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Winter is coming.....Is your immune system ready?

The Coffs Coast is hardly Winterfell, but that doesn’t seem to stop us from coming down with colds and flu. We spoke to CHC Pharmacy’s Josie about how we can bolster our immune defences. 

It doesn’t get all that cold here, so why do we still get sick every winter?

The latest thinking is that it’s not the cold that makes people susceptible to infection. We are more likely to get sick in winter because we spend more time indoors, where we are in closer contact with other people who pass on germs.

What’s the best way to avoid getting sick?

There are really only two ways to avoid getting sick.  One is to avoid contact with germs: try not to kiss too many people, wash your hands and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.   The other is to have a strong immune system that fights off those germs you do come into contact with.

OK, so how do I make sure my immune system is strong?

Your immune system is a remarkable thing.  It’s this whole network of cells, tissues and organs that all work together to protect the body from the germs that cause colds and flu.  To function well it needs balance and harmony.

You’re going to think this is boring…but the best way to a healthy immune system is a balanced, healthy lifestyle: don’t smoke, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, control your weight and your blood pressure… I know everyone has heard it all before, but this really is the best way to protect yourself.

What about the flu shot? 

Getting a vaccine is a very good idea, particularly for people who spend a lot of time with people, are vulnerable to infection or simply can’t afford to be sick.

A vaccine gives you a tiny dose of the known flu viruses, to allow your immune system to develop antibodies against those bugs.  Within about two weeks of your jab, your body has developed strong defences.

But it’s important to understand that a vaccine only targets specific, known viruses.  It’s not going to prevent you coming down with a cold, or possibly contracting a new, unknown flu virus that the developers didn’t see coming. So a vaccine is not a substitute for keeping your immune system strong.  I’m afraid that healthy lifestyle is still important.

What about vitamin C and garlic?  Do they really work?

There are definitely foods and vitamin supplements that have immune boosting properties. It turns out that the same sulphuric compounds that give garlic it’s taste and smell are powerful enough to wipe out bacteria and infection.  Garlic has been used to fight infection in many cultures over centuries – it was even used to prevent gangrene in both world wars.

There is a growing body of evidence that a deficiency in vitamin C has a negative impact on your immune system. We tend to see lower levels of vitamin C in older adults and people who are under a great deal of stress. So, particularly for people vulnerable to vitamin C deficiency, it’s important to eat plenty of citrus and kiwi fruit or consider a supplement.

What’s “the latest” in immune boosters?

I would say the two things that have scientists the most excited are zinc and probiotics.

Zinc is known to play an important role in the immune system and there have been a lot of studies lately to understand how we can use zinc to fight off infection.  We are still learning, but there have been some studies that have found that zinc lozenges may reduce the duration of a cold by as much as 50%. So that’s exciting.

The other big news is the role the gut plays in the immune system.  Your intestines are home to a whole bunch of different bacteria, known collectively as your microbiome.  An unhealthy micobiome will weaken your immune system, and there’s even new evidence that it might make vaccines less effective.

Probably the best way to make sure your microbiome is healthy is to take a good probiotic. A recent study in New Zealand found that athlete who took a probiotic had 40% fewer colds and gastro infection that those using a placebo.  That’s a pretty impressive result.

How can a pharmacist help me with all of this?

Well first of all you can come to our clinic in CHC Pharmacy Coffs Harbour for a flu vaccine. (Details about how to book in etc – phone 6652 2448 or book online at chcmedical.com.au)  You can also talk to our pharmacist about the range of supplements and health foods we have available to help with immunity.


To book for a flu vaccine, either call us on 6652 2448 or book online at chcmedical.com.au.  CHC Pharmacy will bulk bill for seniors, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions or low immunity.  Otherwise a flu vaccination costs $14.95.


Not sure if you should get a vaccine? Our friends at Toormina Medical Centre have developed a great little quiz to help you decide if you need a jab this year.


This article was created as part of the Your Health Experts program. We are working with other local health experts to bring you the tips, advice and information you need to lead a healthy life. To make sure you get all this great information subscribe to our monthly mini-magand follow us on Facebook.



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