Q+A: How can I prevent and recover from flu?

Q Every winter, my training and racing is interrupted by bouts of colds and flu. What can I do to prevent illness in the first place and, other than the medicines available from the chemist, is there anything that will help me recover quickly?

A The best defence against colds and flu is a strong and healthy immune system. A wealth of natural remedies is available that can both alleviate symptoms and strengthen your natural immunity.

Essential oils are one possibility. Cinnamon leaf essential oil has antibiotic, antiseptic and antiviral properties and is also an immune system stimulant. The essential oils of lavender and myrrh are effective against viruses, and others, like eucalyptus and pine, can help clear congestion. You can burn these oils, put a few drops in the bath and even use them for massage.

Herbs can also be powerful immune-system boosters. Echinacea can strengthen the system by stimulating white blood cell production, for instance. Try this for a few weeks in the winter either as a preventative or to help recovery from a bout of cold or flu. Research has also shown that patients recovered three times faster when they took 150-300mg of elderberry extract four times a day, while nasturtium fights upper respiratory tract infections and breaks up catarrh. For coughs, try aniseed, marshmallow or thyme, and a sore throat can benefit from the use of sage or myrrh.

As a basic rule, take supplements of vitamin C (3000mg daily) and zinc (15-25mg daily), at the first sign of a cold or flu, along with a dose of echinacea (15 drops three times per day). You can then add in the relevant herbs or use the essential oils.

Good old-fashioned rest, conserving all your energies to fight the infection, is also an important part of the recovery process. If you stop training and start resting at the first sign of symptoms, you are likely to be up and about and fighting fit again much more quickly!

Jennifer Harper, registered naturopathic doctor and author of Nine Ways to Body Wisdom