How to stay healthy – What is a Cold – What is the Flu – Immune system

How to stay healthy during the chilly months. Winter wellness toolkit. Feeling under the weather and don’t know what to do? Whether you go the natural route or opt for a medical solution, this toolkit will give you all you need to know to survive colds, and flu this winter.

What’s the difference between colds and flu?

Pharmacist Yogin Pillay and GP Yesheen Singh of, dig into the nitty gritty about colds and flu.


Symptoms start within one to four days of catching the virus. Symptoms can include aches, nasal congestion, sneezing, sore throat, fatigue,  and slight cough.Colds should only last a few days.


Symptoms start very suddenly.Symptoms can include fever, aches and muscle pain (can be severe), coughing, fatigue and weakness, nasal congestion, sneezing and sore throat, nausea and vomiting.Flu can last a few weeks.

There is no cure for colds and flu, but symptoms can be managed.

Why a fever can be good for you

Researchers from Roswell Park Cancer Institute found that a higher body temperature can help our immune systems to work better and harder against infections. The finding was published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. Cape Town Osteopath Dr Guy Ashburner agrees with this study and explains that even though having a fever may be uncomfortable, it is part of the body’s natural defence mechanism. “A fever creates a hostile environment for germs to thrive in and when your temperature rises the physiological cascade brings in a gradually stronger immune response as required. Always consult your GP on how high you should let the fever run (especially concerning children or the elderly) before reaching for cold and flu products containing paracetamol etc. I would suggest drinking a lot of water and sweating it out overnight. Allopathic medical treatment for patients with influenza consisted of cough syrup and aspirin, treating the fever as a symptom, rather than recognizing fever as the body’s response to an infection. And as Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, stated in his autobiography, ‘Fever is a natural and powerful remedy.’ You will feel so much better in the morning and you would have let your immune system work for you!”

What about getting a flu shot?

To get vaccinated or not is a very touchy subject – one that has caused widespread debate. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says YES to vaccines, but there are credible studies that say NO to vaccines. The choice is yours to make – so be informed!

  • Do vaccinate! According to pharmacist Yogin Pillay, the WHO recommends using “a trivalent vaccine containing A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus; A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus a; and a B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus. It further recommends that quadrivalent vaccines should contain two B viruses, and the above viruses.  Flu vaccines should be taken two weeks to three weeks after any symptoms of illness. It takes about weeks after the vaccine has being administered for it to develop antibodies against the viruses in the body.”
  • Do not vaccinate!  A study published in the October 2008 issue of the Archives of Paediatric and Adolescent Medicine concluded that ‘significant influenza vaccine effectiveness could not be demonstrated for any season, age, or setting’ examined.  A 2008 study published in the Lancet found that influenza vaccination was NOT associated with a reduced risk of pneumonia in older people. This also supports an earlier study, published inThe New England Journal of Medicine. Research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine also confirms that there has been no decrease in deaths from influenza and pneumonia in the elderly, despite the fact that vaccination coverage among the elderly has increased from 15 percent in 1980 to 65 percent now. A large-scale, systematic review of 51 studies, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2006, found no evidence that the flu vaccine is any more effective than a placebo in children under 2. The studies involved 260,000 children, age 6 to 23 months.
    • Go for Vitamin D! Integrative physician Dr Singh of recommends high dose Vitamin D supplementation as an alternative to vaccination in the fight against seasonal influenza. Japanese researchers found that vitamin D was “extremely effective” in halting influenza in children, eight times more effective than published vaccine claims – this from a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (March 10, 2010). Dr Singh believes this speaks to the role of the immune system as the key intermediary in helping the body stave off influenza infections, as vitamin D is a key role player in immune activation.

What about keeping my immune system strong – is that important?

“Yes – it is vitally important,” says Cape Town Osteopath Dr Guy Ashburner. These are his top tips to keeping healthy before the bugs get you…

  • Sleep: The hormone melatonin is also secreted while you sleep, and since insufficient melatonin production is linked to decreased immune function, this is another route by which your sleeping habits influence your immune health. Exposure to light at night will also interfere with your production of melatonin, so it’s important to keep your bedroom dark. Dr Singh of healthnation adds that using an “electronic sundown” where the use of electronic tools like TV, computers and cellphones are discouraged after a specific time – he recommends 8pm. This allows your brain enough time, between electronic sundown and going to bed, to switch off the cortisol pathway, kept active by mental stimulation, and switch on the melatonin pathway, thereby encouraging relaxation and sleep.

  • Exercise: Exercise is fundamental for immune function. During exercise, breathing rate increases as does the rate of contraction in your skeletal muscles. The increased breathing and skeletal contractions speed the flow of lymph (part of your immune system) through your body. It’s important not to exercise when you are sick. Dr Singh also adds that excessive exercise may wear your immune system down as athletes don’t allow enough time for recovery between activity sessions. Try to balance healthy appropriate activity with adequate rest and recuperation.

