Natural Ways to Prevent and Treat Colds & Flu
When it comes to cold and flu season, prevention really is the first line of defense. To keep your body’s defense system—the immune system—in peak condition, follow our immunity-boosting tips to help your body fight off the bugs looking for a host. And, for times when you are feeling ill, the second set of tips can help ease your symptoms and support a quick recovery.
Cold & Flu Prevention Tips
Your immune system is at work 24/7! The best approach to supporting immune function is a healthy lifestyle that includes stress management, exercise, whole foods, nutritional supplementation, and the use of plant-based medicines. On a daily basis, you can take the following steps to help your immune system keep you healthy:
- Wash your hands regularly to help prevent transfer of bacteria.
- Stay clear of people sneezing or coughing. Avoid shaking hands or other close contact with anyone whom you know to be sick.
- Make sure your home and work space are well-ventilated. Even on a cold day, open a window for a few minutes to clear out stale air.
- Follow a consistent sleep/wake schedule so the immune system can repair and recover.
- Drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and veggies, which contain antioxidants that help the body neutralize cellular damage.
- Rest. Sometimes the body’s only way of getting your attention is to force you to slow down by getting sick. Don’t push through fatigue. Honor your body and sleep/rest as needed to promote healing. Reduce activity at home and at work as much as possible.
- Increase fluid intake to include water, diluted vegetable juices, soups, and herbal and green teas.
- Eat light meals and eat more soup. Whether you choose a vegetarian broth or a heartier bone-broth, soups for healing should be loaded with a variety of herbs and veggies.
- Manage stress. Even just 10 minutes of meditation a day has positive effects on the immune system and promotes a positive mindset.
- Laugh—it truly is good medicine. Patch Adams was onto something when he brought humor to his patients’ bedsides. Read a funny book. Watch stand-up comedy. Share jokes with a friend or your kids. Laughter lowers the stress hormones and elevates your mood—both are good for healing.
Vitamin, Mineral, and Botanical Support for the Immune System
There’s no panacea, but a growing body of research has shown that certain vitamins, minerals, and plant-based supplements can help prevent/curtail the symptoms of colds and flu. Some that you may want to include are listed below. Talk to your practitioner as these suggestions must be tailored to your specific needs and health status.
- Multivitamin and mineral formula
- Vitamin C
- Bioflavonoids, 1000 mg/day
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D, 2000 IU/day
- Zinc, 30 mg/day
- Echinacea, elderberry, and astragalus (tea, capsule, or liquid extract) help prevent common cold and viral infections. Physician-scientists continue to study the immune-enhancing effects of these and other botanical remedies.
Eating Well for Super Immunity in the Winter Months
A healthy immune system is vital for helping your body deal with infections caused by viruses, bacteria, fungus, and environmental toxins. As the winter months approach, it becomes even more important to support your immune system by consistently eating a balanced diet, exercising, and making healthy lifestyle choices. But the real fuel for a strong immune system is using food as medicine.
An immunity-boosting diet includes light, easily digestible meals throughout the day, especially soup. A myriad of health benefits and flavors are derived from the herbs, vegetables, and broth. Soups also can help curtail the onset or ease the symptoms of colds and flu. Look for soups that include immunity-enhancing ingredients such as ginger, onion, garlic, mushrooms, and a variety of veggies and herbs in a broth-base. As always, food made from scratch is best!
Super-Immunity Diet Guidelines
- Include healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil.
- When it comes to seasoning your foods, incorporate a variety of herbs and spices for flavor.
- For veggies, choose steamed broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes.
- Fermented foods such as miso and yogurt help promote healthy intestinal flora and combat harmful bacteria in the GI tract.
- Limit red meat; instead, eat moderate amounts of fish and poultry.
- It’s also smart to limit sugar in your diet. Studies have shown excessive sugar intake can interfere with optimal immune system function.
- As far as beverages, the constituents in green tea have been shown to be both anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing.
Cheers to your good health this winter!
Immunity Boosting “Better than Chicken Soup”
This immunity-boosting soup is made with a virtual garden of powerful ingredients (in bold) that contain beneficial nutrients for your immune system:
Turmeric adds a subtle flavor and a beautiful yellow color. The active ingredient is curcumin, a powerful antioxidant.
Black pepper also has antioxidant properties.
Cayenne pepper can clear congestion due to the main active compound capsaicin, which has anti-inflammatory properties.
