Battling the flu: A guide to raising immunity and easing symptoms

Ingy Deif, Monday 3 Feb 2014

With winter colds still going strong, experts reveal how we can alleviate the symptoms and raise the body's immunity through nutrition

Flu virus: Reuters
Flu virus: Reuters

Since most people are likely to contract common colds during the winter months, the real question is not how to avoid them but rather how to properly deal with them, says public health consultant Dr Heba Sadek.

She explains that the choice of remedy largely depends on the nature of the symptoms. “Certain symptoms are quite clear and easy to manage. However, if they persist, or include constricted breathing, chest pain or sore throat, a physician must be consulted and the patient will probably need an antibiotic,” she adds.

Dr Sadek offers the following simple guide to manage the flu:

1-Stuffy nose: try ointments that are rubbed across the chest or nose so that their vapour is inhaled. Menthol oil vapour, which is produced by adding the oil to boiling water, is particularly useful.

2- Mild headaches and pain: various medications containing paracetamol are the direct solution for mild pains associated with the flu, but the presence of fever may indicate another condition.

3- Runny nose: although it could be a sign of flu or allergy, decongestants are generally useful, unless you suffer from high blood pressure. You can also resort to nasal sprays which should be used until the symptom disappears.

4-Cough: if the flu results in minor cough, over the counter medications containing codeine are recommended, but for no more than a few days. Note that a chesty cough requires a visit to the doctor.

Medications are efficient for the relief of symptoms, but nothing compares to good nutrition for elevating the efficiency of the immunity system and protecting oneself from recurring episodes of flu, stresses Dr Fawzi El-Shobaki, professor of nutrition at the National Research Institute.

"When bouts of flu seem to be around every corner, the least we can do is understand that our urge to indulge in carbohydrates and sugary food – which is associated with the cold weather – is the worst we could do to our health. The benchmark of healthy eating should now be raised more than ever," he says.

El-Shobaki recommends the following eating habits during the cold season:

1-If eaten fresh, garlic boosts the immunity in many ways, increasing the production of white blood cells which combat infections and germs

2-Citrus fruits, commonly known to be rich sources of vitamin P or flavonoids, and vitamin C – of which the recommended daily dosage is 60 mg

3-Fresh vegetables and fruits are preferred over supplements

4-Various sources of vitamin E, which is a major antioxidant, like pumpkins, potatoes, squash and parsnips

5- Indulge in treats of hazelnuts, chestnuts, almonds, and walnuts, all sources of vitamin E 

6- To combat infections, include a source of omega-3 fatty acids – such as walnuts, salmon, tuna, olive oil, and mackerel – at least twice a week 

7-Foods rich in zinc – like pumpkin, dairy products, beef, sweet corn and turkey – help reduce flu severity and increase the production of white blood cells that combat infections

8-Wholegrain wheat and brown rice are complex carbohydrates containing selenium that boosts the body's immunity and motivates the effectiveness of natural killer cells

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