  • Staying positive: A positive mental attitude is important to a strong immune system. The nervous system has a direct impact on the nervous system. Looking on the bright side keeps us healthy.

  • Stress: Stress increases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which suppress the immune system.  The best way to release stress is moderate aerobic or anaerobic exercise which stimulates normal physiological balance.

Keeping Healthy and Treating Colds and Flu The Naturopath, The GP and the Pharmacist The minute you start feeling sick, take some time out to get more rest and sleep! Avoid high alcohol consumption, smoking, use of pesticides and other environmental toxins which places undue stress on the immune system

Have plenty of fluids such as fresh juice (carrot and orange), have chicken soup – which is good for the body as well as the soul, a hot toddy drink made with freshly squeezed lemon juice, hot water, ginger and honey and lots of fresh water. Stay away from energy drinks and other sugary beverages

Eat a healthy diet devoid of junk food, sugars and other processed foods. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables, which are in season. Seasonal foods are often an indication of what the body needs at a particular time of the year. For example, in autumn one finds more yellow/ orange coloured fruit and vegetables this is also the time our bodies need more beta-carotene and vit. C, which is essential for a healthy immune system

Use immune-boosting supplements like Vit A.C, E, zinc and selenium you can find commercially available immune boosting supplements. Make use of botanicals such as Echinacea, and other immune boosting botanicals avaible commercially in capsule or syrup form for children.

The integrative GP Dr Yesheen Sing

Listen to your body – when it asks you to slow down and call a “time out” heed it’s call. If you don’t you may be faced with a much stronger disruption to your life later on.

The greatest factor to surviving the winter is keeping your immune system healthy. If your immune system is in top form it will be able to resist most if not all of the potential pathogens it is faced with on a daily basis

The most common factors I find that help boost immune health are Vitamin D3 supplementation (have blood levels measured before supplementing), Esterified Vitamin C complexes (esterification makes for much easier absorption) and a high-dose anti-oxidant. Check and maintain your vitamin D3 levels between 50-80 units. Cut the crap – eliminate as much junk food from you diet as you can, including soda’s, fatty foods and empty carbohydrates. All these foods result in your immune system pulling its resources away from protecting your “castle” to processing the food as it passes through your gut. Add in lots of fruit and veggies to give your immune system a helping hand.

Make sure other nutrient levels, such as vitamin B12 and iron, are in healthy balance – consider a board spectrum multivitamin that contains a broad mineral complex as well. Use high dose probiotics throughout the winter to support healthy immune health.

The Pharmacist Yogin Pillay

Pain and fever can be treated using Paracetamol and Aspirin. Aspirin however should not be used in children and adolescents due to the potential to cause Reye’s syndrome. Aspirin can also be used to treat pain and inflammation associated with the cold and flu. Aspirin falls into the call of drugs called Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and should be used taken after a meal and be used with caution due to the potential to cause ulceration of the stomach.

Blocked noses can be treated using oral or nasal decongestants. These help to clear up the mucous secretions and allow you to breathe easier. Nasal decongestants should not be used continuously for long periods of time due to its potential to have a rebound effect. Saline nasal sprays also have similar effects as decongestants.  Runny noses and sneezing can be treated using antihistamines such as Chlorpheniramine Maleate, which causes sedation or Cetirizine Hydrochloride, which is non-sedating.

Coughs can be treated according to whether it is wet or dry, and also the colouration of the mucus (If it is green see your doctor). Dry coughs are generally treated using cough suppressants and wet coughs can be treated using, either a bronchodilator, mucolytic or expectorant or a combination. Mucolytics break down the stubborn mucus or phlegm, bronchodilators assist in opening up the airways and expectorants assists in the expulsion of mucus or phlegm.

Sore and inflamed throats can be treated using throat lozenges, rinses and sprays

Influenza can be treated using anti-viral medication via prescription after consultation with a doctor. There are also many products that are available over the counter (OTC) which contains a combination of different active ingredients which aid treating the symptoms of colds and flu.

Keeping your kids healthy

Dr Ashburner explains that children are more likely to get the flu because their immune systems are still developing. “Keep your child at home until his/her fever has been absent for at least 24 hours and your child is feeling well enough to resume normal activities. It is important for your child to stay home when they have a fever so that the virus doesn’t spread to other children. Your child can return to school 24 hours after the fever has resolved and he/she is feeling well enough to resume normal activities.”

These are his tips for kids health:

  • Sleep – Sleep deprivation can make you more susceptible to illness so it makes sense to get enough sleep.
  • Breast-feed your baby – Breast milk contains turbo-charged immunity-enhancing antibodies.
  • Exercise – Research shows that exercise increases the number of natural killer cells in adults and regular activity can benefit kids in the same way. Never exercise when you are sick.
  • Encourage them to wash their hands –  Make sure your kids wash their hands often with soap. You should pay particular attention to their hygiene before and after each meal and after playing outside, handling pets, blowing their nose, using the bathroom, and arriving home from day care. When you’re out, carry disposable wipes with you for quick clean ups.
  • Get a new toothbrush – If your child does get sick, throw out her toothbrush right away. A child can’t catch the same cold or flu virus twice, but the virus can hop from toothbrush to toothbrush, infecting other family members.
  • Banish second hand smoke – Second hand smoke increases a child’s risk of SIDS, bronchitis, ear infections, and asthma. You can reduce your child’s health risks considerably by smoking only outside the house or better still kicking the habit
  • Limit contact with others – Keep your child at home until his/her fever has been absent for at least 24 hours and your child is feeling well enough to resume normal activities. It is important for your child to stay home when they have a fever so that the virus doesn’t spread to other children.

Dr Singh adds that kid’s immune systems are much more easily affected by unhealthy pro-inflammatory foods. Keep their diets free of sodas, sweets and other junk foods if you want to keep them free of winter infections.

What about gramps and grandma – how can we help the elderly stay healthy?

“Many common illnesses can be very dangerous for the elderly and thus they need to vigilant about looking after their health – especially around cold and flu season,” says Registered dietician Lila Bruk of “I feel a good immune-boosting supplement (containing B-vitamins, garlic, echinacea and other immune-boosting nutrients) helps a lot to stave off colds and flu.The elderly often have difficulty chewing and thus often don’t consume enough fruits and veg, which are usually more difficult to chew than other foods, and thus can affect their immune function. Therefore the elderly should make a concerted effort to get enough fruits and vegetables in easy to chew forms (e.g. soups, soft veg such as butternut, stewed fruit).”

What is osteopathy and how can it help strengthen my immunity?

Osteopathy is intended to address the whole body, to increase its vitality. This is achieved by freeing restrictions within joints and muscles, thereby affecting posture and mobility. This helps to remove any blockage or restriction to the flow of blood, lymph or nerve. It is this increase in flow, this increase in the body’s tissues receiving nutrition and oxygen, and the increase in drainage and removal of waste, which increases the vitality, the health of the body. This in turn gives the person reserves of energy and building blocks for repair, when needed, and further, improves immune function and response for the prevention of disease in general.

Dr A. T. Still M.D. who founded Osteopathy in 1874 discovered that by removing musculoskeletal (structural) derangements, which are blocks to good health, with the aid of Osteopathy, allows the body to function optimally and may help a person’s nervous system and thereby enhance a person’s immune system. The musculoskeletal system, being the largest system of the body, will have a profound effect on all other systems of the body. The importance of this relationship between structure and function has been now been realised as recent neuro-immunology research has discovered the relationship between the immune system and the nervous system.

Dr Ashburner’s top tips on avoiding getting sick at work

If you’re sick, stay at home – otherwise you’re likely to spread the virus.

  1. Wash hands often and keep hand sanitizer on your desk.
  2. Disinfect the things you touch regularly including your keyboard, mouse, phone, pens.
  3. Stay away from anyone at work who is sick. Try your best to avoid contact with anyone who’s blowing their nose, sneezing.
  4. Don’t touch your face. If you work at a computer, it’s tempting to sit with your head resting in your palm or to rub your weary computer-screen eyes, but refrain from touching your face. As soon as germs make it from your hands to your mouth  and especially eyes, you might as well call in sick tomorrow.
  5. Get out at least once a day to exercise. Working out regularly not only strengthens the immune system, but it also gives you a much-needed break from breathing in stale office air.

If you are prone to hayfever and sinusitis are you more susceptible to getting ill this winter? What should you do to stay well?

“Hay fever can occur seasonally or it can occur continuously through the year.  It caused by a variety of substances and the symptoms are redness and itching of the eyes and nose, post nasal drip leading to coughing, nasal congestion and sneezing,” explains Pharmacist Yogin Pillay. “Sinusitis is an in inflammation of the air cavities or mucus membranes that line the nasal passage. It can be caused by allergic rhinitis, after a cold or by bacterial infection.  If a person is continuously exposed to allergens that cause hay fever and it is not treated effectively, the immune system can be lowered making you susceptible to colds and flu. Treat the symptoms and boost the immune system.” Integrative GP Dr Yesheen Singh of recommends using a netti pot or saline rinsing. “It’s the most effective tool I’ve used in my practice to reduce the incidence and severity of hayfever and sinusitis episodes. In combination with probiotic use and a healthy diet it can lead to a much more comfortable winter experience,” he says.

View a list of common complains that Osteopathy can assist with

Discovery the benefits of Osteopathy