Shiitake mushrooms are rich in vitamins and minerals and contain unique phytonutrients that contribute to good health.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
- 4 cups low-sodium mushroom, vegetable, or chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups finely sliced kale
- 1 cup cubed butternut squash
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 6 slices astragalus root (optional)
- 1 fresh lemon, Juice of
- 1 teaspoon miso
- In a sauce pot over medium-high heat, add oil and cook onion and garlic, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.
- Stir in turmeric and mushrooms, and cook 2 minutes more.
- Add broth, kale, squash, ginger, cayenne, and astragalus. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool slightly, add lemon juice and miso. Cover and let sit 5 minutes before serving.
Nutrition Information per Serving: 90 calories (5 from fat), 0.5g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 160mg sodium, 19g carbohydrate (6g dietary fiber, 5g sugar), 2g protein
Next to iron, zinc is the most common mineral in the body and is found in every cell. It has an important role in the workings of the muscular system, reproductive systems in both men and women, and proper insulin and thyroid function. Zinc is a catalyst for the vitality of the skin and wound healing. However, zinc is probably best known for supporting the healthy functioning of the immune system.
Several studies have shown that zinc lozenges or syrup reduced the length of a cold by one day, especially when taken within 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms. Studies also show that taking zinc regularly might reduce the number of colds each year, the number of missed school days, and the amount of antibiotics required in otherwise healthy children. New studies are also looking at how the body uses zinc and whether or not taking zinc can improve the treatment of celiac disease, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.
There are several forms of zinc, but not all are easily absorbed or appropriate for every person. The two best forms are zinc gluconate, and zinc citrate. According to the National Academy of Health Sciences, the need for a zinc supplement varies based on age, gender, pregnancy status, and other health factors. Zinc can interfere with the actions of some medications and can even affect the utilization of other minerals, such as copper. It’s best to first consult with your wellness practitioner before taking zinc.
Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
For millennia, physicians and herbalists have found medicinal uses for all parts of the elder tree, including its wood, leaves, flowers, and berries. The branches of this native European plant were believed to cast off evil spirits. Leaves were used in ointments to heal wounds. Flowers and berries were used to make wine; infusions were a common treatment for colds and rheumatic conditions. Today, herbalists and holistic physicians commonly recommend elderberry for its immunity-boosting properties.
Elderberries are rich in vitamin C and flavonoids that act as antioxidants and exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that elder extracts may inhibit the replication of viruses.
Elderberry syrup is made from an extract of elder fruits. Lozenges are often prepared with zinc and other herbs. Both are commonly used to help tame colds, coughs, and relieve flu symptoms. Syrups and lozenges are available on the market, but always check with your personal wellness practitioner to be sure it is a quality product and you are taking an appropriate dose.
Important caution: Unripe berries are not safe to eat nor are the other parts of the elder plant. Since elderberry stimulates the immune system, it is not recommended for people with autoimmune conditions.
Alleviate Congestion with Magic Socks
You’d probably never guess that a pair of wet socks could pull congestion from your head and stimulate your immune system. Sounds like hocus-pocus promoted by a traveling charlatan, right?
Historically, this hydrotherapy was called “Wet Sock Therapy.” At some point, a marketing savvy naturopath explained to young patients that the overnight drying of the socks was a “healing magic trick” and the name quickly evolved into “Magic Socks.” Kids love it and it actually does work like magic to arrest the onset of mild colds and flus. Here’s how:
When covered (insulated) with wool, damp socks draw congestion from the head and work overnight to stimulate systemic circulation. This treatment reflexively decreases congestion in the upper respiratory passages, head, and throat.
The socks will dry overnight as the body brings warm, fresh blood to the feet. This, in turn, invigorates the immune system and helps fend off acute illness. Magic Socks can be used nightly when any concern exists about the onset of an acute infection or illness and with any ongoing insomnia.
For best results repeat treatment for three nights in a row or as instructed by your doctor. If you develop a loss of sensation in your feet while using Magic Socks, remove the socks and check in with your doctor. Do not use this therapy with any condition that has resulted in loss of sensation or circulation to the feet unless first consulting with your doctor.
Make a Pair of Magic (Wet) Socks
- Before bed, wet a pair of thin, cotton anklets in cold water.
- Wring out excess water and place in the freezer for 5-10 minutes.
- Put the socks on your feet.
- Pull a pair of heavy wool socks over the anklets and climb into bed.
- Cover well; sleep all night with the socks on.
The information offered by this newsletter is presented for educational purposes. Nothing contained within should be construed as nor is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. This information should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider. Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before embarking on a new treatment, diet or fitness program. You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information contained within this newsletter.