure ;). Once I tried to make a hot toddy, but I find whiskey disgusting so that was a failure. I don’t think warm gin is the done thing, but if you have information otherwise, do share.

How have you been holding up so far this winter? Comment below :)

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