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Escaping Winter Illness

Here are some tips for staying fit and healthy this winter, to shake off the chills and sluggishness and THRIVE!

The solution to escaping winter ills for many Australians is avoidance - taking off to somewhere warm - at least for a week or so - although we cannot stay away for the whole season in most cases. However, we don’t have to get colds every winter, neither do we have to gain weight and lose our fitness. It doesn’t suit our metabolism to undergo seasonal shutdown. It’s a bit like letting a car battery go flat because we don’t drive the car, then getting out the jumper leads to revive it when we’re ready to go.

Here are some tips for staying fit and healthy this winter, to shake off the chills and sluggishness and THRIVE!

WINTER CONTAGION - is it 'flu or just a cold?

They are out there, those nuisance colds and devastating ‘flu’s which do the rounds of our homes, schools & workplaces every winter. Usually the common cold is what we experience when we get a sore throat, runny nose, fever & congestion. This can be caused typically by a rhinovirus or an adenovirus, it is self-limiting and usually requires no other treatment than a good two days' recovery in bed with lots of warm fluids and a box of tissues, but not many of us take the time to let out bodies heal. If the cold tracks more deeply it may provoke sinusitis, middle ear infection, bronchitis, or even pneumonia in those people with suppressed immunity.

If you are unlucky enough to get a real dose of the influenza virus, this is another matter. It feels as if you have been “hit by a bus”, according to those who have experienced the real thing. Usually 'flu starts with spiking temperatures, chills & shakes, sore eyes and throat, then generalised muscle and/or joint pains and feeling quite toxic. There may be cold symptoms accompanying the ‘flu and it may also be complicated by other respiratory tract infections as for the common cold.

Complications of upper respiratory tract infections

If acute bronchitis develops there is fever, cough producing yellow sputum, shortness of breath and malaise. Sometimes pleurisy may complicate bronchitis and this feels like sharp, knife-like chest pain in a specific location of the chest with each cough.

If the infection attacks the lung tissue itself this constitutes pneumonia, either viral or bacterial. In this case the person becomes very ill, unable to function normally, with spiking temperatures, hacking cough (which may or may not produce sputum of a yellow to brown colour) and difficulty breathing, sometimes showing blue discolouration of the lips and tongue.

Viral pneumonias are not quite this obvious and may be suspected when a cough deepens and persists for weeks.

Mycoplasma pneumonia is stealth infection of the lung and should be suspected when a cough is not resolving as expected.

Asthma is a serious complication of respiratory infection in susceptible individuals and features a dry persistent cough, usually worse at night, tightness in the chest and shortness of breath, especially with any exercise or even laughter. In this situation, or any of the other complications arising out of a cold or ‘flu episode, it is so important to consult a medical practitioner to diagnose and treat the illness as urgently as possible.

Good news! You can bulletproof your immune system with our holistic prevention solutions:

Read Dr George Somers' article about "Granny's remedies for a cold"

This will give you a quick guide to to recovery.

Continue to read below for an in-depth discussion:

Remedies from your kitchen:

Ginger is also a very effective warming food taken in drinks, soups and food during the winter period, having documented antiviral activity.

Chilli and cayenne are other warming foods, which raise body temperature to help natural killer T-cells in your blood deal with invading organisms. Have a nice hot curry with plenty of turmeric as well and feel the healing happen!

Garlic is the best antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal we have at our disposal, outperforming antibiotics in many cases, especially since there are no known garlic-resistant strains of bugs. Garlic also spares our intestinal healthy microbiota, unlike the damage caused to these probiotic organisms by antibiotic therapy. Raw and smelly is the best way to take garlic, however aged garlic capsules are also proven to be very effective. In general 2-3 fresh garlic cloves taken daily, crushed and added to food after cooking. Garlic is also easy to take in home-made hoummos or added to a fresh vegetable juice cocktail (with plenty of carrot and parsley).

Herbs such as lemon myrtle, sage and thyme are antiseptic and may be added to cooking,or taken as tea several times daily. Peppermint, elder and yarrow is a traditional fever tea formula which can be safely and effectively taken by infants to adults to resolve fever, promote sweating and speed recovery.

Manuka honey has become indispensable in my medicine box, for its soothing and antibacterial actions. The current and growing crisis of antibiotic resistance has revived research interest in the medicinal use of honey, which is now indicating that Manuka honey has a broad spectrum of action that is unlike any known antimicrobial(1). Added liberally to a lemon and fresh ginger tea there is not much else that works so well in the early stages of as cold to send it packing.

