Women's Health



Keep getting colds and flu? Try these surprising immune system boosters

Proven immune booster: The 5:2 diet

Why it works: Restricting your calories a few days a week can do more than trim your belly before the summer season – new evidence reveals fasting can actually regenerate the entire immune system.

Scientists at the University of California found fasting for just three days kick-started stem cells into producing brand new white blood cells, the ones that help your body fight infection, boosting your immunity. So there may be some truth in the old wives’ tale ‘feed a cold and starve a fever’ after all.


Proven immune booster: Get your ohm on

Why it works: Mindfulness mediation involves so much more than helping you get a handle on stress and anxiety. Studies show it can also help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure and – now – boost your immunity; perfect if you’re always coming down with something when you get stressed out.

Evidence published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine revealed those who practiced mindfulness every day for two months produced more flu-fighting antibodies than those who did not meditate. Fancy chilling out to avoid catching a chill? Download the free 10-day Headspace app from iTunes or headspace.com.


Proven immune booster: A quick dip in cold water

Why it works: Although it feels like the last thing you’d want to do in winter, swimming in very cold water can boost your body’s defences. ‘You do get a natural buzz from jumping into cold water, but there are also some well proven health benefits,’ says Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming (£16.99, Wild Things Publishing).

Czech researchers found a daily dip in chilly waters could activate the immune system, boosting white blood cell production. If you’re not quite up for wild swimming, or braving the plunge pool at the spa, try switching the shower to freezing for a minute every morning. It should wake you up if nothing else!


Proven immune booster: A hearty breakfast

Why it works: As well as helping you maintain a healthy weight, starting your day with a decent meal can reduce your risk of catching colds and flu. Researchers from the Netherlands discovered eating a big, early breakfast increased levels of gamma interferon, an anti-viral agent, by 450%. What’s more, missing out on breakfast caused levels to drop by 17%.

The study found you do need to consume a whopping 1,200 calories to boost gamma interferon levels, so keep an eye on your intake for the rest of the day if you decide to go large. Sounds like the perfect excuse for a post-gym fry-up to us…


Proven immune booster: Keeping your toes toasty

Why it works: There’s nothing better than a quick run into the office – especially as regular exercise has also been shown to increase your immunity – but make sure you change out of any wet trainers as soon as you get to work.

The Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University found those who suffered cold, wet feet caught twice as many colds as those who stayed warm and dry. It’s thought chilling the feet causes blood vessels to constrict in the nose, which inhibits our immune response and allows any lurking viruses to replicate.


Proven immune booster: A good giggle

Why it works: We tend to catch more colds in winter simply because we spend more time indoors with others, but hitting a comedy club with a big group of friends could actually stop you coming down with the sniffles.

A study by Indiana University revealed a proper laugh-out-loud session can increase your immune function by up to 40%. Those who laughed the loudest also produced more disease-fighting cells than their less jolly friends. If you don’t fancy live comedy, watching a funny video has the same effect but you could miss out on discovering the next Michael McIntyre.


Proven immune booster: A cheeky vino

Why it works: Although we’re meant to lay off the booze if we’re feeling poorly, experts say the odd glass of wine with dinner is good for our immune system. ‘Those who have a glass with their evening meal have fewer colds than those who don’t drink at all,’ says Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre.

Research published in the journal Vaccine found moderate alcohol consumption could increase immunity, also making our bodies more responsive to vaccinations. So if you need to have the flu jab this year, a little tipple could help boost its protective effects.


Did you know cold and flu viruses can survive on some surfaces for up to TWO DAYS?! Keep anti-bacterial wipes handy to swipe over any shared spaces like desks, telephones or door handles.

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