Support Groups Find Therapist Events Calendar Online Store

ADAVICSocial SupportInformationResourcesProfessional HelpOnline Store

Staying Healty in Winter

This page added 5 May 2012

By Jad (BHSc Naturopathy)

Well Winter is almost upon us and with that comes the problem of Colds and Flu’s. We all know and dread the tell tail signs of sore throat, runny nose and cough. What many people do not realize is the difference between a cold virus symptoms and influenza symptoms. Colds will last on average for one week or less. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, blocked nose, sore or scratchy throat, and feelings of not being quite well. Symptoms can be severe enough that you may need to rest in bed all day, or mild enough that you can carry on with your day. Influenza or Flu is much more severe in symptoms. These include fever, muscle aches and pains, joint pain, headache, nasal congestion and a more severe cough. Symptoms normally come on very abruptly, whereas a cold will tend to build up. More often than not the person cannot leave their bed and may be sick for more than a week.

Why do we catch colds in winter?

The truth is that people can catch the cold or influenza virus at any time of year, though it is slightly more common in Winter. There have been a number of theories put forward to this. Common folk lore says that if you let your body get cold and wet then you will catch a cold. This has been found to be pretty much incorrect. There is some evidence that when the mucous membranes in our nasal passages are exposed to very cold air then the immune cells do not work as quick to attack invading cold/flu viruses (1). This has not been consistently shown though. The more accepted theory is that people spend more time indoors with other people in closer contact. This increases the spread of the cold and flu viruses (2).

Often the air is dryer in Winter, and the virus can live for longer and spread further in drier air (3).

One last theory that has recently been getting some attention is that the lack of sunlight in winter causes us to be lower in Vitamin D (4). This vitamin is needed for our white blood cells to make cathelicidin which naturally fights off infection. This may also explain the folk remedy practice of taking Cod Liver Oil in winter, as it is rich in Vitamin D.

Does stress and anxiety affect cold and flu risk?

Yes it can. Chronic stress and anxiety may increase the stress hormone cortisol which can dampen down our immune response leading to increased susceptibility to infection (5). It is therefore more important for anxiety sufferers to take measures to help reduce their stress levels in order to keep their immune system healthy. Meditation, laughter, getting a good nights sleep, and having strong ties with family and friends can all help to keep cortisol levels in check and your immune system healthy.

How do you prevent colds and flu?

When someone infected sneezes or wipes their nose tiny droplets of moisture containing the virus become spread around the environment. When one of these droplets comes in contact with out nose, mouth, ear or eyes, we can then become infected. Therefore the primary way to not catch a cold is to observe common hygiene rules. Keep your hands clean, if you are in frequent contact with other people who may be sick then do not touch your mouth or eyes without washing your hands, if you are around sick children ask them to sneeze/cough into a tissue and not out into the open. There is no evidence that antibacterial soaps, gels, or normal soapie water is better than another, however excess use of antibacterial soaps may increase bacterial resistance, so one of the best things to use is the instant dry alcohol gels.

Conventional medical treatment includes bed rest, plenty of fluids, and if necessary decongestants and pain relievers. Note that these are just for symptom relief, they do not actively fight the cold/flu virus. Antibiotics do nothing to fight colds and flu either. Sometimes your GP may recommend them if they think you may have a secondary infection, but often their effect in cold and flu is placebo. The best treatment is rest!

Can herbs or supplements help?

  • Echinacea root has been a folk remedy for colds for many hundreds of years. Studies have been inconsistent but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Echinacea root taken at the first sign of a cold or flu can reduce the duration and severity of the infection. Choose a product with at least 500mgs of the root per serve and follow the recommendations on the label, frequent servings work better than one large dose.
  • Many people believe that mega doses of vitamin C can fight a cold. After 30 years of research the jury is still out, some studies show it works, some that it does not. We do know that it is very safe to take though, and certainly our requirements for vitamin C increase with stress or illness. Vitamin C comes out of the body quickly, so small frequent doses are needed to keep it in the blood to fight off infection. A dose of 500mgs taken a 4 times a day is very safe and may help reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. Food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruit, capsicum, tomatoes, kiwi fruit, berries and blackcurrants.
  • Zinc is critical for normal immune function. Supplements in the form of lozenges can reduce cold symptoms and may prevent a cold if taken frequently at the first sign of infection. They can be found in health food stores. Food sources include shellfish, beef, brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds (pepitas).
  • The herb elderberry has been found in placebo controlled trials to reduce cold and flu symptoms and may even help prevent a cold if taken at the first sign of symptoms (6).
  • People with diets high in antioxidants have reduced incidence of colds and flu. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, green tea, black tea, cocoa and red wine are all rich sources of dietary antioxidants.
  • Cod Liver Oil was an old folk remedy for preventing colds and flu. Modern research shows that it is high in Vitamin A and Vitamin D, two critical nutrients for immune function, and also high in Omega 3 fats which can be of particular importance to anxiety sufferers as they are important for healthy brain function. A teaspoon a day is all that is needed (avoid if pregnant).


To stay healthy this winter: manage your stress, get plenty of sunlight when you can for Vitamin D, eat some fruit or vegetables with each meal for vitamin C and antioxidants, and practice good hygiene and you should avoid most viruses. If you do get sick, consider some of the above remedies, get plenty of bed rest and keep your fluids up. Severe symptoms should be seen by a professional of course.


  1. Mourtzoukou, E.G., & Falagas, M.E., (2007) Exposure to cold and respiratory tract infections, International Journal of Tubercular Lung Disease, pp938-43
  3. Eccles, R., & Weber O.(eds) (2009). Common cold (Online-Ausg. ed.). Basel: Birkhäuser.
  4. Youssef, D., Miller, C., El-Abbassi, A., Cutchins, D., Cutchins, C., Grant, W. & Peiris, A. (2011) Antimicrobial implications of vitamin D, Dermatoendocrinology, pp 220-229.
  5. Takkouche, B., Requeira, C. & Gestal-Otero, J.J. (2001) A cohort study of stress and the common cold, Epidemiology, pp 345-349.
  6. Professor Zichria Zakay-Rones, Noemi Varsano, Moshe Zlotnik, Orly Manor, Liora Regev, Miriam Schlesinger, and Madeleine Mumcuoglu. Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virus in Vitro and Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama
  7. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Winter 1995, 1(4): 361-369.

self-funded organisation
. We welcome your contributions
donations, and memberships.

If you would like to sponsor ADAVIC
or help with fundraising, please
contact the ADAVIC office.

Sign up for our eNews letter: