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Beat the bugs!

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Simple ways to boost your immunity and stay well all through the darker, colder months

It’s winter, everyone you know seems to be coughing and spluttering and you really could do without catching something – but how can you boost your immunity and give yourself some protection against the common cold and other nasties?

Jill Bell of health store Well and Good in Midleton, Co Cork advises people to “come to your local health store for free advice on your particular situation because you may be experiencing a number of different health issues that we can advise you on.”

Kate Cagney is a holistic massage therapist and general health advisor for New Vistas Healthcare who make homeopathic remedies. “The immune system is a sophisticated, inbuilt defence system that fights off foreign substances and harmful micro-organisms,” she says.

“Avoid overeating, smoking and excessive alcohol as these contribute to reduced immunity. Look at outside factors that may be affecting your toxic build-up – chemicals from cleaning products, make-up and toiletries. Over-exposure to computers, mobile phones and televisions may increase your electromagnetic stress levels. The overuse of antibiotics and other drugs, as well as pesticides used in foods, may also be factors.”

Jill Bell says your gut may be the key to healthy immunity. “Healthy gut bacteria are essential for a strong immune system in both adults and children,” she explains, “and these bacteria can be encouraged by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut or fermented whey and by the use of probiotics. Health stores often see customers concerned that repeated use of antibiotics hasn’t solved a specific problem. In this case we explain that antibiotics often kill off good bacteria in the gut and inadvertently damage immunity. A good probiotic usually does the trick by redressing the balance of good to bad bacteria.”

Hannah Dare at Organico in Bantry, West Cork agrees that probiotics play an important role. “We encourage people to take a probiotic”, she says “particularly for children. There are child-specific probiotics. An infant one comes in powder form and you add it to a drink.”

For people with repeated sinus and chest infections neti pots can help. “A neti pot looks like a small plastic watering can,” says Hannah.

“A saline solution made with sea salt or Himalayan rock salt is used to wash out your sinuses. It can be amazing at keeping out sinus infections. Salt therapy or using a salt pipe is also good for disinfecting and opening the air ways.”

Therapies can also play a role in promoting immunity. “Homoeopathy works well for immunity issues and is gentle and safe to use,” according to Kate Cagney. “Liquescenses, basically homoeopathic tonics, can be used to strengthen and maintain your immune system.

“Lymphatic drainage massage can stimulate lymphatic circulation,” she says, “helping to eliminate waste and improve the production and distribution of antibodies. It also stimulates the nervous system, encouraging relaxation and helping the reduction of stress, which is becoming a key factor in weakened immunity.”

Jill Bell agrees that stress can be a trigger for poor immunity. “We recommend yoga and mindfulness,” she says.

Common sense tips:

  • Wash your hands to keep bugs at bay, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking.
  • Eat a balanced diet with plenty of antioxidants from fruits, vegetables and nuts. Antioxidants are good for the immune system.
  • Avoid sugary foods and drinks as too much simple sugar can have a negative effect on your immune system. Drink lots of water.
  • Choose healthy fats for cooking such as the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish, flaxseed, and krill oil.
  • Try to fit in moderate exercise five times a week as this will help to control stress and enhance your immune system.
  • Get eight hours sleep a night to ensure your immune system is working at its best.
  • Stroke a pet because this is good for stress control and boots the immune system.
  • “Add garlic to your diet,” says Jill Bell. “It is more active if a clove is crushed, allowed to oxidise for 10 minutes then added to food at the end of cooking.”

Natural help for immunity:

  • Take a good multivitamin to ensure you are getting everything you need and in particular vitamins C and B complex.
  • An Irish echinacea, made by Dave Foley in The Natural Way in Letterkenny, may help adults to avoid catching a cold or shorten its duration. (
  • Beta-glucans, derived from mushrooms, can boost a weakened immune system.
  • Olive leaf extract – an antioxidant-rich immune supporter.
  • Elderberry tincture – can give the immune system a boost, antioxidant rich
  • Zinc – can help fight infection and shorten the duration of a cold.
  • Selenium – the antioxidants in selenium can help the body fight a cold.
  • Manuka and local honey can be antibacterial – if you are buying manuka honey look for the UMF logo to guarantee the real stuff with anti-inflammatory properties.

Supplements that can help to relieve stress:

  • Rhodiola – can relieve anxiety.
  • Siberian ginseng – can protect the adrenal glands to help them withstand stress.
  • Flower remedies such as cherry plum – can help you cope with emotions such as frustration.
  • A new range of essences formulated for children called Confidence, Sleep Easy etc is available in health stores.

Click here to read earlier Rude Health Magazine natural health articles.
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