Tips for Avoiding Colds

As we slip into the season of colds and flu, what are some of the steps we can take to improve our chances of evading them? Firstly, ensure your immune system is provided with all the essential nutrients. Here are some useful foods.

How to avoid colds: choose the right foods.Beginning with breakfast, have an oat-based cereal eg museli, or make some oat porridge: oats contain a type of fibre known as beta-glucan which stimulates the white blood cells and macrophage cells of our immune system. Food to combat colds.This is also an opportunity to get some extra zinc by sprinkling a small palmful of pumpkin seeds over your cereal: in the laboratory, zinc has been shown to stop the cold virus multiplying, but studies also suggest it can shorten the duration of a cold (NHS Choices). Food to combat colds.Another ingredient you might like to include with breakfast, is a probiotic preparation, such as live or bio yoghurt, kefir, Yakult or Actimel. Probiotics appear to be useful in preventing upper respiratory tract infections (Cochrane Commentary). Food to combat colds.Finally, as regular intake of vitamin C appears to slightly shorten the duration and severity of a cold in some individuals (Cochrane Library), you could slice a kiwi or other citrus fruit over your cereal. Food to combat colds.A laboratory study suggests blueberries might also hold promise as an immune system aid (Oregon State University).

Food to combat colds.Having followed all that breakfast advice, we could turn to a mid-morning cup of tea. Black, green and white tea all contain catechins which seem according to a study in Japan, to reduce the likelihood of catching flu.

Food to combat colds.On to lunch or dinner, oily fish such as salmon, herring or mackerel offers you the benefits of omega-3 oils. Work done at Michigan State University suggests that the DHA in fish oil may enhance the activity of B-cells (specialised white blood cells) in your immune system. Food to combat colds.So consider a smoked salmon sandwich for lunch, or for a hot meal, have a salmon steak with which you could include sweet potato and carrots; these are rich in beta-carotene which the body converts to vitamin A and which performs a wide range of functions in the immune system. Food to combat colds.The salmon is also providing you with vitamin D, which like vitamin A, enables an array of immune system processes. Your breakfast milk and yoghurt will have contained vitamin D too.

Food to combat colds.If you are looking for a light evening meal, try a mushroom omelette: the eggs and mushrooms offer more vitamin D, whilst the protein contains the essential amino acid building blocks for our immune system cells. Food to combat colds.(You can significantly enhance the vitamin D content of your mushrooms by leaving them gills upwards in sunshine for an hour after buying them.) There are other ingredients in mushrooms which further support immune function. Food to combat colds.If it’s to your taste, add some garlic: a study published in 2014 suggested that people who took garlic supplements over a three month period, had fewer colds than those who took a placebo.

Food to combat colds.Secondly, following diet, try to get sufficient sleep, avoid overwork, and keep stress levels down.

Finally, attend to basic personal hygiene. Wash your hands at intervals eg at work where colleagues are touching the same door handles, office equipment etc, or after shopping when you have handled a supermarket trolley, petrol pumps etc.

These steps combined cannot completely eliminate the risk of a cold, but should give you a better chance of avoiding one as you are optimising defences on so many levels.

Two Hours Per Week in Nature helps Health & Wellbeing

Acupuncture in Exeter: two hours per week in nature helps health & wellbeing. Authors from the Universities of Exeter, Uppsala in Sweden and Michigan in the US, have collaborated to examine the effects of time spent in nature, on health and wellbeing.

Nearly 20 000 people were asked to report on their recreational nature contact. Compared to no nature contact, the likelihood of reporting good health or high wellbeing became significantly greater when contact exceeded a threshold of 120 minutes. Positive associations peaked between 200 and 300 minutes per week. This pattern was consistent across groups including older adults and those with long-term health issues. It also did not matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in one long or several shorter blocks.

Acupuncture in Exeter: two hours per week in nature helps health & wellbeing. The researchers say one explanation for their findings may be that time spent in nature is a proxy for physical activity, and it is this which is driving the relationship, rather than nature contact itself. Although they tried to control for this by asking participants about physical activity, they were unable to completely separate one effect from another. Experimental research however, indicates that some benefits cannot be due solely to physical activity. Research into shinrin-yoku (Japanese “forest bathing”), suggests that various psycho-physiological benefits can be gained from merely sitting passively in natural settings.

(Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports, online 13 June 2019.)

Cycling and Health

Cycling and health. A new study on cycling and health undertaken across seven European cities reveals that it is the mode of transport associated with the greatest health benefits. Cyclists experience better self-perceived general health and better mental health.

The study was carried out in Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Örebro, Rome, Vienna and Zurich. A baseline questionnaire was completed by more than 8800 people, 3500 of whom also completed a final survey, on transport modes and perceptions of general health. The survey included questions on anxiety, depression, loss of emotional control, psychological well-being, vitality and perceived stress. The transport modes assessed were car, motorbike, public transport, bicycle, electric bicycle and walking.

The findings were that cycling yielded the best results in every analysis. Bicycles were associated with better self-perceived general health, better mental health, greater vitality, lower self-perceived stress and fewer feelings of loneliness. The second most beneficial transport mode, walking, was associated with good self-perceived general health, greater vitality, and more contact with friends and/or family.

Research in 2016 looked at the impact of cycling for commuting and recreation, on the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In this cohort study of Danish adults aged 50 to 65, those who reported higher weekly cycling mileages were less likely to develop diabetes; the effect was more pronounced in those who cycled to work.

Perhaps most interesting though was that those who took up cycling after the study began, also had a lower risk of developing diabetes than those who did not cycle. This suggests that it is not too late to access the benefits of cycling, even in the years approaching retirement.

(Barcelona Institute for Global Health, 13 August 2018.

Associations between Recreational and Commuter Cycling, Changes in Cycling, and Type 2 Diabetes Risk: A Cohort Study of Danish Men and Women. PLOS Medicine, 12 July 2016.)

Evening Meal by 9pm is Associated with Lower Breast & Prostate Cancer Risk

A new study from researchers in Barcelona, Spain suggests that people who eat their evening meal by 9pm or leave at least two hours between their meal and bedtime, can reduce their risk of breast and prostate cancer. Compared with those who eat after 10pm or who go to bed soon after eating, the reduction in risk is around 20%.

Breast and prostate cancers, besides being two of the most common cancers worldwide, are also among those most strongly associated with night-shift work, circadian disruption and alteration of biological rhythms. The study assessed each participant’s lifestyle and chronotype (an individual’s preference for morning or evening activity), and looked at 620 cases of prostate cancer and 1200 cases of breast cancer. The study author concludes that if the findings are confirmed, they will have implications for cancer prevention recommendations, which currently do not take meal timing into account. The impact could be especially important in cultures such as those of southern Europe, where people eat supper late.

(Effect of mistimed eating patterns on breast and prostate cancer risk (MCC-Spain Study). International Journal of Cancer, 17 July 2018.)

Physically Fit Women Less Likely to Develop Dementia

Research from Sweden: fitness and dementia. A new study on fitness and dementia from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden suggests women with high physical fitness in middle age are nearly 90% less likely to develop dementia decades later, compared with women who are moderately fit. If these highly fit women did develop dementia, they did so on average 11 years later than women who were moderately fit, or at age 90 instead of age 79.

“These findings are exciting because it’s possible that improving people’s cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent them from developing dementia,” said study author Helena Hörder. “However, this study does not show cause and effect between cardiovascular fitness and dementia, it only shows an association. More research is needed to see if improved fitness could have a positive effect on the risk of dementia and also to look at when during a lifetime a high fitness level is most important.”

For the study, 191 women, average age 50, took a bicycle exercise test to measure their peak cardiovascular capacity. A total of 40 women met the criteria for a high fitness level, 92 women were in the medium fitness category, and 59 women were low fitness.

Over the next 44 years, subjects were tested for dementia six times. During that period, 44 developed dementia: 5% of the highly fit women; 25% of moderately fit women: 32% of the women with low fitness. The highly fit women were 88% less likely to develop dementia than the moderately fit women.

Some women had to stop the original exercise test due to problems such as chest pain or high blood pressure; 45% of this group developed dementia.

(Neurology Journal, 14 March 2018 online.)