I truly hope that you don’t need to use these tips and tricks, but the reality of winter with all the extra bugs floating around and more time spent in doors means that our chances of getting a cold may increase. Catching the odd cold is not necessarily a bad thing – our immune system needs a little challenge every now and again to ensure that it is kept on its toes and is super alert. What we want to ensure is that our body can learn from this ‘experience’ rather than end up being totally wiped out. Here are my top tips on the best ways to support your body and your immune system if you start getting the sniffles.


I know, I know… common sense, right? Yet so many of us refuse to actually take some time out when we start to feel a bit unwell. Fighting an infection is a nutrient and energy expensive process in our body and we need to respect this. Asking our body to do additional ‘things’ while it is trying to protect us is like trying to fill a bucket that has holes in the bottom; it’s practically impossible. If you feel like you are coming down with something, this is your body is saying ‘I need some time out’. There is a reason why you feel tired and a bit lack-lustre – your body needs some rest so that it can divert all the energy it has into getting rid of the infection and helping you regain your spark! Resting, taking a sick day or even skipping an exercise session when you are feeling unwell is not being ‘slack’; it is being smart so that your body can get you back doing the things you love, quicker!

Zinc and vitamin C

These two nutrients are the power packs of the immune system. We have 5 types of white blood cells that make up our immune system and protect us from a variety of different bugs. Neutrophils are one of these cells and they make up about 70% of our total white blood cell count. They are first on the scene whenever there is an infection and the main nutrients that they need to do their job properly are zinc and vitamin C. Usually these cells are pretty self-sufficient and can get enough of these nutrients from our diet, but in the initial stages of infection, these cells go into overdrive! They try and get the infection under control before we even notice a thing. Signs of a sore throat, snuffy nose or body aches can let us know our neutrophils are running out of fuel and the infection is starting to take over. Topping up with some zinc and vitamin C helps ensure our neutrophils can keep on fighting!

Tip: it’s best to take vitamin C in small amounts frequently over the day e.g. 500-1000mg, 4 – 5 times per day when you are unwell.

Manuka honey

This is especially effective if you have a sore throat or your glands are up. All honey has medicinal properties, but manuka honey is the most powerful. You may have noticed it is significantly more expensive than regular honey – and there is a reason for this. Manuka honey is the honey from bees that feed on the manuka bush. This produces a special substance called the UMF (unique manuka factor) which is highly antibacterial, antiviral and stimulating for the immune system. You will see it written as a number on the jar. The higher the number, the stronger the medicinal effects (and the higher the price tag). I usually go for a UMF of 25 – 30, but just select one that your budget allows for. You only need a teaspoon at a time. If your throat is sore, just eat it right off the spoon so the honey coats your throat and the UMF can get right to the source. People often ask me about the sugar impact – in this instance, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The benefits that will be seen from the UMF will certainly outweigh any concerns over the sugar content – just stop the consumption when you’re feeling well again.

Chopped onions by your bed

This is one of my favourite old school naturopathic tips! Chop up about 3 – 4 onions and place them on your bedside if you are feeling sick. The key is to expose as much of the onion surface area as possible. Onions release antimicrobial substances into the air as well as acting as an anchor point to pull in any bugs that are floating around (preventing them from re-entering your body). Use fresh onions each night and make sure you throw the other ones away.

Salt water gargles or nasal rinses

Our tonsils and sinuses are large reservoirs of immune producing cells and one of our first lines of defence. Unfortunately, if too many bugs get stuck there, it can become the perfect breeding ground for the infection. Salt water gargles or nasal rinses helps dislodge bugs that get a bit stuck so they can’t replicate and make us sick. It is a good idea to do these rinses regularly if you are in an environment where everyone around you is sick. The ratios that you need are as follows:

  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

You may even like to add a couple of drops of eucalyptus or pine essential oil to take things up a notch. Make this gargle fresh each day. And please, don’t swallow it!

Warm foods in small amounts

As I said earlier, fighting off an infection takes a lot out of our body. Even though we need to stay nourished, we want to do this in the most strategic way possible so we don’t put unnecessary strain on the body. Choosing cooked foods means some of the digesting (especially of fibre) has already been done for us and your body doesn’t have to work as hard. It can then divert those resources to fending off the bugs! Soups and stews get extra bonus points because they have been cooked for longer periods and are super easy for us to digest. If you’re feeling unwell, stay away from salads and other ‘cold’ foods until you’re feeling back to your normal self.

Garlic with garlic and a side of garlic!

You get my drift here…eat as much garlic as your body (and maybe those around you) can handle! Most of you have heard how powerful garlic is for immune function, but many people don’t use it in the right way. For garlic to have it’s immune boosting power, it actually needs to be raw. Ideally we want to crush the garlic and then consume straight away. The ‘crushing’ action (whether it be with the back of your knife or in a mortar and pestle) activates a series of enzymes that gives our immune system the extra kick. Unfortunately, cooking deactivates this to enzymatic activity so while it will help with a number of other things, it won’t do much for your immune system. Not sure how you’ll get it in? Grind up some fresh garlic cloves with lemon, olive oil and sea salt and add it to your meals, eat it straight off the spoon or mix through some mashed veggies. Adding some parsley will also help neutralise the ‘garlic breath’ so you might want to add this in too.

While prevention is always better than cure, sometimes we can’t help picking up a bug that has been floating around. The good news is though, that usually when you respect your body, it will bound back and be better prepared for the next time. These simple tips should help you get back on track!