Doctor John Briffa's guide to wellbeing

Ten tips for good winter health

1 Take vitamin C for colds and flu

Vitamin C does not seem to help prevent colds or flu, but mega-dosing with this nutrient can be very effective for repelling germs once they've taken hold. 1g of vitamin C should be taken every hour of the waking day while symptoms persist. High doses of vitamin C may loosen the bowels, though this effect invariably abates once the dose is suitably reduced.

2 Suck zinc lozenges to help cure a cold

Zinc has both anti-viral and immune-stimulating properties, and taking this mineral in lozenge form has been shown to speed recovery from the common cold. Suck on one zinc lozenge every two hours while symptoms are in evidence.

3 Prevent and treat cold sores with lysine

While arginine speeds HSV reproduction, another amino acid - lysine - does quite the reverse. Taking 1g lysine (L-lysine) each day often proves effec tive in reducing the risk of cold sore outbreaks. If an outbreak should threaten (discomfort, numbness or tingling in the skin are common signs) then I advise taking 1g of lysine, three times a day for a few days.

4 Get out in the light

Low levels of light in the winter can precipitate seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - also known as winter depression. Getting out and about, even on a relatively dull day, can help keep SAD symptoms at bay.

5 Take a walk at lunchtime

Exercise has well-known antidepressant effects, and any mood-enhancing results it brings will be increased by being out in the light. Office-bound workers, in particular, may benefit from stretching their legs for half an hour or so at lunch.

6 Get a good intake of vitamin D

Studies show that vitamin D can help combat SAD. In addition to eating vitamin D-rich oily fish a couple of times a week, taking cod liver oil at a dose of 1-2 teaspoons (5-10 ml) per day will help provide the body with high enough levels of vitamin D to brighten your mood.

7 Keep the circulation going with ginkgo biloba

For individuals who suffer from poor circulation, the winter brings particular challenges. The herb ginkgo biloba stimulates the circulation and can help combat cold hands and feet. The normal recommended dose is 120-240mg of standardised extract per day.

8 Oil the skin from the inside

The cold winter wind has the capacity to dry out the skin. Healthy fats in the diet, known as essential fatty acids, can 'oil' the skin from the inside and protect the skin from the effects of the elements. I recommend that those prone to dry skin take 1 tablespoon (15ml) of flaxseed or hempseed oil each day.

9 Avoid chocolate and nuts if you're prone to cold sores

Cold sores are a common skin affliction in the winter. The replication of the virus that causes cold sores - the herpes simplex virus (HSV) - is stimulated by the amino acid arginine, which is found in chocolate and nuts. For those prone to cold sores, it's best to lay off these foods.

10 Aloe vera and propolis provide topical relief for cold sores

If all else fails, topical treatments may help relieve a full-blown cold sore. Creams or ointments containing aloe vera or propolis (a natural anti-microbial agent extracted from beehives) have been found to help reduce the discomfort of cold sores and hasten their healing.

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