It’s getting to be that time of year again. All of a sudden, you and everyone else you know seem to be suffering from sniffles, aches and pains, nausea, headaches, and sore throats. The cold & flu medications that we find at the pharmacy may be effective when it comes to fast-acting relief of symptoms, but for the most part they are simply masking those symptoms rather than actually helping us heal.
The good news is that there are tons of effective natural remedies out there, and many of them make use of ingredients that you probably already have in your home. The best natural treatments work not only to reduce symptoms but also to support and enhance the body’s natural healing mechanisms and boost immune system function.
Many of these treatments are also effective for prevention, and can be used throughout cold & flu season to boost the immune system so that you can, hopefully, avoid the flu and other viruses altogether.
WHAT TO TAKE
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is one of the most important and powerful vitamins for immune system function and fighting colds and viruses (1). It’s a good idea to take vitamin C throughout flu season as a preventative measure. If you do find yourself sick with a cold or the flu, increase the dose, and take it multiple times throughout the day, to bowel tolerance. Increasing your intake of dietary sources of vitamin C– particularly lemon, which can easily be added to your hot, soothing beverage of choice– doesn’t hurt either.
Probiotics: You may already be taking a probiotic supplement for your gut health and overall wellness, and if you are, keep it up! One of the many benefits of probiotics (friendly bacteria) is their ability to boost the immune system, which makes sense, as the majority of the immune system resides in the gut. Daily supplementation with probiotics may reduce your likelihood of getting sick (2), and supplementation during illness can reduce the duration and severity of colds and viruses.
Elderberry: Elderberry, which is most easily taken as a syrup, is a powerful natural treatment that helps to boost immunity, reduce inflammation, relieve flu symptoms and sinus pain, and shorten the duration of viruses (3).
Echinacea: Echinacea is an herb that has been used for centuries as a natural treatment for infections, and research shows that it can reduce the severity and length of colds and viruses thanks to its immune boosting and anti-inflammatory properties (4). It also helps to reduce bronchial symptoms associated with colds and the flu. Echinacea is also (perhaps especially) effective when it comes to prevention (5), and although taking it daily for the entire duration of the flu season is not recommended, it may be wise to take it proactively at the first sign of a possible virus, or when someone close to you is fighting one. Echinacea can be taken as an extract or consumed as tea.
Zinc: Zinc is an essential mineral that helps to combat cold and flu symptoms and shorten the duration of illness by boosting the immune system and reducing viral activity. Zinc is especially helpful for respiratory symptoms, and can be taken in lozenge form for the most effective relief.
Oregano: A lesser known but effective home remedy, oregano is actually a natural antibiotic and antiviral treatment, and can be taken in small amounts as an oil (just a drop or two under the tongue, washed down with water) or diffused (again, just a drop or two, diluted with a base or carrier oil) for the treatment of colds and viruses.
Vitamin D: Although sometimes overlooked, vitamin D is critical for overall health and disease prevention, and in North America, the majority of us are deficient in it (6). As we get vitamin D from direct sun exposure, the chillier it gets, the less likely we are to obtain enough of it naturally. And, when fighting the flu, it’s even less tempting to spend time outside– but during flu season, we need vitamin D even more! Vitamin D is essential for both recovery and prevention, and lower vitamin D levels have been linked to an increased risk of the flu, colds, and respiratory infections.
WHAT TO EAT
What to eat: We often lose our appetites when we’re sick. This is natural, and it’s actually an example of the way that our bodies understand how to heal us from within. Digestion requires a significant amount of energy, and when we get sick, we want to reserve as much energy as possible for fighting the virus or infection, and healing.
It’s important to cooperate with this innate healing mechanism, and not force yourself to eat too much. Stick to light, nutritious foods that are easy to digest, and focus on drinking lots of water and fluids that heal.
Chicken soup is not just a cliche when it comes to colds and viruses. Chicken soup and bone broths actually have immune boosting and anti-inflammatory benefits, and they’re also easy to digest and easy to stomach when you’re sick. Homemade is always best, if possible.
Fresh fruits and fresh, cooked vegetables are good options as well.
And then there’s garlic. Garlic can be added to meals (like chicken soup!) in generous quantities, and although it may not sound appealing, eating raw garlic is one of the most effective natural cold & flu remedies around (7) thanks to its antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibiotic properties, and its high vitamin and mineral content.
What not to eat: When you’re fighting a virus, knowing what not to eat is just as important as knowing what to eat– or maybe even more important. First of all, cut out sugar, which makes healing more difficult by weakening the immune system. You also want to avoid grains and dairy, as they suppress immune function. For the record, removing sugars and grains from your diet will help to improve your immune function all year round, and among many other health benefits, can reduce your likelihood of getting sick in the first place.
WHAT TO DRINK
Drinking lots of water is important all the time, but when you’re fighting a cold or the flu, your body needs even more water than usual in order to flush out the virus. Water on its own is great, and many effective natural cold and flu remedies can easily be added to hot water and/or consumed as herbal teas. The following are natural treatments that can be mixed into hot and beverages in various combinations for all kinds of healing benefits.
Ginger: Ginger is a powerful immune-boosting, antibacterial, and antioxidant remedy that fights inflammation and pain, attacks viruses, and relieves symptoms from nausea (8) to fevers to sore throats. Sip on fresh ginger tea throughout the day for its healing and soothing effects.
Turmeric: Turmeric is another multipurpose remedy, helping with both the prevention and treatment of the flu and other viruses thanks to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties. Try mixing a little bit into hot water with lemon or herbal tea.
Lemon: Adding lemon to water or tea is a great way to get a bit of extra vitamin C into you, and it also has antibacterial properties.
Cayenne pepper: Cayenne may not be everyone’s taste, but it is an effective natural decongestant. Add a dash to your hot water with lemon.
Chamomile: A favorite bedtime beverage, chamomile tea is soothing, promotes restful sleep, reduces inflammation, and can help to reduce aches, pains, and fever.
Apple cider vinegar: It may not taste great, but mixing a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar into a glass of water can help to fight colds and viruses, reduce nausea, and increase energy levels.
Peppermint: Sipping on peppermint tea, which has antibacterial and antiviral properties, can help to fight viruses, ease congestion, and reduce fevers.
WHAT TO DO
If you have a diffuser at home, put it to use! Try diffusing eucalyptus oil for its antiviral and antimicrobial properties or peppermint oil to reduce fevers and relieve congestion.
Another great way to make use of eucalyptus oil is to make an at-home facial steam. Add a few drops to a large bowl filled with very hot water, cover it with a towel so that you don’t burn yourself, and hold your face over the steam for a few minutes while taking deep breaths. Not only is this a great way to take advantage of the antiviral and antibacterial effects of eucalyptus, the steam itself helps to relieve symptoms of congestion and clear the sinuses.
To soothe aches and pains and sweat out toxins, soak in a hot bath with epsom salts. To soothe a sore throat, gargle with warm salt water several times a day– just make sure not to swallow it.And finally, rest! When we’re sick, we need more sleep than usual. Trying to “power through” a typical work day with a virus by taking symptom-masking medications is not a good idea, as this will only prolong the period of illness. Get as much rest as possible in order to heal more quickly.
For more personalized guidance, request a consultation at our office.
Please note that all information in this article is for general, educational purposes only. Supplementation and other treatment decisions should be discussed with your practitioner. If cold or flu symptoms worsen or do not improve, seek medical treatment.
Let me know in the comments below if any of these remedies have helped you in the past. If you’ve had success with something else, leave a comment and let me know what helped you.