Tea tree, lemon myrtle and eucalyptus oils may be gargled (5-10 drops to 100 mls warm salt water) or inhaled with steam to assist in treating sore throats or sinus or chest infection.

Herbal Medicine:

For immune stimulation, as well as antimicrobial action, it is difficult to go past Echinacea as the herb par excellence for winter protection. Apart from its extensive traditional usage this herb has been thoroughly scientifically trialled and has become one of the herbalist’s most prized and powerful remedies. As for safety, as estimated 10 million doses of Echinacea are taken globally each year without any reports of serious side effects.


For those who are very susceptible to winter infections a course of six to twelve weekly acupuncture treatments to generally improve all systems functioning and boost white blood cell function. Acupuncture is also invaluable in the early stages of illness to shorten the duration of the infection. Winter time is when our deep reserve energy (kidney chi) is at a lull, making our immunity susceptible to stress and cold.


To develop resilient immunity the goal is to always eat fresh, organic produce and a wide variety of health-giving, antioxidant-rich foods. However, the reality is that this is a hard goal to achieve, so it is usually necessary to supplement our diet with vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients to keep strong throughout winter. Refined sugars and processed foods or all types should be avoided to allow your white blood cells to operate optimally and to avoid accelerating tissue inflammation during infections.

The most important immune-supporting nutrients are carotenoids, vitamins A, B6, C, D, E, and minerals iron, zinc, selenium and copper. Iron is essential for optimum immune functioning, especially in children. Zinc improves white blood cell functioning along with Vitamin C; zinc has been shown in medical studies to prevent and reduce the severity of respiratory and other infections in the elderly, who are particularly at risk through eating inadequate diets and over-processed food.

Foods to be avoided during the winter are the "stress foods", such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol, as they impair your immunity.

Good hydration with plenty of water helps your mucous membranes remove bugs and toxins from your body and improves your energy levels, mental clarity and general wellbeing. Make sure drinks are taken at room temperature, warm or hot in winter time to help mucous membrane circulation.


Traditional medical advice was to go to the mountains or the sea to "take the air" to assist recovery from illness. Pollution is a significant chemical and electromagnetic (positive ions) stressor to the immune system, especially for asthmatics and those suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome. Fresh air delivers more oxygen to our cells, assisting normal cellular respiration and healing. Beneficial negative ions, found in the atmosphere of forests and by the ocean, support recovery from respiratory infections and relieve mental and physical fatigue.


With demanding family and work schedules these days it is sometimes hard to find the time to curl up in bed and rest when we get a cold or other winter illness. Our immune systems cannot operate on the run, so we have to ramp down our adrenaline output to switch on our defences and healing capacity. "Soldiering on" only prolongs the illness and spreads it to others. Just supporting the body’s ability to heal itself is the most efficient way to recovery.


Once you have rested sufficiently, choose a daily exercise routine that will flush tissue toxins, improve your circulation and mobilise immune blood cells. Practising warming yoga on rising is an excellent winter habit, especially accompanied by a soothing meditation. Brisk walking in a clean, fresh air, green environment for a minimum half hour is great, and cycling indoors/outdoors or rebounding on a mini trampoline will help to pump those sluggish lymphatics which retain waste products for cellular metabolism. Nothing too strenuous is the goal with winter exercise, whilst avoiding contamination, like the bugs in overheated swimming pools, infected commuters on public transport and crowds in general.

If you feel too weak to exercise, rest. A hot bath or a visit to steam room (some spas, gyms & clubs have them) can improve the circulation in much the same way as exercise does, but of course do not enhance fitness. You can work on that after you have recovered.


A good winter preparation diet would exclude dairy products, especially cheese, due to their mucus-forming activity; exclude sugar and other refined carbohydrates; comprise 50% raw (organic carotene- and vitamin C-rich fruits) or lightly-cooked food (such as steamed and stir-fried). Prefer vegetarian sources of protein along with fish and eggs in preference to meats, as they are more easily digested. Spices, chilli and especially garlic can be taken as much as the stomach will allow.

During winter it is best to eat warming foods (less salads & chilled foods). Porridge is a hearty warm breakfast, with a warm fruit compote and cinnamon to taste. Herbal teas with ginger and cloves can warm you from the inside. I love an almond chocolate chai on a cold, wet afternoon. Hot dairy-free soups and broths digest easily, while casseroles and curries warm you from the inside. All you need is the crackling open fire and your best friend ...